My wife and I are sitting through a left-turn green signal because the guy in the car in front of us isn't looking at the traffic light. He's looking at himself in his rear-view mirror. He's messing with his hair.
Not out of road rage. Not because my wife and I are in a great hurry to get anywhere. I honk to warn him that people can see him messing with his hair.
He just waves.
"Look at that," I say to my wife. "No sense of shame."
"About what?" she says.
"About making a spectacle of himself," I say. "About messing with his hair and making goo-goo eyes at himself with people all around him. About violating the Immutable Male Principle that we should never show public concern for how we look."
"You're weird," she says.
"Sure I'm weird," I say. "Unlike most people nowadays, I don't like it when things go all to hell. If you're looking for a sign that the Tribulation is just around the corner, that the Anti-Christ is upon us, that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are due any time now, you've just seen it. A guy messing with his hair in public and not even being ashamed of it."
"You're truly weird," she says. "Truly-ooly-ooly weird."
I tell her it's not just the driver ahead of us. It's a whole lot that's been coming down lately. A full page ad last week for some kind of male perfume-"A masculine blend of cool freshness, sensual woods, and seductive musk." A news story about men buying face stuff-skin cream, moisturizers made from cucumbers, something smeary to cover up "broken capillaries," whatever those are.
"So?" she says.
"And how about that story last week about the San Francisco 49ers?" I say. "How about that, huh? Huh?"
She doesn't know about it so I have to explain that everybody in California is going nuts about getting their faces injected with something called Botox. It's made from the same bacteria that causes botulism and it smoothes up your wrinkles and makes you looked relaxed.
"And you know what else?" I say, revving up the engine a little. "It not only smoothes up your wrinkles and makes you look relaxed, it paralyzes the muscles in your face that let you frown. And you know who uses it? Everybody in California-even the San Francisco 49ers. Whaddya say to that?"
"Maybe you should try some," she says. "You're frowning."
"San Francisco 49ers are supposed to frown," I say. "They're supposed to look mean and ugly. But they wanna look relaxed without any wrinkles."
The Truth, Mainly
I'm working up a sweat.
"This has something to do with that hick town in Kansas where you grew up," she says. "Right?"
She's right. Growing up in my hometown back in the 40s, we knew enough not to mess with our hair in front of the mirror in the boys' john. You only had to get caught once to know what Adam and Eve felt like just before they got their fig leaves.
So, yeah, it has something to do with growing up where I grew up. But I've pretty much transcended that. It's male vanity that I can't stand.
"The trouble today," I tell my wife, "is that nobody knows about Narcissus."
I tell her how he's the handsome guy in Greek mythology who falls in love with his own reflection when he bends over to drink from a pool of water. He's so enchanted by how pretty he is that he never gets up. Just stays there messing with his hair and making goo-goo eyes at himself until he dies of terminal vanity.
She rolls her eyes like maybe I've already told her about Narcissus.
"Aren't you overreacting?" she says. "Guess what your psychologist friends would say about you."
"Oh, sure," I say. "It's overreacting to be upset when civilization is crumbling all around us.'
She picks at some dog hair on the car seat.
"The dog's shedding too," she says, apropos of nothing. Sometimes I wonder about her ability to make connections.
We're home by now, and without looking at myself in the rear-view mirror, I get out of the car and make a dash for the bathroom.
"While you're in there, Big Guy," she says as I lock the door, "work off some of that male pattern indignation by messing with your male pattern bald spot. Maybe try parting it in the middle."
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.