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Nothing to Hide 

The attention-deflecting qualities of hair only go so far

Grant's hair is out of hand. I'm sorry, but someone had to say it. When Grant's head hardly fits in his own car anymore, forcing him to ride his motor scooter, and when police are ticketing him because there isn't a helmet on Earth big enough to fit his 'fro, then that's when his hair becomes a hazard, got that? Jesus God, I don't know how we let it get this far.

Back when I met him, he didn't even have hair, hardly, just closely cropped moss-like fuzz covering his big huge head, and even Grant will tell you he has a big huge head. There was a picture of him in the newspaper back then, accompanying an article covering some antic of his, like how he opened a store in East Atlanta that sold nothing but gilded God-abilia. Anyway, in the newspaper picture he is holding a box of something, probably crucifix key-chain charms, and his big bald head is thrown back, caught in the midst of a massive belly laugh. I love that picture. In it, Grant has a smile as wide as the ocean tide.

It's the same smile he gave the homeless guy who asked him for 50 cents the other day. The guy walked right up to Grant as he sat on the terrace of a coffee house and said, "Gimme fiddy cen'." Grant beamed that big smile and answered, "No, thank you, but I'm happy you asked," like he was turning the homeless guy down for a dance or something. The homeless guy stood there stupefied for a second, then turned to leave, then decided against it, then stood on the sidewalk with Grant's back to him and yelled, "Hey, Bushy Head! Watchyoo mean you happy? Bushy Head! I'm talkin' to you, Bushy Head!" But Grant sat there facing away from all the yelling, laughing behind his hair while the homeless guy kept yelling, "I'm talkin' to you, Bushy Head!" Nobody else on the terrace had hair to hide behind, so it was quite uncomfortable for them.

Grant says I am just jealous, because I used to have long mermaid hair all through school, which hung unadorned down my face like a sun-kissed curtain. But I tell you it was just a cloak. I wouldn't cut it because I wanted my own portable privacy everywhere I went. I'd moved 18 times before I graduated from high school, all across the country into all manner of atmospheres geared to guarantee total social hell for an adolescent, and I never did figure out how to fit in. Instead I created my own cocoon, made mostly of my plain waist-length hair, and I sat with my chin in my hand hoping nobody would notice me. I pretty much got my wish.

Then came fifth grade and this creepy teacher named Mr. Arnold. He told us Hitler was a genius and said the true mark of a man was in his ability to annihilate entire populations in the name of patriotism, which is why Truman, too, was one of his heroes. He called the class's attention to me by pointing out my ignorance over the solar system. I hadn't covered the cosmos in the previous two grade schools I'd attended that year, so I didn't yet know the order of the planets as of that minute, so I answered his question incorrectly, and incorrect answers were unforgivable to Mr. Arnold. He started calling me Goldie Hair. "I'm talking to you, Goldie Hair," he'd say, and I'd look straight ahead and pretend he wasn't.

I always felt guilty around Mr. Arnold, like I was doing something wrong when really I was just trying to hide in plain sight. One time in the lunch line I saw him walking toward me. I had my packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast in my hand, and I shoved it into my pocket because, I don't know, it was a new school and for all I knew it was punishable by public hanging to bring stuff to mix in with your milk. Mr. Arnold saw me skulking in line and honed in on me like a hornet.

"Goldie Hair, what're you hiding?" he leered, and immediately I lapsed into my usual imitation of an autistic child, which never worked but, Christ, what's a kid to do? So I just went all dead inside and stood there like a sleep walker while he yelled, "I'm talkin' to you, Goldie Hair!" Finally he yanked my arm out of my pocket to find my fingers clutching that stupid packet of Instant Breakfast and then he laughed. He laughed like the mad hammer-claw killer he probably was on the weekends, and then -- this is the worst part -- then he got in line behind me and started kissing my head! Oh, my GOD! How the hell am I supposed to hope nobody notices me when my own damn adult teacher is kissing my head like a big grizzly bear with a newborn cub?

Every day for months after that he greeted me with, "Goldie Hair, what're you hiding?" Finally one day I walked into class and slammed my books on my desk. "Nothing, Mr. Arnold!" I cried. "I got nothing to hide!" which must have been the correct answer, because after that he was nicer to me, but not by much.

Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at atlanta.creativeloafing.com.

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