My favorite commercial growing up
was the Hair Club for Men.
The first time I saw it, nine years old,
I was impressed by spokesman Cy Sperling’s
modest, straightforward candor: … and remember,
I’m not just the Hair Club president—
I’m also a client. His rushed, nervous,
monotone delivery suggested he really meant it;
he wasn’t just an actor taking what work
he could, waiting to break through
to a prime-time sitcom like Growing Pains,
or a sleazy entrepreneur exploiting adult
male insecurities. And his hair wasn’t styled
or showy—it was neat and full. I didn’t just
think of my father, whom I never recall
having much hair—who now wears long what
thinly remains of his horseshoe pattern
in a braided ponytail dangling below
his shoulders, and covers his bald top
with a do-rag that says PUERTO RICO—
but of myself, too, in the same way
I thought about heaven: I wasn’t going
anytime soon, but should keep it on my radar
because the likelihood, I knew,
would increase as I got older.
I watched, my floppy light-brown
bowl cut tickling my forehead—
maintained by my mother’s stylist, Susie,
a woman in her mid-twenties, overweight
but pretty, the way hairdressers tend to be—
and imagined attending a meeting.
Mr. Sperling was unassuming, the type,
I figured, to let even non-club members sit in.
I’d walk past a couple smokers
down below the tree house, give them each
a cordial but disapproving nod,
climb up the ladder and knock
on the floor door until someone
would open and welcome me in.
The space larger than it looked
from the outside, linoleum tile floor,
dim florescent light, forty or so
folding metal chairs lined in front
of a podium, mostly middle-aged men
gathered behind the rows enjoying refreshments
before the meeting officially started—unlike church
where you had to wait until after.
They’d be from all professional echelons,
but noticeably inclusive of each other—and me,
grateful to recruit some young blood;
none of them drinking alcohol, sensitive
to the AA members on their way
to another meeting that night.
Cy Sperling, dressed in his grey suit and tie,
would walk up to the podium, and we’d file
into the seats just over a third full,
and he would introduce the guest speaker.
I’d look around the room to see whom
he was saying such complimentary things about
and find no one looking ready to get up,
when in through the door would walk
my father, who’d make his way to the front
of the aisle and turn at the podium, blink
one of his bright blue eyes at mine
as if to say: now that you know
what I am,
we can have these meetings
from now on, whenever you want.
—from Rattle #44, Summer 2014
Andrew Bennett: “Twelve years ago I saw Stanley Kunitz in his nineties read ‘Haley’s Comet,’ a poem based on his eighty-some-year-old memory of the 1910 apparition. He was the same age in 1910 as I was when the comet next appeared in 1986, of which I had no recollection. So maybe I needed to embrace life more, or maybe not—since even the rarest opportunities, evidently, came twice. This was the first time I saw, though, that imagination and memory are essentially the same thing.”
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