“Yul Brynner,” said Norman, while his wife Stacy stood open-mouthed after releasing a small scream—squeak, really. “He was the king in The King and I and the Cossack chieftain in Taras Bulba. Remember those movies?”
Stacy remembered Yul Brynner’s shaved head. He wasn’t bald. He’d shaved it and stayed with that look. It worked. On him. But Norman had all—almost all—his hair after 75 years. What now? “Baldy,” she managed to utter. “People will call you Baldy. Your name is Norman.” Not Norm. Never Normy. And God help anyone who called her husband by a nickname.
“How about Curly?” Norman asked. He liked the humor of it. The irony. “There was this basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters, the comedy team. Curly Neal. The dribbler who could control the ball maybe an inch off the floor. No hair. We saw him in Oakland. Maybe the Cow Palace. He died recently.”
Stacy’s hand shot to her mouth. Death was not up for discussion. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic. Okay, she and Norman were sheltered in place about as safe as you could be. Food delivered from Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh. Walks in their quiet neighborhood, including the Presidio National Park a block away. An occasional drive to see the ocean, keep their cars’ batteries up. “Why?” she asked.
“Beats a crappy haircut,” he answered. He’d had a hair-clipper set delivered by Amazon. Plenty of guards for different lengths. Foolproof. He even watched a few videos on YouTube. But nothing was foolproof. After going down to the garage, setting up a mirror, covering himself with a garbage bag and going at it, he wasn’t satisfied. His hair was shorter but the cut was patchy, uneven. Maybe not bad for someone sheltered in place, but—. Then inspiration hit.
He had visions of Telly Savalas, TV’s bygone Kojak. Michael Jordan. Cate Blanchett once went bald.
“Why can’t I make a statement?” Norman asked. Stacy’s face didn’t so much betray confusion as broadcast it. “That you’re suffering a late-life crisis? What’s next? A sportscar? Or are you looking for sympathy? People should think you’ve had chemo for some terrible cancer?”
“It’s more a life-affirming thing,” said not-Norm. “We just celebrated Passover and the deaths of the Egyptian first-born. Holocaust Remembrance Day is coming up. And the news. Every day, it’s how many people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, how many people died. All those deaths and memories of deaths create fear. Not necessarily unjustified but not the best road to travel either. So I took my own road.”
The thing was, Norman assured Stacy, hair was a renewable resource. Like grass. Like the sun. “The sun goes down, it also rises.” Yes, it came up on a world reeling in pain. He was no Pollyanna. “Still, it’s a win-win thing. I look cool or my hair grows back. Like I have faith that the country will come back. Not without loss. Not without grief. Not without struggle. But because we refuse not to go forward.”
“From your lips to God’s ears,” Stacy said. “Hopefully from more lips than mine. Than ours,” said Norman. “Reminds me of my favorite quote from Torah. Deuteronomy. Two words.” He ran his right hand over his cue ball-smooth scalp and smiled. “Choose life.”
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