Thursday, May 21, 2015

SNIP IT


I’m hair intolerant. It’s genetic. From my mother’s side of the family. We don’t handle unruly hair.

My hair intolerance came late in life. It’s not that it wasn’t there, but I fought it. I tried to be strong.

I made it through the big, poufy, mega-permed ‘80s and early ‘90s with barely a tic. When I saw Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack in “Working Girl”, it registered that their coiffures needed taming, but I didn’t respond like it was a horror movie, clenching the armrests and casting my eyes downward to see if popcorn-fed rats lurked at my feet. I watched and told myself movies are make believe and New Jersey is on the other coast. (Admittedly, I may have had my own case of poufy hair, a circumstance that was entirely perm-free.)

I only registered mild annoyance after moving to L.A. twenty-five years ago and seeing middle-aged men deal with receding hairlines by growing it where they could—extending the neckline, clumping it together in a ponytail. Not braided like Willie Nelson. Too much work. This was California casual. On occasion, I wanted to shake these guys and shout, “Your hair’s still receding. We still see that.” But I took my deep breaths, I let that Bobby McFerrin ditty dance in my head and I did some mental “Vogue”-ing. I worked through it.

I thought I made it.

I am not my mother’s son!

Then came the mullet. It proved a greater challenge. I could hear my grandfather in my head. Needs a haircut. Very succinct. He was a keen observer, always wanting to keep the younger generations in check. His tone conveyed more: Thugs and no-goods. A barber would fix ‘em. I believe that was my grandfather’s answer to all the evils of the world. Forget prisons; we need more barbers.

My mother learned well from my grandfather who, incidentally, went bald at the age of twenty. But she was always more verbose. I shudder to think what her commentary would be if she watched an old Michael Bolton video with me. “Where are my scissors? Honestly, what was he thinking? ‘Love Is a Wonderful Thing’? I’ll tell you what’s a wonderful thing. A haircut. Once a month. Five weeks at most. Just look at that mop. It’s like a lion’s mane. I’ll tame it. Clean, crisp snips. And there’d be three new wigs for cancer patients. Although Genie Mulgrove has a stylish collection of bandanas to make the most of things. Satin. Some of them are even from Neiman Marcus. But when you’ve got cancer, you need your splurges.”  

It was a struggle, but I made it through mullets, too. “Hockey hair”, they called it. That helped. I accepted it in the name of national pride. Hockey. Canada. Suck it up.

But I’ve come undone due to the latest hair misstep. I hear my grandfather’s voice saying, Needs a haircut. I hear my mother rambling about her scissors. And even more succinctly than my grandfather, I pose the question: “Why?”

“Why, oh, why, oh, why why why?!” Okay, not so succinctly. I see the redundancy in my thinking but I can’t help myself. I can’t lop off even a single “why”. I. Am. Hair. Intolerant.

There are men walking around with a tiny lock of hair clumped together in a rubber band so that it sticks out of the top of their head. Like a shaggy antenna. Or, more accurately, a ponytail stump. (If you Google "man bun", you'll get lots of scary versions; the men I've seen attempt the look don't have a thick enough clump to form a bun in the first place.)

Why?!

I suspect someone like David Beckham started this. Some sort of soccer requirement. Clump up that loose tuft of hair at the top of the head in case some gust of wind kicks up in the stadium and he gets a red card for giving an opposing player an unwanted hair whipping. But, men, we need to get real. David Beckham can carry off almost anything. He’d be hot in a squirrel costume. We are not David Beckham. We cannot carry off the ponytail stump.

We should know this. As boys, we were told not to play with rubber bands. Clearly, some boys weren’t so compliant. Or perhaps they were and now they are demonstrating a latent need to experiment with elastics.

I’d gladly buy them a geoboard. Anything to keep the rubber bands out of their hair.

Please.

This will not hold up well in one’s personal history. Like crocs and pants that sag down to the knees. I am certain of this. And there will be oodles of incriminating evidence in the form of Instagram and Facebook selfies.

I can hear the children of these men, years from now, looking at pictures of their dads when they actually had hair. But that relatively full head of hear won’t be something the young‘uns marvel at because there will be that overriding distraction. “Uh, dad, why is your hair sticking up at the back in every picture?”

“I meant to do that. It was the fashion.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“It was.” And, god willing, I’ll be there to chime in and say, in a cathartic release, “It wasn’t! It really wasn’t!”

So please, gentlemen, put the rubber bands down. Tame your hair with gobs of goop if you must. It is time to clip the ponytail stump.

If you don’t do it, I may just have to pull out my mother’s scissors. I’m not afraid to use them. My ancestors will cheer me on.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A COSTLY SWIM

Okay, this back-in-the-city thing can be dangerous. I just went for a $183 swim.

Technically, pool admission was only six bucks, but after my laps, I took a stroll down Main Street. Nice day and all that. One wander into a funky clothing store and I coughed up the rest of the tab on four tees. It could have been worse. I tried on eight.

The most I ever spent after a swim in my former small town was the price of milk. All right, milk and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. A bargain outing.

In my decade of rural living, clothing shopping was a ferry away. Good thing, in retrospect. But only when I peek at my bank balance. I do love clothes. And, more than that, I love the unexpected discoveries that come from seeing what a neighborhood has to offer.

Vancouver’s gotten trendier in my absence. Casual wear still rules but retailers have ventured beyond hiking gear and Dockers. As long as I don’t have anyone come up to my condo unit, it doesn’t matter that I still have no furniture. I’ll be stepping out in style. And, really, without a sofa, there’s no reason to sit around on a stool at home.

Still, it would be good to show some restraint. I shan’t swim again until next weekend.

  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

WHEN IT'S NOT WORKING

It's time. I have to break up.

No, I haven't been secretly involved in some tumultuous love affair. Let's not be delusional. Instead, it's my psychiatrist, Dr. Seven. We have a dysfunctional relationship. And I need to walk away.

I had insisted on a gay shrink. I wanted to be sure the person I was confessing my life to would be nonjudgmental. I didn't want to think that in his head he was dealing with some sort of prejudice. But clearly, gay alone is not enough. I don't wish to become friends with my psychiatrist. I don't even need for us to be friendly. But it can't be adversarial.

Dr. Seven is the seventh psychiatrist I've seen in the past year. Admittedly, five of them were hello-goodbye doctors during my nine-day hospital stint, but I number psychiatrists as part of my frustration regarding treatment. There is a lot of wasted time in starting over with each doctor. My referral to see Seven went in last May. My first session wasn’t until November. Needless to say, I don’t take breaking up lightly.


From the start, there has been friction. On our first meeting, he asked if the hospital gave me a diagnosis. Admittedly, those were foggy days. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I was semi-catatonic. It was “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” brought to life as patients in my ward would get locked up in a window-less room with only a food-tray slot and security would get called to restrain those who refused their meds. One guy in the lock-up cell fought back with feces and screamed long into the night about how he’d “fucking kill you all.” Diagnosis? I was just trying to survive.

It took Dr. Seven fifteen minutes to fix that. Major Depressive Disorder. And to be sure I didn’t “forget”, he said it five more times in that session. Like jamming bad medicine down a kid’s throat. Fine. I’d been officially labeled. I didn’t care for the approach, but I tried to put my trust in the process.

Seven has always tried to fit me into a classic model for depression. Accordingly, I must be angry. People who are depressed are angry at others; alternatively, they have turned the anger inside. I am an all-around nice guy. There is no evidence of outward anger. Thus, I must be raging within.

And that's not me. I've tried and tried to accept that notion, but I am not in any way an angry person. We went to battle on this during an early session. He’s tried to bring it up during other times. It’s always a stalemate. We have put that aside, although he has said that it will come up eventually…when I decide to cooperate. After all, I must fit the model for depression.

But I don't. So what does that make me? A misfit amongst people with severe depression? The notion amuses me. Seems I am an inconvenient patient. It doesn't surprise me. I've always been too quirky for categorization.

My latest session with Dr. Seven became yet another battle. I'd had a decent week. Nothing pressing to discuss. "Ask away," I said.

And this became a problem.

Why was I being so passive? Why was I deferring to him? Wasn't I, in fact, wanting him to take care of me?

My basic reaction: "Huh?"

But Dr. Seven wouldn't let it go. Why was I refusing to take the lead? Why?!

In my mind, I thought, Isn't that your job? But I didn't say that. He would've concluded that was aggressive—an angry remark.

Again, why was I insisting on being passive? I was showing a stubborn streak.

"Not at all," I said. Let's just talk about something. "How about my mother?" (Sorry, Mom. But there’s plenty of fodder there.)

Still, he wouldn't let it go. We spent the entire fifty minutes going round and round, with him insisting that this meant something, this clear intention to be passive.

At one point, he said of himself, "My stomach is knotted up." As if the session was about him. Oops, maybe that sounds a little angry.

The whole thing felt like Seinfeld therapy: a lot of talk about nothing. "This discussion is irrelevant," I said several times. "Can't we just agree to disagree again?"

But Dr. Seven wouldn't let it go. Not, at least, until it was time for me to go.

I don't think I've ever been more relieved to exit a doctor’s office—and this from someone who is notoriously medically squeamish! Knowing that it is a final departure offers little solace. In fact, it’s the last thing I wanted. Now I must return to my family doctor and request a new referral. Now I must go on another waiting list. Now I must start over.

For the rest of the evening, I was extremely disheartened. Initially, I crawled into bed as soon as I got home from the session. But then after forty-five minutes, I got up and insisted on going to the gym. My battle has always been with depression, not with the doctor. This serves as a clear reminder of that. I may or may not find a therapist who can help. But I cannot wait. If Dr. Seven was right about anything, it was that I must take control. And so for now, as realistic or unrealistic as it may be, I will strive to fight the depression without any special gear. No helmet, no gloves. Just my bare knuckles and my wits.
 
For the moment, I have the energy to do so.

Friday, May 1, 2015

SMILING GAILY

In a recent post, I wrote about trying to support LGBT businesses. Often, however, the level of service has been wanting. I have kept my gay doctor as I feel it helps in case there are gay-related issues to discuss.

As for dentists, I’ve gone back and forth between gay and straight. There isn’t anything intensely personal I need to divulge to a dentist. Lusting over Ryan Reynolds does not cause cavities. I don’t floss as much as I should. That’s as confessional as it gets.  But as I’ve moved back to Vancouver, I’m seeing a gay dentist once again, the same one I saw a dozen years ago. I needed a second opinion anyway. For two years, maybe three, I’ve had regular pain on the left side of the mouth. I’d gone a few times to the dentist in the small town closest to where I lived. He obligingly x-rayed and found nothing. “You’re teeth are amazing,” he said repeatedly. “Great hygiene.” Flossing excepted. I always left feeling like I’m an orally fixated hypochondriac.

Ken, my Vancouver dentist spotted the problem as soon as I opened wide. “Oh, my god. It’s badly fractured. When did you last see a dentist?” Five weeks ago. Ken tried to stay professional. “I don’t need an x-ray to see it. It could have been saved, but now it’s too late.”

And so this week I was back in the dental chair for an extraction, with an implant or bridge work to follow. My gay dentist was going to make things right again. My gay dollars were going to the right place (though I hoped my insurance provider’s coffers would feel most of the pain).

Just thinking of any kind of pain is a bad thing when it’s time to settle back in a dentist’s chair. The first freezing wasn’t enough. I needed more. (And, oh, how I hate needles.) Not a great start. But I recovered. “You shouldn’t feel pain,” Ken said. “Just pressure.”

Fine, fine. Do your thing. Yank that stupid tooth out. It would be nice to eat on both sides of my mouth again and a blessing to stop getting dull razor-like cuts on my tongue. There was light—and Limoncello Häagen-Dazs—at the end of the tunnel. Let’s get there!

I’m prone to wincing. And fainting. I don’t discriminate. The tendency applies to All Things Medical. (Yes, even a hearing test.) But I’ve always been relatively calm and cool at the dentist…with the exception of one encounter with a savage hygienist who had a personal vendetta against casual flossers. (It wasn’t my imagination. “Yes, she no longer works here. We had complaints.” Hah! It’s not all hypochondria.)

I closed my eyes so as not to see the medical implements. I didn’t want my unease to distract the dentist from the work at hand. A quick extraction, a few hours of a half-frozen mouth and then ice cream. Question to ponder with eyes closed while tuning out the procedure at hand: How did Häagen-Dazs get its name? Are they people? Have they ever had dinner with Ben and Jerry? Still alive? If not, did too much ice cream play a part in their demise? Potent ponderings, indeed.

But I could not speculate. A certain extraction became the distraction. No pain but, yes, pressure. Lots of pressure. He pulled. And pulled. And pulled. He asked his assistant to bring another implement. And then another. And then another. Keeping my eyes firmly shut, I imagined every device from his cabinets piled up on the side table beside us. One even clanged as it fell to the floor.

Ken approached the tooth from my right, then the left, from above and below. His hand and the Implement of the Minute rested at various sites all over my face as Ken struggled to get the right leverage to yank the pesky tooth out.

“I can’t get it in one go,” he finally said. “I have to cut it in half.”

Let’s just leave it, I thought. There’s nothing wrong with eating on the right side all the time. And I’m sure they’ve made incredible improvements in baby food since I last sampled. Pureed moussaka? I’ve got a soup cookbook I’ve never cracked. Let this be the impetus.

Let’s just forget all about this.

But it’s impossible to make one’s plea with some mouth dam wedged on the right side of the mouth and who knows what medical tool on the left. I imagined him going retro with a handy pair of pliers from Home Depot. Maybe a miniature stick of dynamite.

The drilling began. Nothing like the smell of burning enamel. I felt little bits darting about before the suction hose hauled them off with who knows how many pints of blood.

More yanking. I tried to be cooperative but my head went boing-boing from side to side like it was affixed to some springy coil. I heard cracking sounds. More often, I felt slippage as devices lost their grip on my defiant tooth. “You have long roots,” Ken had said. And that f*#king tooth had every expectation of being a lifer. Hell, no! I will not go!

At this point, the tooth got a name. It had earned it. My gut went with Satan, but I went with Bluto. Best not to tick it off too much. Bluto was agitated enough.

Sadly, Dr. Ken is no Popeye. I’d first met Ken in a gay volleyball league. Ken’s biceps never caught my eye. Maybe a gay dentist on steroids would have been a better choice.

More pulling, more head shifting. My legs flailed about as the procedure became increasingly uncomfortable. And, once again, I doubted the whole gay dollar mentality. A gay dentist…why? What did I really know about Dr. Ken’s skills? He was a decent setter on the volleyball court. He was never blatantly critical of my errant bumps. How does that make him a good dentist?

His office was oh so tasteful. Exposed brick walls, soft lighting, stunning Asian art. Again, are these the qualities of a good dentist? I tried to shun the doubts. I attempted to be one with the Zen music. I willed Bluto to leave. Come on, Bluto. Just go. This is the final yank. Have mercy on me, Bluto. Give the suction hose a rest. I’ve lost enough blood. Please, Bluto. I never liked Popeye. Or spinach. (That last thought was a blatant lie, but Bluto is not the name of a brainiac.)

At last, there came a smooth pull with complete follow-through. “Yes!” Ken said, unable to filter his own relief. I gave him the thumbs up. And then he said, “We’re fifty percent through.” And I fought off the urge to give him the middle finger.

If they ever make another “Exorcism” movie, it should be about a tooth.

Somehow I stayed in that chair. Without restraints. Why am I not crying? I’m so frustrated. I just need this to stop. Who’s going to notice if I’m missing half a tooth? Maybe I can come up with a good pirate story.

ARRGH!

It took a full hour of yanking and coaxing for the entire tooth to depart. “Are you in shock?” Dr. Ken asked as he “cleaned up” the area.

“Yes,” I said bluntly. I didn’t feel any need to be polite any longer. He was no longer armed with sharp instruments.

And he was more forthcoming, too. “One of the toughest extractions I’ve ever done.” This to a person in a quasi-state of shock. What he really meant was, “Toughest ever.” I sensed that ten minutes into the hour-long dental tug o’ war challenge. Confirmation again…not a hypochondriac. “My arm is really sore,” he added.

As I waited for the elevator and my escape, any doubts about choosing a gay dentist were cast aside. Relief needs its own moment. Hard choices about dental care could wait. I strolled the seawall, the walking wounded, bidding good riddance to Bluto. I stopped in an overpriced yuppie grocery store and picked up my gelato. Dinner to go. It seemed the best way to console myself in this difficult time of loss.

Trauma in the hands of a gay man. A familiar refrain, just unorthodox in the details.