Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hair Apparent

My head has been reduced to a proving ground for toy trucks. (photo illustration by Lon Horwedel)

A few weeks ago, while working on my computer at a high school basketball game, a young boy who couldn’t have been older than three, came over and sat next to me. I smiled at the boy. He smiled back. I tried to continue working, but he put his hand on my knee and leaned in closer. I thought maybe he was interested in what was on my computer screen, but he seemed more spellbound by my face. Seconds later, he moved into the bleacher row behind me and leaned up against my back.

I figured someone must be missing him, but no one seemed too concerned, least of all, the young boy. I tried to ignore him, but he was so close I could hear his breathing. Before I knew what happened, he put something on top of my head – toy trucks, it turned out. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat there as he joyously rolled them back and forth across my hairless pate.

Finally, the boy's mother spotted him (along with everyone else sitting in the bleachers behind me) and laughter erupted. Embarrassed, she came over and tried to pull her playful young son and his toy trucks off my dome.

“So this is what it’s come to?” I thought to myself as I assured the mother that her son’s actions were perfectly fine.

It wasn’t always like this you know. Before the top of my head became nothing more than a state route for toy trucks, I actually had a lion’s mane of gold. In fact, when I was a kid, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind I’d live my entire life looking like Andy Gibb, even if heredity suggested otherwise.

You see, my dad was bald; his dad too, but I was sure I would be different because in a German/Italian family full of nothing but brown-haired, brown-eyed moms, dads, brothers, sisters and cousins, I sprouted forth into the world a blonde-haired, blue-eyed freak of nature. My golden locks were so strikingly odd, my mother was certain I’d been swapped at the hospital for the only other boy born that day - a West Virginian kid named Buttons.

My golden locks and baby blues soon became the talk of the town, often leading to rude comments from other parents like “So, when did you guys adopt?” or “Where did this one come from, Sweden?"As I got older and my hair got longer, and I mean really long (hey, it was the 70’s, what can I say?) the comments changed, but got no less rude. “Your daughter’s gonna be a real looker!" They’d say. I didn’t care, I figured the crude comments were born out of jealousy for my flowing, blonde locks. I took pride in my hair … and it’s length.

I was a hair snob. On hot summer nights, I’d hang upside down from my top bunk and let the fan blow through my freshly washed mane while running my fingers through its silky-smoothness, thus helplessly trapping my younger brother in the bottom bunk with my Narcissism.

The beginning of the end, my senior year in high school.

Everything in my spun-gold-beach-boy world was perfect until the summer after my high school graduation. It wasn’t like my hair started falling out in clumps or anything, but there definitely was a recession of sorts starting to take place.

I convinced myself my slight hair loss only made me look more like Sting, but secretly I was worried my receding hairline wouldn’t stop until I looked more like Phil Collins. No amount of scalp massaging or topical Rogaine could stop the hereditary nightmare that had befallen me. At the ripe, young age of 19, I found myself snagged in the horrid throes of male pattern baldness!

The denial I put myself through was comical at times: I only hung around people shorter than me, I wore hats, and I toyed with the idea of the comb over. Eventually I conceded my fate. I think it happened my last trip to the barber, when, after only two minutes in the chair, he looked at me, scratched his chin and said, “Well … I guess I’m done.” After that, I did the only thing I could think of – I went home and started growing a beard.

Ironically, the only place I seem to have trouble growing hair is on top of my head; the rest of me is fairly gorilla-like. It's gotten so bad, I'm afraid I’ve become that guy at the pool - you know, the one who looks like he’s draped in a bearskin rug when he gets out of the water.

Amazingly, I actually met a woman who likes me bald (I married her right away). My wife happily tells me I look like Ed Harris (maybe it’s the blue eyes) but if I had my druthers, I’d rather resemble Sean Connery. It’s nice of my wife to say these things, but the truth is, those guys look good bald. Me? Not so much.

The problem, I suppose, is that my head is shaped more like a dinosaur egg than an actual human skull. When I had hair, this fact was conveniently hidden, but now there’s no denying it. Worse yet, to prevent a sunburned scalp in the summer, I constantly wear a ball cap which leaves behind a nifty, mid-cranium tan line that makes my head look like a matchstick whenever I take off my hat.

At some point I’ll most likely shave off the remaining hangers on that encircle my scalp and go into full "Yul Brynner mode." Until then, I’ll keep clinging to the precious memories of my adolescent coif and pray my own son will somehow break from tradition.


Friday, January 22, 2010

A Winter Kiss

A hoar frost turned my neighborhood into a "winter wonderland." (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Last week winter slammed me to the ground and broke my elbow. This week she picked me up and gave me a kiss. It was just a gentle, little peck on the cheek, but still, it was nice.

In just seven days, the hard-packed snow and ice that broke my wing had been replaced by a true Mother Nature masterpiece. And it’s not like we get a lot of those around here, especially in the dead of winter. You know, the stuff jigsaw puzzles and postcards are made of – real Currier & Ives material.

A rare, hoar frost had set in overnight transforming the entire neighborhood from ugly gray to virgin white. The frozen fog had dressed the naked trees in a brand new skin - a powdered sugar miracle that made them look both brand new and really old all at the same time. Now it was mine to enjoy on a beautiful Sunday morning.

There was no sun, and yet it was bright. I could feel the air’s moisture on my face and I wondered if it was freezing to my beard in much the same way it had frozen to the branches. You know, making me look much older – real Burl Ives material.

Each exhale seemed to freeze in space inches from my face and fall like needles onto my boots, and the dormant grass drooped over from the weight of its brittle payload. One step in, and they’d surely snap under my feet like uncooked spaghetti.

So I stood there and took it all in. I didn’t move forward; I didn’t move backward. I just stood in one place and slowly turned a full circle until I’d taken in all 360 degrees. There were no birds; there was no wind; just a perfect, little moment between Mother Nature and me.

It wasn’t that cold for January, a tropical 30 or 31 degrees, but plenty cold enough to create the meteorological magic that carpeted the landscape before me. 

Every Christmas morning should look this way. Every couple on a first date should walk through this wonderland. Every first kiss should take place right where I was standing.

I soaked it all in for as long as I could until my glasses fogged over.

If Ma Nature was apologizing for my broken limb, she had a nice way of doing it.

“Thanks” I said, to no one on particular.

Then I rubbed my throbbing elbow, and walked home.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Flying Solo

Sledding is best left for the young! (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you immediately wish you could turn back time and do it all over? Maybe something you said, or something you did; or something you wished you’d done differently, or not done at all?

I had one of those moments last Sunday as I prepared for takeoff on the snow ramp some kids built near the bottom of the sledding hill at Vet’s Park. Actually, the ramp and the hill weren’t so much snow as they were ice - or perhaps concrete - and if I had to venture a guess at my approximate launch speed, I’d peg it somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 mph, so I knew before I took to the friendly skies of Ann Arbor, I probably wouldn’t have a very smooth, injury-free landing.

Of course, the prospect of scattering my skeletal system, and possibly a fair amount of skin and blood, all over the bottom of Ann Arbor’s most dangerous sledding hill, paled in comparison to the life-long browbeating I surely would be getting from my wife, whom I’d promised nary an hour earlier, that neither I, nor our kids, would go near the big hill at Vet’s. To be fair, I’d kept my promise for roughly 59 minutes and 30 seconds before I let my kids talk me into leaving the smaller hill to take “just one run” down the big hill - it’s those last 30 seconds that always kill me.

Without incident, my kids made their run down the giant hill, and then it was my turn. Smooshing my middle-aged body into a plastic sled I felt a little like Anthony Hopkins in “The World’s Fastest Indian” as I stared out at the blindingly white, hard-glazed surface of the hill. Now it was my turn to make a run at a land-speed record as the “The World’s Fastest Idiot!”

To be honest, I wanted no part of the ramp at the bottom of the hill. I even made sure to start my record-setting descent from the far right edge at the top of the hill to try and avoid it. Everything was going just fine a third of the way down the hill - I was accelerating nicely, it was relatively smooth, and my path seemed to be a good one – but then trouble arrived.

Ahead of me, about 20-feet or so, a mother and her small child veered into my path and wiped out. Now they were just sitting there helpless as I barreled down on them like a freight train. The thought of possibly vaporizing the two wasn’t a good one, so I leaned hard to my left and dug my feet into the hard-packed snow behind me, hoping I might somehow steer clear of their path.

As luck would have it, the edge of my sled dug in just enough to let me skirt by the duo unscathed, but now I had bigger problems. After my abrupt change of course, the ramp I had so painstakingly tried to avoid, was now dead in my sights and I had no time to react.

I hit the ramp so perfectly, at such a high rate of speed, that I launched myself what my son later predicted was “at least 6-feet off the ground.” Time seemed to stand still as I separated from my sled and began swimming through the air. If not for my awareness of gravity, I’m sure I would have enjoyed my flight to the fullest. All around me I saw jaws of stunned children hanging open as at first I soared, and then plummeted to earth like a wounded bird.

During my five-second flight, I had plenty of time to ponder my landing choices. My head didn’t seem like such a good idea, nor did my chest, so I opted for a stunt-man-like dive and roll to try and minimize the certain structural damage I was about to endure. Unfortunately, my timing was off a bit and I landed on my right elbow instead of my shoulder. Several snap rolls later, I popped to my feet like I’d planned the whole thing.

A mixture of laughter and applause broke out amongst the pint-sized daredevils surrounding me at the bottom of the hill. My own kids didn’t even bother asking me if I was okay. Up the hill, the mother and child I’d nearly creamed gave me a confused look, unaware they’d inadvertently caused my rather impressive Evel Knievel impersonation.

Amazingly, nothing hurt – at least not too bad. And by that I mean my teeth were still in my mouth and there wasn’t a trail of blood in the snow. But then I remembered the direct landing to my elbow; surely it must have sustained some damage?

I tried to straighten my arm – no good - my wrist was a little sore too. I went to pick up the remains of my crumpled sled and realized my right hand wasn’t working all that well either. Panicked, I began windmilling my right arm in circles to see if my shoulder still worked. It seemed to be okay, but I felt an immediate depression begin to sink in when I realized my trans-Ann Arbor flight might have just cost myself a summer of golf and baseball.  But the worst was yet to come.

How, exactly, do you tell your wife you probably just broke your elbow doing the one thing she made you promise not to do? As it turns out, I didn’t have to tell her, my kids took that honor the moment we walked in the door. All I had to do was sit there and put up with the firestorm that followed … and followed … and followed.

When my wife realized that no amount of “I told you so” or “what the hell were you thinking” would fix my broken wing, she reluctantly drove me to the ER. By then, rigor mortis had basically set in and my elbow looked more like a T-square than a human joint. The x-rays that soon followed confirmed my suspicion – I had fractured the head of my radius, or, in layman terms, I’d broken my elbow.

Oddly, the type of break I sustained didn’t require a cast or even a splint. The doctor simply gave me a sling and told me to ice it for 20-minutes five times a day and take painkillers if I wanted.

“How soon can I throw a baseball?” I asked the ER doctor.

“At your age? Maybe three months if all goes well.” He answered.

That didn’t seem too horrible, so home I went, still a little depressed, but as least without a cast.

It’s hard to describe life with only one functional arm. Some things proved to be a lot easier than I thought – brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, folding laundry, and making beds for example. And some things proved a lot more difficult, like driving a stick shift, opening a jar of peanut butter, blowing my nose and wiping my … well, you get the picture.

My newfound respect for amputees lasted only a few days before the swelling in my elbow subsided to the point where I could perform my daily tasks without much bother. Of course, daily tasks aren’t throwing baseballs or playing golf, and my chiseled biceps and pecs will be a thing of the past once I’m finally healed.

In the meantime I’ll keep icing my broken elbow five times a day as I wait for the bone to mend – six or more if you count the frigid stares I keep getting from my wife!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fowl Language

A flock of Canada geese huddle together recently on a frozen stretch of the Huron River. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

In a time of winter when most migrating birds are safely south where it’s nice and warm (at least most years), some stubbornly insist on staying put to battle the elements until spring. Such was the case with this flock of Canada geese I spotted huddling together to try and stay warm in single digit temperatures as the wind whipped across the frozen Huron River.

I stopped to take some pictures of the poor, frozen birds, and as I was taking pictures, I imagined what a frozen flock of geese from Canada would say to each other if they could actually talk. It went something like this:

Owen: “Can you believe we’re stopping here for da winter Pierre?

Pierre: “No doubt, eh? Whose da hoser leading dis flock anyhow?

Owen: “Andre, I tink ... or maybe Jean Luc - who knows, eh?

Wayne: “Will you two hosers shut up over dare. I was just aboot to fall asleep.”

Owen: “Jeez, who invited da Newfie? All he does is complain, eh?"

Pierre: “Isn’t dat what you’re doing?”

Owen: “Take off, eh? I ain’t complaining. I’m just sayin’ it’s probably a heck-of-a-lot warmer down sout instead of sittin’ here on a chunk of ice with a couple soakers.”

Pierre: “Okay, okay, I see your point. A farm wooda been nice, or somewhere wit trees to block da wind.”

Owen: “Yah, you got dat right. Next year I say we leave a munt early so we can fly furder sout, eh?

Pierre: “Beauty idea, Owen, dey don’t like us here anyhow.”

Owen: “No doubt, last year dey shot Etienne just as he crossed da border.”

Pierre: “Yah, I heard dey ate him for supper, eh?”

Owen: “Yah, dat was a shame, he’d never stop here - he’d keep going till it was warm.”

Pierre:  “Hey, why don’t we just fly alone?”

Owen: “Brutal idea, eh? We need da rest of deez hosers to fly wit us sose we can save our energy.”

Pierre: “But we only flew 150 kilos Owen, if I wanted my butt stuck to a block of ice all winter, I wooda stayed in Saskatoon!”

Owen: “I taut you loved da ice, eh?”

Pierre: “Yah, for hockey you hoser, not for horkin’ a nap!"

Wayne: “Would you two knobs just shut your yaps and go to sleep like da rest of us is trying to do?”

Owen: “Don’t be such a keener, Wayne!”

Pierre: “Yah, you know as well as us yoo’d radder be suckin’ down 40-pounders on da beach.”

Wayne: “Take off, hoser!”

Owen: “No way, eh … you take off!”

Wayne: “Beauty idea!”