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Follicles show signs of life in Glendale

Barber Vaughn Vasquez's been using minoxidil since October and sees hair growing where once there was none.

January 02, 2011|Steve Lopez

I can't say that what's been happening on the top of barber Vaughn Vasquez's head is the talk of Glendale, because for lots of men, matters regarding hair and hair loss are a private matter.

But anyone who knows Vasquez and has seen him since October is aware that a scientific marvel is taking place. Vasquez, whose summit has been nearly bare for years, took up a challenge from a customer and is growing hair like an ape.

Let me back up, first.

I've been going to Rudy's of Glendale for several years because it's a low-key, throwback shop, and when I say throwback, I mean to say they're still using rabbit ears on the TV. Despite occasional interference, which makes it look like people's faces are melting, Vasquez doesn't see the point in spending money on cable when he can pull in a few dozen stations for free.

The shop was opened in 1955 by Vaughn's late dad, onetime professional boxer Rudy Vasquez, whose photos still line one wall. Rudy is in his fighting stance, dukes up.

Rudy's is nothing at all like another barbershop hangout of mine, Lawrence Tolliver's clip parlor in South L.A. At Tolliver's, the guys love talking politics. But Vaughn's three rules are no politics, no religion and no checks, all of which he says are bad for business.

So that means we talk about sports and recreation, the best burger in Glendale (Damon's wins that conversation), and how they're going to get rid of the pet iguana barber Chris Craig brought into the shop several months ago.

It's not the place to go, in other words, if you want to discuss the SALT treaty or suggest that tax breaks for billionaires are unlikely to trickle down to the clientele at Rudy's.

So a few haircuts ago I walked in for a trim and Vaughn casually announced that he had just begun an experiment to try and grow hair. A customer named Brian Levitz, who works in corporate sponsorship at the L.A. Zoo, had insisted that Rogaine works, and he encouraged Vasquez to try it.

Vasquez, 46, had heard lots of similar claims over the years, but he remained a committed doubter and was not particularly interested in changing his appearance. He believes you play the hand you were dealt. But Levitz was an aggressive pitch man.

"I've gone from middle-aged balding to what appears to be a much fuller head of hair," Levitz says.

As a doubter who's frugal enough to still be using rabbit ears, Vasquez wasn't about to shell out good money for what he considered to be snake oil. But Levitz turned him on to generic minoxidil at Target, where a three-month supply costs around $20.

So beginning Oct. 8, Vasquez — who sometimes skateboards to work from his home in La Crescenta — began rubbing his head twice daily with a few drops of the stuff. Early on, he took photos of the top of his head with his cellphone, for later comparison.

"I think his bald spot has definitely got some fuzz growing," Levitz said about a month after the experiment began.

It looked that way to me, too, but Vasquez wasn't convinced, even after examining the "before" photos on his cellphone. The fact that he knew so many people who were using minoxidil got me thinking, though.

Is Glendale the city I thought it was?

Trust me, I mean it as a compliment when I say Glendale doesn't strike me as a place where people care excessively about their appearance. But unbeknownst to me, lots of men have been staring at the mirror, even if some of them don't like to admit it.

"I don't want to be identified," insisted a Tournament of Roses official who began using Rogaine in 1996, when he first noticed a clearing in the forest.

Geez, I could understand a Tournament of Roses official wanting to stay on the down low if he were using, say, heroin. But minoxidil?

"I never told anybody other than my wife," said the official, who isn't sure he's grown much hair, but believes he has stopped losing hair.

That's a lot of faith, going on 15 years. Why couldn't I have invented a product that might or might not work, with no proof either way?

Actually, minoxidil doesn't seem to work for many guys. But Vaughn Vasquez is now sporting undeniable proof that for some people, it's pure gold.

In late November, Vasquez had to confess that not only was the top of his head filling in, but the hair was darker than the sidewalls. It was like a Christmas miracle, and just before the holiday came around, he had enough new hair to become a pitch man for minoxidil.

So the cynic is now a believer, and as a businessman, Vasquez can see the advantage of promoting a hairier Glendale.

"You going to try it?" he asked me.

Not me, pal. I don't like yard work. The less landscaping, the better.

"You sure?" he asked.

Of course I'm sure.

"You could write about it," he said.

Oh come on. I'd never write about anything as trivial as whether a middle-aged man can grow hair.

But how much does the stuff cost?

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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