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To be young, gifted and bald in America


You often hear that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

But if you’re a Silva and male, another certainty is that you’ll go

bald at an early age.


All of the men in my family possessed or possess the cue-ball gene

-- my father, his father, my uncles, brothers and cousins all

suffered the same, hairless fate. It’s a fate we were destined at

birth to meet and meet soon. No one escapes.


It isn’t an easy thing, to be bald in a society that worships

youth and beauty. It’s even harder when baldness strikes, as in my

case, before high school graduation. While others were fretting about

pimples and grades and girls, I was stressing over a receding

hairline -- and girls. I would have traded my problem for acne in a


I’ve talked to many fellow bald men and found that we each had

very similar reactions to the realization we were losing our hair. As


with a terminal illness, balding men pass through clearly defined

stages of dealing with their situation. But whereas the terminally

ill experience a whole host of reactions -- denial, anger,

bargaining, depression, etc. -- the balding pass through only two:

denial, then freaked-out, hands-over-the-face dismay.

As Americans who were old enough to remember can tell you exactly

what they were doing the day Kennedy was shot, so too can a bald man

recount the exact moment he first learned he was losing his hair. The


moment came for me one spring day in Mr. Thompson’s eighth-grade

typing class. I was hunched over an old Smith-Corona typewriter,

practicing my home keys, when Eddie Amaya, who was sitting behind me,

suddenly said, “Dude, you’re losing your hair.”

I picked up my typewriter pencil, the one with an eraser on one

end and a brush on the other, and bounced it off his head. But as

soon as I got home from school, I rushed for the bathroom, where I

grabbed a hand-held mirror and examined the back of my head in the

mirror over the sink. And there it was, small but in my eyes as big

as Texas -- The Patch.

“Mom! Mooooom!”

“What? What?” My mother came rushing in.

“I’ve got cancer!”


“I’ve got cancer! Look! My hair is falling out!”

My mother examined my scalp, then sighed. “Ay stupido, you don’t

have cancer. You’re just starting to lose your hair. It happens in

our family.”

“No ... no! Look closer! It has to be cancer! It has to be!” At

15, I was more prepared to have a life-threatening illness than

male-pattern baldness.

“Quit it with the cancer! You’re just getting thin on top. Your

father started losing his hair at your age. That’s just how it is.

Don’t worry about it, Davey! Girls love bald men! They think it’s


Masculine, my foot. I started thinking about the bald men that I

knew, and the only two who were considered masculine were Telly

Savalas of “Kojak” fame and the great Western actor Yul Brynner. But

they both were powerfully built men with unusual, hawk-like features,

whereas I was just roundly built and had a round head. I was

convinced you couldn’t be round and bald and masculine.

“I’m doomed,” I moaned. “Who’s gonna date a 15-year-old kid with a

bald spot? I might as well become a priest.”

“Oh, quit being so dramatic! It’s not a big deal!”

But it was a big deal. For a lot of boys, the early advent of hair

loss is so disturbing that it alters the course of their existence.

At my school, there were two other boys who were clearly thinning on

top -- Jesus Estebo and Mark Ramsay. The three of us were never close

before, but after our mutual affliction became noticeable, a strange

bond formed between us. We never hung out together -- that would just

draw attention to our collective baldness -- but we would always nod

gravely to one another when we passed in the hallway.

Jesus was a handsome Cuban kid and had always been a ladies’ man.

He deejayed the coolest parties and was rarely seen without a pretty

Latina on his arm. But when his hair started falling out, Jesus

stopped deejaying and flirting with the girls, put away his flashy

shirts and gold chains, and discovered Christ.

Soon, it became an everyday thing to see Jesus standing in the

middle of a small crowd during lunch, holding a Bible up high and

shouting at the top of his lungs about the need for spiritual

redemption and the End Times. He formed a campus Christian Club,

which quickly became very popular. I went to one of the meetings and

was impressed with the fervor Jesus put into his preaching and his

command of Apocalyptic Scripture. The entire time, his Bible would be

raised up like a stone tablet, as if he was about to hurl it down at

you with the power of a thunderbolt.

My friends thought Jesus had lost his mind, but I felt it was a

brilliant move on his part, finding religion. With all his shouting

about the Four Horsemen and the Lake of Fire, who cared that he was

losing his hair? This was important stuff!

Mark Ramsay was never a ladies’ man. He dated exactly one girl,

Gabby Ruiz, and had been with her pretty much since puberty. The two

were inseparable, and would have been voted Class Couple were it not

for the fact she dumped him shortly after his hair started falling


Mark’s reaction to this turn of events was entirely different than

Jesus’, but still a common one for balding young men -- he grew a

mustache and pursued a career in law enforcement. The last I heard he

was an L.A. Sheriff’s deputy, and the word is if any of his old

classmates get pulled over, he lets them off with a smile and a


I imagine during those times, no one ever brings up the subject of


I know I didn’t have the voice for preaching or the desire to be a

cop. So I dealt with my burgeoning baldness in a couple of different

ways. One was, I wore a baseball cap everywhere I went for a good two

years, a fashion development that bothered my mother to no end.

“Oh, take that ugly thing off your head,” she’d say, “before

someone thinks you’re a bum and gives you change.”

And the other thing I did was to start thinking seriously about

being a writer. All the great writers were bald, I figured.

Hemingway. Bukowski. Stephen King. OK, maybe not Stephen King, but a

lot of them. That’s what I’ll do, I concluded. I’ll become a great

writer. I’ll become a literary talent so great that no one will pay

attention to what’s going on top of my head, just what’s inside it.

Who knows? I thought to myself. Maybe one day I’ll be so

comfortable with my baldness I’ll write about it for laughs. I’ll

call it, ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Bald in America.’

* DAVID SILVA is the city editor of the News-Press, the Leader’s

sister paper. His column runs Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or by

e-mail at