Thank God for Yul Brynner. He and his handsome bald head may have saved my life. For many years I was enslaved by my Platinum membership in “The Hair Club”. I wore a stupid looking hairpiece for well over a decade like a baffoon. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a “really good head” for a bald guy or that I might be lucky enough to have such a ‘noggin. I didnt listen to anyone because I only perceived my own shame and hid my advancing chrome dome condition like it was a case of leprosy or the sign of the Anti-christ (666) emerging on my forehead between the rapidly retreating Maginot line of my hairline and prior hair transplants. Still, Yul Brynner’s chiseled good looks, piercing eyes and excellent ears always haunted me, and not in a bad way. Even tho he sounded and acted the same basic way in every movie he was in, ie. The Ten Commandments, The King and I, Brothers Karamazovs, Magnificent Seven, Solomon and Sheba, etc., (thus was no Marlin Brando) the guy was a real “man’s man” who always got the hot chicks, even if he had to die a thousand deaths each and every time. Regardless, like in the movie “Westworld” (the original) he would just re-emerge in another film to struggle with his deeply dialectical nature and unquenchable thirst for life. Trivia Sidebar: Speaking of male role models, it was a not yet over-acting Captain Kirk (William Shatner) who played Yul Brynner’s younger and nicer brother in “Brothers Karamazovs”, his big screen debut.
Coincidentally, my father, Robert Mazer also wore a hairpiece for many years. He kept it on a styrofoam head mannequin in his bedroom closet, carefully pinned in place like some enormous silver Amazonian butterfly on display. Back then, when I saw my Dad without his toupee he always looked much older and somewhat “out of uniform” yet seemed far more relaxed, even if he was still wearing his boxer shorts with knee high black dress socks, polished black dress shoes and those weird garter-strap things.
So, is this essay about my father, Yul Brynner, Russian (or Shakespearean) families fighting over their inheritance, or is it about personal redemption, healing, and Dmitri’s bittersweet realization that “love, honor and truth cannot be bought just as an insult cannot be bought back”? In the case of my father Bob, I believe it is about healing…mostly mine.
My dad, who really is my stepdad who adopted me when I was 3 years old chose to give up his expensive toupee many moons ago and without much fanfare accepted his heady yet hairless fate. When I did the same years ago it was nothing less than a liberation of my body and soul, like experiencing a heavy jail door swing open. Behaviors like swimming, scratching my head, leaving the house without checking the median wind velocity (MDV) or riding in a convertible became not just “do-able” but actually “enjoy-able”. As usual for eccentric individuals such as myself, the material objects that once served to imprison me in my life (like my Milwaukee Brace for scoliosis at age 14) later became central themes for my creative writing and ironic sculptural artwork. Of course I also keep one or two of my old hairpieces in a closet dresser drawer just to freak out cleaning ladies.
I know that few people care to plumb the psychological depths of Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazovs” and it’s bald-is-beautiful protagonist Dmitri, a personality full of contradictions, human shortcomings and carnal desires. However, that wasn’t my father. My father was and is a very controlled and predictable individual. He doesn’t ponder long about himself or the human “condition”, nor even about his own bald head. He just behaves responsibly, follows a set routine and acts accordingly (consistent with his own moral compass), ie., sitting at his big desk paying bills and calculating numbers that he truly believes should “add up” in the end. Even at his advanced age (almost 90) he still likes to wear his socks and dress shoes at home, often along with his fluffy terry cloth robe and oxygen tube. I on the other hand, need Yul Brynner’s moral support and spiritual guidance. To me he is my Yorick and I am his Hamlet, holding his beautiful bald head aloft. “To be or not to be?” That IS the eternal question for someone like me.
I’m pretty sure it’s better to “be” as in to live life fully while still suffering the many “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. In so doing, we help ourselves to appreciate the precious gifts of life while continuing to accept the shrinking of our over-inflated personal egos. If we don’t consciously work on down-sizing our “selves”(egos) life usually does it for us anyway. Maybe that’s where the notion of becoming a “head shrinker” comes from or possibly even the term “shrunken head”. Consider this: One second you’re a world famous big game hunter or brash explorer in Africa and the next minute your head (and formerly attached ego) are hanging like plastic dice from some chieftain’s ceremonial spear. Very humbling indeed.
My dad was/is a very successful businessman, philanthropist and mentor of manly men. On the other hand (so to speak) poor Yorick was a mere court jester. He was a “trickster” and a comedian who later became someones philosophical-skeletal muse. Some would think of that as a rather gruesome image but to me it’s more like my dad’s high-class hairpiece, a bygone testament to every man’s early ego and eventual opportunity to grow into a mature wisdom (rather than vanity) and life lesson about “going with the flow”.
Bottomline: I want to try to remember to fully engage with life and also to “row, row, row my CaptCliff boat gently down the stream…merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily” because LIFE IS BUT A DREAM. I know my father lived his life pretty much like that and without a doubt that’s something to emulate and be proud of. He certainly was the Captain of his own ship and he definitely knew which direction he wanted his ship to sail. For myself tho, things are more complicated. At times I catch myself rowing my “life boat” in large concentric circles and end up returning to the very same place or places from where I began. That may be because of my rampant ADHD, my penchant for thinking too much or my relentless habit of “reviewing the situation” as the song in “Oliver” goes. Of course I also could just listen to Pinkie, the angelic black woman who helped raise me. She told me many times and in many different ways about my receding hairline, “Clifford, grass dont grow on busy streets”. Then she would say it again out loud for dramatic effect as she walked slowly away…..”Yessir, grass dont grow on busy streets”.
The right kind of music to listen to to understand anything I just said: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY-_Y_7p55