telegraph Avenue and bald head

For those not lucky enough to know Telegraph Avenue here in Berkeley, either through intimate familiarity or reputation, I’ll share with you a story to illustrate its color. I choose this one not because it’s any more representative of the Avenue’s quirkiness, but because it compliments a general subject that’s arisen this month from an e-mail and conversations with friends — baldness.

Why the subject of baldness has taken root (no pun intended) this particular month is beyond me. But it began when a friend of mine imparted that the collateral damage of his steadily receding hairline and complementary back of the head crop circle from the testosterone he’s taking is less problematic and troubling than a noticeable increase in nose hair. Another friend of mine struggled with the merits of growing out his thinning hair versus continuing to shave it, with the concern that a longer more shaggy look wouldn’t suit him and he’d cut it out of frustration before he could find out (inside money says if he tries he won’t make it more than a week). And then towards the end of the month, I received an e-mail from a cousin who — among other things — shared with me his appreciation of having dodged his family’s balding gene bullet, since having a full head of hair came in handy while vacationing under an ozone challenged Australian summer sun.

Aside from the anecdote I’m about to share and some sympathetic head nodding, my contribution to the subject was limited. I do notice a bit of a “Nicholson” forming on either side of my temples, but that’s hardly enough to qualify as going bald (not yet anyway). And since I’ve yet to get to Australia, I’m not sure what my full head of red hair will do for me if and when I get there.

The nose hair lamentation, however, I can identify with. Why the male of the sexes needs more hair in their nose (or ears) as they get older is an evolutionary enigma that’s had me stumped for close to a decade. Even more puzzling is why some gentlemen refuse or can’t seem to keep it under control — I’m a quadriplegic for God’s sake and even my paralysis hasn’t kept me from maintaining a regular pruning schedule. The way I see it, if I’ve got to suck up my pride and ask somebody to get up and in there for me, I don’t see how nose shrubbery on the able-bodied can be excused. I’m just saying.

But I digress.

The Ave.

Berkeley hate man

Telegraph Avenue is filled with “interesting” characters. It’s Berkeley, after all. It’s an odd mix of academics, eccentrics, radicals and the homeless. Often times, you’ll find someone is a mix of all four. Some of these folks I’ve gotten to know quite well — some by name, while others solely by daily passing nods and hellos. When you’ve been here as long as I have, have red hair, use a wheelchair and have a red dog, you tend to stand out as much as anybody else and connections of familiarity invariably form.

Still, sometimes you come across somebody you’ve never seen before and not because they’ve only just arrived in town, but rather they’ve chosen to fly under the radar and not be noticed. Why this is, who can say, but when you meet them you certainly won’t be short on hypotheses.

When my watch died a couple of months ago I needed to find someplace within walking distance to get it fixed. I knew of a jewelry shop on the Avenue and so I thought I’d try that first. On my way there, not more than five stores from my destination, I discovered an actual watch repair shop that I’d somehow overlooked for all these years; a barely there storefront squeezed comically into what seemed like a narrow walkway between two other businesses. It wasn’t very inviting place — a steel cage fortified the door and it’s only small window was barred and covered with a piece of cardboard (admittedly, Telegraph has its sketchy elements, but it’s hardly Times Square circa 1978). Still, despite the Fort Knox like security, a “we’re open” sign hung prominently on the door and a note above a doorbell reading, “ring for assistance”, suggested they were actually interested in customers.

Having a broken watch on me, I figured I qualified as business and went ahead and did as the sign suggested and rang the doorbell. After waiting a couple of minutes, but hearing nothing, I decided to give it another shot and hit the button again. Just as I was about to turn to go, I heard locks — maybe four — one by one disengage from the door, and a tall, spindly man in his 70s with the worst toupee I’ve ever seen, opened it and leaned out.

“Yes?” He said, looking down at me briefly and then up and down the street to make sure I didn’t have an accomplice who could rob him.

“I’ve got a watch I need to have fixed”. I said.

“Give it to me. Let me see it”. He said, keeping his distance, but extending his hand and wiggling his fingers in an inpatient beckon.

When I explained I was unable to get it myself and that he’d have to reach into the pack alongside my chair for it, he let out a groan and cautiously stepped from the door. As he leaned over me, a mix of sour body odor and cheap drugstore cologne entered my airspace and nearly made me gag. His toupee, from this closer vantage point, appeared to be backwards and was listing to one side, looking like a cheap, blonde Beatles wig from the sixties. I wanted to say something — to let him know his hairpiece was off and that perhaps in his efforts to get to the door, he’d placed it on carelessly, but not knowing how he would take such assistance (as it seems most toupee owners go to great lengths to camouflage the fact that they wear one), I thought better of it… that and the large side arm strapped to his belt. Anyway, I figured he’d either work it out later or that was the look he was going for — no sense in upsetting the man any more than I already had.

“Kinetic, huh?” He said, looking at the face of the watch and then flipping it over to scrutinize the back.

“Yeah. Can you fix it?”

“It’s a Seiko”.

“Yeah”. I said. But he wasn’t asking a question.

“Japanese garbage”. He said, putting the watch back in my pouch. “I don’t work on Seikos”.

But before I could say anything else, he was back inside and re-bolting the locks. What he had against Seiko or the Japanese, I can’t say, but even if he’d given me the time I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable pursuing the issue — his side arm, rapidly falling toupee, nervous paranoia and quixotic distaste for timepieces from the land of the rising sun were all I needed to take my business elsewhere… no questions asked. The irony of it is, I bought my watch on eBay and so I doubt it was Japanese (or a Seiko) in the first place, more than likely it was a Chinese knockoff and probably the reason it wasn’t working.

And so ends my anecdote about Telegraph Avenue and baldness. The point of it all is in there somewhere and I suggest if you really want to find it, you look at it as sort of a “Where’s Waldo” kind of a deal. It’ll be more enjoyable that way and ultimately more rewarding. As for the watch, well…

Tick-tock, tick-tock.


This week’s recommended buys/listens:

smokey rolls down thunder canyon album cover Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, Devendra Banhard Idiosyncratic freak folk.  A difficult one to pin down exactly; alternately comic and nostalgic, it’s a mix of 70s Laurel Canyon haze and modern indie quirkiness.  A favorite of mine in 2007.

out my window album cover Out My Window, Koushik 60s style sunshine pop with a hip-hop beat.  Though the two albums I’m recommending here are representative of modern nostalgia, they come at it from different directions. Here we have banging beats over fuzzed out guitars, B3 style organ and ethereal vocal runs.  it’s not production wizard pastiche, these are songs, but they definitely have a crate diving aesthetic.  Think DJ shadow meets Pet Sounds.

5 comments on “of berkeley and baldness

  • Yo Tony.
    Just cruising by, thought I’d stop in. Doing any surfin’? I expect to see your sorry butt back in Tahoe this winter. Terrain to explore, gravity to defy. I have been gyming to get prepared for you. Don’t disappoint. Nice letter you wrote to the ski school.

    Your ski partner

  • Having spent some time on Telegraph Ave. (including some quality time with Tony back in the late ’80s), I really appreciate the story. Based on your initial digression above, I do have an explanation for male hair growth. It’s called the “Theorem of Conservation of Hair Growth.” The body needs to grow hair somewhere, so every time a man loses the ability to grow hair in one place, he grows excess hair somewhere else, with the preferred places being the nose, ears and eyebrows. We can’t defeat the process. Our only two choices are to trim or grow.

  • Vortman’s Watch Repair on Telegraph. That was the only place to take a watch, especially a mechanical watch. The guy that used to run Vortman’s was a total watch snob, but he knew how to fix a mechanical watch. And he had a terrible toupee (reddish strawberry blonde). Was it him?

  • If that’s the name, that’s the place. Berkeley is an interesting place to be sure, but I can’t imagine there are two watch repairmen with ridiculous toupees.

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