Thursday, August 26, 1999

ponytails

I've always felt that if a superhero is allowed to do something, I should be allowed to do it too.

Now that I'm 29 years old, some people think I should have put comic books behind me, along with my childhood skateboard and a love of children's books like Lois Lowry's "The Giver" and C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia."

Well, the truth is that I read "The Giver" as recently as two years ago; I still think Narnia is a fun place to visit, though not as appealing as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth; and the I only got rid of my blue skateboard because the back right wheel always got stuck anyway.

Who wouldn't get swept up into Mark Waid's coming-of-age story "The Return of Barry Allen," in which Wally West, the Flash, grows out of the shadow of his predecessor? Who could ever forget the psychological problems of Alan Moore's heroes in "Watchmen?" And who wouldn't want a ponytail like Superman had in the mid-1990s?

Back in the 1950s, Superman fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way, all with capital letters and a huge gut, and that meant he had his hair cut short. But after his resurrection around 1992, the man from Krypton came back with long hair. As a means of concealing his secret identity from his arch-enemies, he wore it as a ponytail as Clark Kent.

Ponytails make a statement about their wearers. On a large hairy man who rides a motorcycle and has the word "Ma" tattooed on his bicep, a ponytail says, "Call me a sissy and I'll break every bone in your body."
A ponytail on the head of a business executive, on the other hand, says, "Don't even think of calling me a sissy or I'll get my Dad to fire you. He's chairman of the board, you know."

In the case of Clark Kent, the ponytail clearly said, "OK, so I have rippling muscles, disappear whenever there's a crisis and just before Superman appears; and maybe I do survive the most incredible accidents, but I'm obviously just a dweeby investigative journalist."

Who wouldn't want a ponytail like that? Heck, forget the ponytail. Just give me super hearing like Superman's, and I'll start getting better stories than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Pulitizer-winning coverage of Watergate.

It can be hard to grow a decent ponytail, even without the benefit of Superman's invulnerable hair. (I have an old issue of Action Comics in which Lois breaks a pair of scissors on Clark's mop.) For the past two years, I've been engaged in an on-again/off-again struggle for a tail that gets regularly thwarted just before the moment of triumph.

For me, I have to admit that the appeal in ponytails lies in their "hippiness" and the noncomformist approach they help to project. I don't like to be like everyone else, and one of the ways I can express that is through my hair length.

Ponytails on men have become somewhat acceptable socially, but they still convey more than a hint of that nonconformist image. So I've long wanted to grow a ponytail, perhaps for the same reason I've grown a beard.

Back in 1998, I was off to a good start. After nearly eight months without a trip to the barber's, it was getting long enough that even the mayor of Montgomery Township remarked that it was starting to become a decent ponytail.

As luck would have it, that was in May, and Natasha and I had set our wedding date for June 13. If my hair had been another inch or two longer, I could have tied it all back and kept it. But it wasn't, and the progress of eight months was undone by a single trip to the barber's.

The committeewomen, who had hated the tail from day one, cheered. Natasha was indifferent. I was crushed, but I resolved to try again.

Slowly my hair got longer, and inch by painstaking inch, it reached first my collar and then beyond. In front, my hair grew longer and longer, making it hard for me to see when it fell down my face. There was no doubt in my mind. I was going to make it.

Less than a month before my hair would have been long enough to tie the front hairs back into a tail, the managing editor position for the Hillsborough Beacon and The Manville News opened. It meant a raise, more control over a newspaper than I had as a mere reporter, a chauffeured limo and a personal trainer, all at company expense.

Well, I made up the bit about the limo and trainer, but this is a position of some local importance. I tied my hair back one final time, and made the fateful trip to the barber one cold morning.
Snip snip.

That was six months ago, but I've given up. My hair was getting long again, so this week I made a trip down to the Hillsborough Barber Shop, paid my $14 and got it whacked off again.

I just wish I'd get X-ray vision to compensate.

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