Guest Story-The Church of Rogaine
The hair restoration television commercial begins with the announcer asking, “Men, is your life missing something?” Bald men sulk in front of mirrors, trying on baseball caps and running their hands through thinning or non-existent hair. Then they dramatically hang their heads and shake them in defeat.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ television commercial begins with the announcer asking, “Is your life missing something?” Housewives, elderly folks, and young urban professionals sit in their cars, rocking chairs, and behind their office desks. They look beaten down by life and on the verge of tears. They are trapped by a void that the announcer must know how to fill.
The hair restoration television commercial shows a bald man surrounded by his loved ones at home or at a clinic. They look interested as they leaf through a pamphlet with a solution to that missing something. The announcer explains, “A new technology has re-grown hair in 90% of cases tested. Why would you pass up this amazing opportunity to get your life back?” The bald man has a look of hope. Maybe he can get his life back.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ television commercial shows the afflicted surrounded by his or her loved ones at home or at a church. They look interested as they leaf through a pamphlet that gives an explanation for the Book of Mormon. The announcer explains, “Open your heart to the wonders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a newly enriched life filled with hope and love.” The people have a look of hope. Maybe they can live again.
The hair restoration television commercial shows the testimonials of those who have found the answer. They sit in front of the cameras with full and illustrious hair. They sit next to a small picture showing the bald derelicts they once were. They beam, “It really works,” “Give them a call. You won’t regret it,” and, “I have more confidence and women notice me in a way that they never have before.” Boy, they look happy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ television commercial shows the testimonials of those who have found the answer. They sit in front of cameras and beam, “The Book of Mormon has given meaning to my life,” “I was lost and the church has given me the key to living a rich and blessed life,” and “”Call the number at the bottom of the screen to open up your heart. You won’t regret it.” Boy, they look happy.
The hair restoration television commercial shows the same men from the beginning of the commercial running around playing flag football, swimming, and sitting at a romantic candlelight dinner with a beautiful woman. They are smiling in all of the shots. This time they have hair. The defeated looks from earlier are nowhere to be found. They have the answer.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ television commercial shows the same people from the beginning of the commercial in loving embraces with family members and church parishioners. They are smiling in all of the shots. The helpless looks from earlier are nowhere to be found. They have the answer.
Harvey turned off the television. He had been having a pretty good day but, who knows, maybe he was miserable. He looked at his sunburned scalp in the mirror before he went to sleep.
The doorbell rang. The doorbell never rang, at least not for anything of interest. Harvey would never normally have answered the door, but he had been standing by the window and instinctively looked up when he heard the chime. This caused him to make eye contact with a young man at the door. No way out of this one. He walked up and opened the door.
Two males around the age of eighteen were standing there. They were dressed in white collared shirts, black slacks, and had black backpacks wrapped around their shoulders. They were clean cut with well-groomed brown hair, which made them look like they were ready for tryouts with the Hickory Huskers. Harvey was unshaven and in a bathrobe. His appearance didn’t rattle the two gentlemen in the least. Their smiles were pasted on. Harvey probably could have counted their teeth.
“Good morning, sir! How are you doing today?” one of them asked. Oh, hell. Here we go, thought Harvey.
“Super! Glad to hear it! We have been going around the neighborhood to ask people if they’ve heard the good news. Have you heard the good news, sir?”
“The landlord is going to fix my water pressure?” Harvey had always been the spokesman for the monotone.
“Well, I can’t really speak to that. What we are here to try and do is help bring happiness to your life and the good news is that there is now a full proof way of doing that. All you have to do is open your heart.” Harvey stared at the boy on his left side. He liked that boy better because he hadn’t said anything yet.
“Do you think you might be willing to open your heart?” the silent one said. Now Harvey hated them equally.
“How much does it cost?” asked Harvey, knowing the score of how things work.
“You can’t put a price tag on happiness, sir,” said the loud one.
“Yes, you can. And it’s never on sale.”
“With the return you will get on this investment, it will feel like it’s the sale of the century. And, looking at you, you need this as much as anybody.”
“Go ahead. Tell me what it is I need.”
The quieter one reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pamphlet. He handed it to Harvey who grudgingly took it, deciding that not taking it was a battle that he did not have the energy to fight at that moment. When he looked down, he was taken aback at what he saw.
“We are from the Hair Restoration Clinic for the Follically Challenged. Did you know that a full head of hair will give you more confidence, energy, and sex appeal? It has been clinically proven.”
The man on the cover of the pamphlet looked happy, smiling with a full head of hair, just like the guys at the end of the commercial. The pamphlet guy also had a “before picture” of his previously unattractive state; bald with a hyperbolic frown. Harvey was incredulous.
“How on earth do YOU know? Have you ever been bald? You two can’t be more than twenty.”
“Sir, we were lucky enough to see the light before we reached that age. Some don’t find the light until they are forced to deal with the problem straight on. Others die before ever having seen the light. We are trying to save you from such an outcome. It is never really too late to find happiness.”
“I am happy the way I am. This IS what I am.”
“Sir, a hardened heart is not uncommon. That pamphlet is filled with people who once thought the way you did, but the answer came to them when they finally opened their hearts and were willing to accept the light and the truth, which is hair restoration. They could not see the forest from the trees, but once they stepped out of the wilderness and into the light, it became apparent in ways that they had never before imagined that it was time for a change. That change is in your hands, sir.” Harvey had had enough.
“Get off my property.”
The two young men gave a shoulder shrug and began to depart, but not before the extrovert got one last pitch in.
“Okay. That’s fine, sir. But we are always here anytime you are ready. The address is in your hands.”
Harvey slammed the door. He walked into his bathroom and looked in the mirror. Thirty-four years old and completely bald on top. It is what it is.
The town looked the same, but something was different. Harvey was extra attentive as he drove down the street. The cathedral on 21st St. looked no different, but the congregation that was heading inside was almost all males. They would hug each other outside the steps and one of them would put his hand on the top of the other’s head, smiling brilliantly. Then they would walk in for service.
Billboards along the highway consistently showed men with broad smiles and shaggy manes. The words across the top of the ad would read: HAPPINESS IS JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY.
At the corner of Main and Jefferson stood a homeless looking man with matted hair and a scraggily beard. He had two large pieces of poster board around him that were tied together at the tops of his shoulders. He also had a bullhorn. The poster board on his front side read: THE END IS NEAR. When he turned around, the poster board on his back side read: REPENT! HAIR RESTORATION IS THE ONLY WAY! Through the bullhorn he screamed, “Scalp and Hair Analysis so loved the world that it gave all its technological findings to you so that you might have an eternal head of hair. Blessed is he who has rejected baldness, for he shall inherit the earth!”
Harvey was walking out of a music store when he saw the transient. Harvey stopped to watch. He could not believe what he was hearing. It was when the street preacher turned and saw Harvey that he made a face at Harvey like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The homeless man’s eyes got wide as he pointed a finger at Harvey.
“Repent! Repent! Philistine of the scalp! Worshiper of the chrome! This man came out of the music store where he was worshipping false prophets like James Taylor and David Lee Roth! Men who once understood the way of the hair, but then chose to walk a different path toward baldness.”
Harvey had no words. What words could there be? He just turned to walk away, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. What had he done?
“That’s right, walk away!” the homeless man yelled as Harvey ambled up the street. “Go back to your Andre Agassi’s, Ron Howards, and Telly Savalases. If Telly Savalas were alive today, he’d warn you about what happens when you don’t walk in the light. He knows now that he was wrong. It was your people who killed John Lennon. Look at Mark David Chapman today! He was always a man who was going bald and did nothing to fight it! Lennon killer! Lennon killer!”
Harvey got in his car and turned it on. He was still reeling when he heard a news blurb on the radio station. A news personality spoke. “Today, hair restoration activists are calling for the removal of the television program Guilty as Charged from NBC’s Thursday night lineup. Activists argue that actor J. Sterling Kent, who stars as chief prosecuting attorney, David Arledge, on the show, is a bald man who does not believe in hair restoration. Parents have announced shock and outrage that Kent is so vocal about his hair restoration atheism.”
The news cut to a sound bite of a distressed mother who sounded as though she was on the verge of tears. “I just can’t believe that these are the values that NBC is promoting. I want my kids to grow up in a world where hair restoration values exist. I’m calling on either NBC to remove Guilty As Charged from their fall lineup or for the show itself to remove Kent from its cast.”
The interviewer posed a question to the lady. “Don’t you feel that such a termination would be a breach of Kent’s First Amendment rights?”
“I’m sick of cowards hiding behind the First Amendment. First it’s The Ku Klux Klan, then the neo-Nazis, and now these bald advocates. I care about my children a heckuva lot more than I care about J. Sterling Kent’s First Amendment rights.”
Harvey turned off the radio. He was numb.
Voting day. It was a year later. The country was in a ruckus. Presidential candidate, Matthew Valentine, had been comfortably ahead in the polls just a few months prior. It seemed like a done deal. He was going to defeat an unpopular incumbent and move right on into the White House with nothing slowing him down. Then came the final debate.
Valentine had such charisma, much more than Dan Cullen, the incumbent. He was flying through the debate with no breach in his cool and calm demeanor. Then came that dreaded question that caused Valentine’s campaign manager to literally faint backstage. The question was simple enough. Sheila Worthington, the debate moderator, calmly leaned forward and read, “Senator Valentine, do you consider yourself a hair restoration activist?”
Valentine looked into the camera and smiled. He confidently remarked, “Well, Sheila, as you can tell, I’ve been blessed with a full head of hair. I have never had to worry about any trace of baldness, thank God.” The crowd briefly chuckled. “However, since I have never found myself in such a situation, who am I to judge people for what they choose to do when they lose their hair? I am definitely a free will advocate, just as our founding fathers intended us to be.”
The gasp was audible. Valentine’s campaign manager shrieked “Jesus Christ!” before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell to the floor. The other campaign workers were able to get him awake in time to hear President Cullen’s response to the same question.
“Sheila, I’m so glad you asked that question. I have never shied away from proudly declaring myself a hair restoration activist.” Cullen looked more confident than he had at anytime in the last four years. He knew he had just been given an opening and he was going for it. “My parents raised me that way and I have never backslid from such a strong stance. I strongly disagree with my opponent, Senator Valentine, and I pose this question in return. If you feel that the founding fathers were not full-fledged hair restoration advocates, then why did they wear powder wigs? Surely, only men who understand the value of a full head of hair would wear such things.” The audience gave Cullen a resounding applause. It got so loud and non-stop that Sheila had to continuously ask for silence.
Valentine’s campaign manager looked on in horror. His man had gone against the country’s basic fundamental principle, and Cullen had taken full advantage. He mumbled at the television, “Come on, Matthew! Take it back! Yeah, we’re gonna lose votes for that, but just take it back. Maybe we can recover.”
Valentine had his chance for a final rebuttal. “Um……the thing that…..I just believe in things and….uh…I don’t believe that letting people make choices is really..um…wrong. My opponent would have you believe…………” Valentine stopped and looked down. He was shaking. He finally looked up. “Sheila, could I get a refill on my water?”
All the members of Cullen’s administration were hugging and slapping each other on the backs. They had all been trying to figure out what they were going to do come January, but Valentine had just given them a gift. They had been given new life and now believed that they would have their jobs for another four years.
Harvey was sitting on the couch watching CNN. His friend David, another hair restoration atheist, was sitting in an easy chair.
“Are you gonna vote, Harv?”
“What’s the point? You can’t speak out against hair restoration to a country of believers and get elected. The last bald President we had was Eisenhower. Then came the invention of televisions and never again will that happen.”
“But Valentine isn’t bald.”
“He might as well be. Hell, to the country he’s worse than a bald man. He’s a Baldie lover. He won’t even win reelection to the Senate, let alone President. At this time next year, he’ll be hanging out with J. Sterling Kent, wherever the hell THAT guy is now.”
Alas, it was all true. Harvey was fine with what he was, but he still would wear hats to the grocery store because he didn’t want to deal with the hate speech and even the occasional violence. It was even harder when Rogaine built one of their churches right across the street from his house. Harvey used to sit on his front porch and stare people down as they walked into service, but that soon became a bad idea. You don’t want to make enemies with the richest and most powerful organization in the world. The church presently had a sign out front that read: VOTE CULLEN. OUR COUNTRY NEEDS FAMILY HAIR RESTORATION VALUES.
Of course that didn’t mean that Harvey always shied away. Sometimes his blood would run so hot that he would have to yell, “Benjamin Franklin was bald, you asshole!”
People had heard those arguments and were always ready. “Hair restoration didn’t exist. That’s why they had periwigs. If they had what we had today, Franklin would have had hair.”
Nothing was worse than being a bald man who was also a hair restoration believer, but one whom the technology could not help. Some bald people just could not physically take to it. All the plugs, transplants, and Minoxidil would not work. These people were seen as lepers whose faith was not strong enough. They were like modern John Merricks in the eyes of society. People would insist that “if those bald folks really wanted hair, they’d have it. They just don’t believe enough.”
It was in your face every day. Commercials advertised the Fellowship of Hair Restoration Athletes. There were all those holiday specials in January to celebrate the birth of the savior, Vidal Sassoon (Charlie Brown finally got that hair this year). All vampire movies feature bald vampires whose weaknesses include mousse, Rogaine, and Dapper Dan. If a hair restoration atheist wanted to get married, it basically had to be a private ceremony out in the woods. Society would never understand. It was witchcraft.
When the results came in, it was no surprise that Cullen had won by the largest margin in the history of Presidential elections. There really was no separation between the hair restoration activism and the state. Political analysts had almost nothing to talk about since the reason for the whitewash so obvious. There was no moral to the story. Everything was a no-brainer. Don’t kill people, don’t rape people, don’t steal, and don’t talk favorably about baldness. If you obey those rules, you should probably be okay.
Harvey had never budged. It was wrong, he thought. Wrong, judgmental, and dismissive, but he never dared to take his fight anywhere. Technically, it was not against the law to be what he was. It was a social stigma, not an illegality. But he knew there were no politicians, or doctors, or lawyers, who were known hair restoration atheists. There may be a sympathizer here or there in high professions, but nothing overt.
Harvey climbed into bed on election night. He heard David downstairs on the couch. What kept them from giving in? Maybe the commercials were right. Maybe there is happiness in hair that he had never considered because he had never opened his heart. Maybe he was just ignorant. If so many people believed, then how could it be wrong? That goes well beyond the placebo effect, doesn’t it? Maybe his heart was hardened. Maybe the boys with the backpacks and the homeless guy were right. Maybe Cullen was right. Look how far his faith got him. Meanwhile, take a look at what Valentine’s lack of faith did to him. Maybe there was more to this whole thing. Maybe Harvey had been blind. Maybe………
Author: Tim Sweeney
I am a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (English and Journalism) who now lives in Austin, Texas. I have contributed works to Gordon and the Whale, CultureMap, and run my own blog, The Man From the Garage (themanfromthegarage.com). I have a recently completed screenplay, and this is my fourth short story written in what may, or may not, eventually become an anthology.