A Cure for Baldness

    Here in the Pacific Northwest the first generation of Scandinavians - old guys who started very sentence with "Ya," chewed snoose, ate cheeses whose names no-one could pronounce, and had huge scarred hands from logging the tall forests of fir trees with ax and saw - all had full vigorous heads of hair. Not only did these old men have full heads of hair but amazingly thick beards and pelts of body hair so thick and absorbent the owner could gain twelve pounds merely by working up a sweat. It was a common sight so nobody thought much about it. "Another hairy Swede" was the passing thought; you never saw a bald one unless he was a clerk or a barber.
    Great Grandpa Augustus thought all this hair production was a peculiarity of the Norse and Swedes who settled much of Central Puget Sound from 1880 on. He noted this phenomenon in his diaries. As a Lindall not that long from Norway himself and a celebrant of nature's littoral bounty he never gave his own luxurious pelt much thought except to be grateful for its warmth in winter. My great aunt Pet told my mother that Great Grandpa, after bathing, used to sweep up his shed hair in nesting season and spread it out on window sills and fence rails for the birds. Great Grandma was supposed to have collected her husband's shed hair over the years and woven a rug from it but I doubt the story. There are still a few items of his clothing in the big chest in the attic. Caught in the weave are plentiful hairs still supple and the Lindall reddish-gold color still vivid even after the passage of a full century.
    Up to thirty years ago you'd frequently find some old wiry guy, dwarfed by a hulking grandson, in a grocery store looking at the King Oscar Smoked oyster display and you couldn't help noticing the rank growths of hair from nostril and ears. Or the rasp of five-o'clock shadow as he passed a gnarled hand over his chin deciding between the herring in sour cream or the herring in oil. You could see the self-inflicted barbering overlapping his collar in a thick wavy curtain of white. Through the weave of his Ballard High School T-shirt protrudes thousands of gray or white chest and back hairs so thick and long that at a distance they made his outline indistinct.
    Women would flinch a bit and detour around the old man smelling of fish and snoose, but their husbands would stop to engage him in fish stories. "Ya, it vass in '46. Ve feeshed Queen Charlotte un' we could only take two o' dem big beggars at a time from the seine or the brail pole would snap half in two. Ol' Gunnar Paulson had to..."
    These were men who pulled their living from the sea when the woods were too dry to log and the sparks from the donkey boilers and saw mills could set square miles a-blaze in a single morning. In the summer when deep water fishing was slack you'd find them chest deep in 45° salt water crabbing with a rake and a floating bucket, knee-deep in estuary mud, picking oysters, digging clams and gweduks, or smelt fishing at night, feeding their large families from the lavish banquet borne on the tide.
    The shellfish were so thick in those days that their waste supported thick blooms of algae. I recall from my youth the Swedes and Norsemen out shellfishing looked like they were wading in pea soup.
    Those days are gone now. The shellfish populations are only a shadow of their former glory and the few remaining Scandinavian men while very old and arthritic are still hairy. Who knows what spending hours every summer day in cold salt water thick with the healthy defecations of billions of shellfish did to Northern Europeans, but it grows hair. Not long ago scientists from P. Lorillard and Merck came too late to test and measure. Most of the old Scandinavians are long gone. Those that were still around were shy of talking to strangers about personal matters like their hair.
    Men nearing a century on earth hate to be fussed over and so diverted their interviewers by offering oily home-smoked salmon on stale crackers, cheese that looked like soap but tastier, aged coffee strong enough to float rocks, and long detailed "feesh" stories -- works of local history and fiction wrapped in a single bardic narrative. "... Olafson's boat run aground on a fallin' tide un' he had his seine out fulla feesh. Vell sirr, he vasn't gonna loose dat catch so he had this deck windlass..."
    An afternoon of chasing the rainbow of a shy fisherman's recollections resulted few useful notes on paper, no photos except of a blocking hand, no blood sample. The interviewer's heartfelt desire soon became overwhelming: he had to get out of the smelly bachelor's shack with its red hot wood stove and heaps of old nets, chilling drafts, two man saws, and stale foul weather coats everywhere into fresh air so he could find a quiet place in the nearby woods to unload his partakings of local delicacies.
    In the end the scientists and their technicians folded up their grants and reports and burping fish fumes went back to figuring better way to perform hair implants and more efficient Rogaine production.
    It's clam manure that grows hair in skin maintained in salt water at 50F for hours. That part is well known but what part of the clam manure? How does it work? It's a secret lost to science. They don't make men like those old loggers anymore.
    You heard it from me first and it's the honest truth.

. . . Forrest Addy

 

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© 2003 by Forrest Addy. All rights reserved.
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