Helmets in the Sun
Illustration by Calef Brown
WHEN SUMMER COMES WE GO TOUPEE HUNTING, Hector Schechner and I. Not my first choice of midday entertainment -- I'm not the hunter type -- but I went along last year and it was kind of fun or intriguing or vaguely positive; and the year before that was, as I recall, borderline tolerable, so what the hell. Schechner himself, as many of you know, wears a toupee (and a prosthetic mustache) as part of his act. But what most fans don't know is that beneath the toupee, Schechner has a full head of thick straight brown and gray hair, which he keeps trimmed short enough for his toupee(s -- he owns several) to conceal, to contain the mysterious Hector Schechner persona.
Hunting for toupees involves no violence or even overt judgments. It is simply a way of observing the world, a training exercise designed to keep one's artifice detector properly tuned, updated with the latest verisimilitudeware. Schechner's favorite hunting grounds are in Century City, in the bright clean luminous courtyard between the big shiny towers of 2029 and 2049 Century Park East and the adjacent ABC Entertainment Center. In this courtyard, around noon, in June, the daylight bounces around so recklessly as to challenge even the darkest, most expensive sunglasses. The ambient light renders relative subtleties such as face-lifts, collagen lips and toupees even starker than usual, so that almost anyone in the right frame of mind can spot them. Some toupees here practically glow. ("Best hunting grounds in town," as Schechner puts it.)
So Schechner and I dress in urban camouflage -- black pocket T-shirts and carpenter pants from The Gap -- park at the 3-hours-free-with-validation mall, fetch a couple of iced coffees and head over to the western periphery of the hunting grounds. There we sit sipping, watching, dangling our brown leather Starbucks-stompers over the low stone wall, not 10 feet from the nearest herd of expensively dressed businessfolk who eat and smoke and chat on cell phones, many simultaneously.
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We sit and we hunt. Schechner talks research. This year's stats: On a weekday at noon, in the middle of June, 85 percent of men wearing ties in Century City, he claims, are also wearing toupees.
I find that statistic hard to believe.
"I understand your skepticism," says Schechner, in his patented cadaverous monotone. "I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. But believe me -- I've spent five years researching this shit, and I take my work seriously. My statistics do not lie."
I still don't buy it. This Schechner, I remind myself, used an abacus to do last year's taxes. So Schechner brings me up to speed: The (granted) astonishingly high percentage of toupeeing is apparently due to some sort of fleeting glitch between passively competing cultural trends. "Shaved heads are terribly popular at certain nightclubs among a huge constituency of divorced or hoping-to-be-divorced businessmen, men who've found the best way to hide the gray is to simply remove it," Schechner explains. "They shave their graying heads and hang out at midlife-crisis nightclubs, pricey restaurants with crowded bars -- you know the kinds of places -- because they think it'll increase their chance of getting laid.
"Unfortunately, these same shaved heads are still generally frowned upon in the 9-to-5 course of conducting corporate business -- to a great extent because too many clients whose decades have been spent indoors, making only money, are still haunted by memories of Jeffrey Tambor's character (attorney Jay Porter) in 1979's And Justice for All suddenly flipping out, shaving his head and flinging dishes. So, in order to keep their jobs, most closeted head-shavers wear toupees during the day. Like that one there."
Schechner points out a passing Euro-American entertainment attorney whose neatly combed hair does, I admit, seem to generate an inexplicable, inorganic glow.
UNLIKE SCHECHNER'S HEAD, MINE IS BALDING IN earnest. Of the roughly 100,000 regenerating hairs I maintained through my early 20s, I'd estimate that about 18,000 of the toppers have left me for drain traps, pillowcases, sweaters and the like; gutters, even. (I like to think there's a little bit of my DNA floating around L.A. like deceased ashes at sea.) And I suspect another 10,000 of these male-pattern buggers are making plans for departure over the next few years, gradually, in small and stealthy enclaves, hoping I won't notice.
I will notice, but, unlike in my 20s, will muster only the slightest fuck.
For the record, I'm afraid of toupees. Afraid as in What the fuck are you thinking, there, sport?? Over here, I'm just losing hair; you seem to be losing . . . something else.
To me, the notion of wearing not one's own hair on one's own head is precisely as reasonable as wearing a clip-on foreskin. Yes, it might be nice to have more hairstyle options and a more well-protected, less mutilated penis. But -- and this is important -- I do not. Yet my head still works and looks just fine, and so, for the record, does my penis.
You do what you like with your helmets. But remember: Schechner's watching.
AS THIS IS SCHECHNER'S FIFTH CONSECUTIVE SUMmer of toupee hunting, the media are finally beginning to take notice. Around 1 p.m., a local entertainment-news crew arrives for an interview. (Schechner's also in the midst of negotiations for a miniseries with a prominent cable-entertainment conglomerate.)
With the video camera rolling, an attractive businesswoman with unwieldy heels and very short hair distracts us.
"Fourteen percent of women wearing high heels in Century City also wear toupees," Schechner tells the camera. "At night."
"You mean wigs?" the reporter asks.
"No," Schechner replies. "Men's toupees. The same ones the men wear during the day, the women wear at night, often to the same venues. But they never, never share, even though it would save a lot of money. It's complicated. Very trendy."
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