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Bald Tales : So, you're searching to regain a thick, full mane? It's not easy, but here's how.


You want hair.

You want it bad.

Your hair has been disappearing down the shower drain for decades, forcing you to endure sadistic jabs from associates. "Is that your scalp or a cantaloupe on your neck?" Heh heh .

Your quest for eternal hair begins in the Ventura County Yellow Pages, which devotes an entire page to "Hair Replacement." (For those who want the opposite effect, "Hair Removing" is the preceding category.) You notice numerous before-and-after photos of men who have beaten baldness. But it's the headlines that really grab you.

"Restore your crowning glory."

"Grow your own hair."

"Permanent hair, with a natural hairline (emphasis theirs)."

And best of all: "Guaranteed."

Your 10th-grade hairdo--thick and bouncy--immediately flashes to mind. You call the 800-numbers for free information. Within days, the first brochure arrives in the mail, a shocking 36-page guide on "the art and science of hair restoration." You had always accepted male pattern baldness as a minor flaw but nothing like, say, disfigurement from a car wreck. But according to a Beverly Hills medical group, hair loss ranks right up there with the worst catastrophes befalling humankind.

"From Samson (sic) to Shakespeare, (baldness is) a tragedy of life," the guide informs you. "For thousands of years, men of all countries and races have shared the tragedy of premature hair loss, and the hope of discovering a cure." You learn baldness was "shameful" in ancient times and represented "the loss of a man's virility." Shakespeare was so resentful of his own baldness, the guide points out, that he made his bald characters either fools, villains or aging kings.

What a revelation. Far from being the swashbuckling figure you think you are, you are a tragic fool with a virility problem. Feeling as if you should go live in a colony of baldies so normal people won't have to look at you, you now see yourself as the victim of an unspoken tragedy--and you're not even entitled to disability. What a bum hand life has dealt you. If you had hair you would be normal, not the object of shame, pity and ridicule.

You would do anything to reverse this cruel twist of genetic programming. Anything .

Your enthusiasm lasts only as long as it takes to read more of the guide and find words like scalp reduction, minigraft, micrograft, megagraft, flap rotation, strip graft and bilateral lift . You come to realize that the medical profession's answer to hair loss isn't a simple potion or pill. To regain your mane, you have to be willing to spend several thousand dollars for minor surgery and then hide out for weeks until the scabs fall off.

You begin to wonder if you want hair that desperately.

Included on the "Hair Replacement" page are ads for hairpieces, an alternative to surgery. Billed as instant, painless hair, the wigs come in natural or synthetic, attaching to your scalp by means of fusion, weaving and "track bonding." You can get "24-hour wearability" and a "unique comb-back hairline." One company offers "private consultation rooms" and a "private unmarked entrance" so customers don't have to risk being exposed by normal people.

Before visiting the medical and prosthetic hair establishments in Ventura County, you talk to an associate who has worn hairpieces and is currently undergoing $13,000 worth of surgical restoration.

Since May, Mick (not his real name) has had five procedures: two scalp reductions and three transplant sessions of 200 grafts each. The 46-year-old salesman has one transplant session left, plus a "touch up." Even though he is nearly done with his ordeal, the transplanted follicles have yet to sprout (regeneration takes several weeks after the shock of transplantation) and the top of his head still looks raw and dappled, forcing him to wear a hat or bandanna in public.

"My (scalp) is not much of a turn-on until the hair grows in," says Mick, a bachelor whose side hair flows to his shoulders. "I don't go out looking for women. I sort of have to lay low."

Last summer, Mick underwent two scalp reductions. "The doctor cut out some of the balding area and pulled (the surrounding scalp) together and stitched it up," Mick says. Because of his tight scalp, a temporary "extender" was inserted sub-dermally during the first reduction to "give elasticity to the area," he says. A month later, the extender and a large swatch of scalp were removed. Each reduction required Demerol and an IV. Excess bleeding gave him black eyes and a swollen forehead after both operations.

The transplants were less traumatic. Sitting up in a barbershop-like chair, he watched videos for two or three hours as a surgical team hovered around him. Using a scalpel, the doctor extracted healthy hair follicles from the fringe around Mick's head and inserted them into Mick's barren dome, making sure they were placed in natural-looking positions. Working at the hairline, the doctor had to be an artist.

"You don't want it to come out looking phony," Mick says.

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