I remember exactly where I was standing when the guy did it--I was just off stage in an old gym. I was about to go up and stand behind the podium and give a speech or read a story at a fund-raising banquet, and the guy who was introducing me was doing it with a joke--a joke about a bald man.
That there was some empty spaces above didn't come as a surprise. I remember washing my hair the night before I left for college and finding enough to bale. That someday I wasn't going to be among those blessed with gorgeous hair was old news. Eventually, 't'would be a desert up top.
And I wasn't pulling some ridiculous comb-over either. The woman who cut my hair told me once upon a time that the day I started trying to rotate a crop I didn't have, I could find some other place to sit in the chair--she wasn't going to take my money anymore. My wife wouldn't have let me either.
I knew I was going shiny on top, but I guess I really thought no one else did.
The night I was introduced with some lame joke about a bald guy remains a searing memory. I could just as well have been standing there in my jockeys. Some sweet voice must have been telling me that I was the only who'd seen the vast empty spaces across my pate.
And now another. Not long ago, I ran into a former student--maybe five years ago--who gave me a huge smile, held out her hand, said nice things, and then, almost slack-jawed, said something like this: "You're retired, right?"
Now the truth is, I'd love to be retired. Love it. Just two nights ago, I had a double dose of my old teaching nightmare--I'm standing up in front of students, but not making a bit of a difference. They could care less. I've had that nightmore for 39 years, at least. I'd love to be rid of it, once and forever.
But that former student's unfeeling and even salacious salutation ranks right up there in my list of perfectly awful hate crimes with the show-stopping bald joke. I wanted to say, "Do I look 70, really?"
I went home and cried.
Then, just a few days later, another former student walks into my office, this one having graduated a decade earlier. "Dr. Schaap, you can't be 62--you just can't be," she says to me with totally unfeigned shock.
That comment was plain music to my soul, and thus I'm ready for another day, maybe even another semester.
I'm not stupid. Her surprise may have been self-referential--you know, if-he's-that-old-then- I'm-really-ancient sort of thing. I don't care.
She was Florence Nightengale that morning, stanching my agonies.
Vanity, vanity--all is vanity, saith the preacher.
I don't care. This morning I'm thankful for the utter shock on my ex-student's face, the second one, the one who made my day--and that was a week ago.