Eliminating the Gray Area

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

It’s amazing where life’s lessons can unexpectedly come from.  In this case, my nine-year-old son taught me a lesson on the dangers of vanity.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a vain person.  In fact, anyone who saw me walk into the International House of Pancakes last weekend wearing my standard issue tattered sweater, oversized sweatpants, and four day old stubble will back me up on that one.

The only exception to my own lack of vanity comes with the pride I have in my hair.  No, I’m not talking about spending a lot of money sporting the latest hairstyle (I believe you’d call my latest style “Roll out of bed crapshoot”), or combing in a sleek hair gel.

The source of my pride comes from the fact that unlike myself, the hair on most of my friends (and even my younger brother) are well on their way to turning gray if not falling out altogether.  I, on the other hand, continue to have a full head of hair, still as dark as when I was a kid.

I don’t know why my lack of gray is so important to me.  Maybe it’s a way of clinging to my youth.  Maybe the contrast of my hair compared to my friends allows me the enjoyment of saying, “Hey, you’re an old man!” without actually having to say anything.

The problem with this kind of vanity, of course, is that it is fleeting.  Time inexorably marches on, and sooner or later you have to face reality (or a good hair dye).

It doesn’t happen all of a sudden.  It creeps up on you.  The first gray hair I saw in the mirror a few months ago, I easily dismissed as a “genetic anomaly”.  It’s a one-off.  An imperfection in a sea of black, youthful goodness.  Besides, I kept thinking, it’s just one gray hair.

Then a few weeks go by, and alongside that one gray hair sprouts up a few new gray haired residents in what was before a perfectly youthful head of hair.  The truth is that these new sprouts of grey were virtually unnoticeable by any uninformed passersby, but due to my already established vanity and the fact that I’ve painstakingly categorized each follicle of hair, each withered strand was an assault on my already fragile ego.

Staring at the mirror, observing the gradual and inevitable mark of time, you discover an opportunity, a crossroads in your life where you can set aside petty notions of vanity, and truly value the life you have with all your lifelong friends and loved ones.  You can spend your days accepting the wisdom that comes with getting older, and realizing that the color of your hair is meaningless in the greater scheme of life.

Or, you can do what I did and frantically start pulling out those noxious strands of gray hair.

Which leads me to my hard earned lesson.

You quickly realize that staring at the mirror only allows you to pull out a few conveniently placed strands of hair growing towards the front of your head.  After that, the hairs toward the back of your head are nearly impossible to pluck by yourself.  A second mirror, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a complex series of ropes and pulleys…at some point you realize that you can’t pull them all out on your own.

Just as I’m about to give up, my son Tyler walks over and asks for some help on his homework. As a responsible father, understanding completely the importance of homework, I tell Tyler to put his books down and help me pull out the remaining gray hairs so that we can quickly get to his homework.

Tyler, always the helpful one, is exceedingly eager to help me out.  He stands behind me as I’m seated, and peers into the back of my head, literally digging through my hair, trying to identify each lonely strand of gray hair.

He doesn’t want to hurt me, and thinks that by pulling each hair out slowly it will hurt less.  I quickly correct him after the first pull by threatening to withhold his allowance for the rest of the year if he pulled another hair out slowly.

He quickly gets the hang of things.  A quick pluck here, a short yank there.  He’s pulled out four or five gray hairs in a matter of seconds.  At one point, Tyler says, “Hey, I’m your own personal monkey!”

So we come to the last gray hair, and it’s right on the back of my head, and it’s too short for Tyler to get a good hold of it.  So, he suggests, that he guide my hand to the back of my head, help me grasp that single strand, and let my stronger hands do the trick.

Once it’s ready, Tyler tells me to pull.  He says, “Now, Dad!”  I yank.

It was like getting your hair caught in the trunk of someone’s car as they were speeding away.  I had pulled out about 20 hairs, and as it turns out, not one of them was gray.

My son had inadvertently gotten me to voluntarily yank a big clump of hair out of my own head.

Tomorrow I’m spending his allowance on hair dye.

One Man’s Medicine is the Same Man’s Embarassment

September 1, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I just came back from a business trip in Beijing and all I got was a lousy T-shirt.

Actually, I didn’t bring back any T-shirts.  Instead, what I came back with was a sense of amazement.

Sky-high skyscrapers.  Locals dressed in the latest couture.  Mercedes Benz cars parked next to trendy microbreweries.

Even factory workers would drink Starbucks during their coffee breaks.

OK, a little creative license there, but you see where I’m going with this.

This wasn’t the Beijing that I remembered.  The last time I visited Beijing, it was 1980.  Beijing was so much different.  But then again, so was I.

In the summer of 1980, I was 16 years old and I joined a group of students from all over the country to attend a Chinese language program at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

My parents thought this trip would be a good opportunity for me to learn about my roots.  They thought this trip would give me a chance to expand my Chinese language skills.  They thought I would come back with a greater appreciation of my heritage and the richness of my culture.

I thought it would be a good chance to meet girls.  After all, I and every other student who attended the program were fully aware that this program was informally known as “The Love Boat.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t really hook up with any girls during the trip.  But as a consolation, I did manage to pick up a severe case of food poisoning.

I shared a dorm room with two of my cousins.  Seeing as how they were both younger than me and with even less experience with the fairer sex, this was not the best environment I could have hoped for.  The room had a concrete floor, and each bed was covered completely with mosquito netting.  I quickly discovered that the mosquitoes were in abundance, and unless you wanted to unwillingly donate a pint of blood each night via a hundred mosquito bites, you stayed under the netting.

However, this being the summer, it was also hot and muggy, with nary an air conditioner in sight.  Coupled with the fact that the mosquito netting effectively blocked out any breeze from the windows, you soon came to realize that you had inadvertently duplicated the conditions of a Thanksgiving turkey basting in the oven.

Under these sweltering conditions, a cool, tall glass of water would have really hit the spot.  Unfortunately, the best we could do was a bracing cup of hot tea, or boiled hot water kept in a large thermos, which contained so much excess grit and minerals that you felt like you were drinking a cup of watery sand.

Towards the end of my journey in China, I came down with a severe case of food poisoning.  High temperature, extreme queasiness, a genuine feeling of hopelessness.  No, that’s not what the food poisoning did to me, that’s how I felt as a number of friends helped me make my way to the University’s medical clinic and looked inside.

I felt like I was on the set of M*A*S*H.

Still, how bad could it be?  I immediately felt more at ease when the doctor told me I just needed some penicillin.  However, I soon realized that what might be good for my health might not be so good for my image.

In front of all my friends, including a few girls I was trying to impress, I nonchalantly asked the doctor where I could pick up the penicillin pills.

The doctor replied, “We don’t have penicillin pills.”

Figuring he meant a penicillin shot, I bravely rolled up my sleeve and said, “OK, no problem.  I have had lots of shots before.”

The doctor, seeming a little perplexed, looked at me and quietly said, “Umm…we don’t give you the shot in your arm.”

After a few moments, I quickly grasped the situation and asked,  “You don’t mean to tell me you’re going to give me a shot in my…”

When it comes right down to it, buying flowers, writing a romantic poem, seeing a romantic movie…there are a lot of things a young man can do to win a young woman’s heart.  Bending over and pulling your pants down in front of your friends for a penicillin shot is not one of them.

Then again, the experience certainly wasn’t a complete loss.  I did manage to learn the Chinese words to ask, “Could somebody please cover me up with a blanket?”