On August 25th 1994, something happened that changed the course of my carefree fifteen-year-old life. A certain show aired that night on the American Broadcasting Network and a certain unsuspecting about-to-be sophomore was caught in a gut-wrenching tornado of feelings. It was an emotionally wrought show, starring an emotionally wrought Claire Danes, who was navigating the emotionally wrought landscape of being a fifteen year old in high school. That show of course was My So-Called Life, and this so-called masculine-teen-dude was crushed like a can by it. From the first glimpse of the misunderstood Angela, defiantly dying her hair red, to the mysterious hunk eating bologna in her kitchen, I couldn’t get enough of this new bizarre feeling tugging at my insides. It was like I had discovered a new wistful color and I wanted to dip myself in it. Although if you were to ask any of my dude-bro friends at the time, they would never have known. I mean, what kind of meathead-brawny-boy admits that he counts the seconds until he can get lost in the next episode of a tempestuous, unrequited love story? What kind of jocky-gridiron-guy lets himself roil in the anguish of Angela’s mistaken glance from Jordan Catalano? This guy.
I mean. It was a soap opera for my age range, and I was sooooo there for it. I couldn’t wait for the weekly whisper of, “Go. Now… Go!” in the opening theme song, because it meant I was about to feel so many new feels. The way they explored teenage angst felt so real to me, even if it wasn’t my own circumstances, it still captured the ‘why-do-I-feel-sad’ -ness that had come with turning fifteen and starting high school.
For an emotionally out-of-touch fifteen-year-old boy (i.e. every fifteen-year-old boy?) this was the first time that I felt like I was allowed to privately explore any sort of real emotional depth. How sad is that? That teenage boys are so closed off sometimes that it takes a melodramatic TV show to let them know it’s ok to feel emotions. But that’s what the show did for me. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but looking back, it allowed me to admit that I had some melancholy or some kind of angsty sadness in my life that wasn’t an abnormality or a red flag, it was just part of being fifteen. And guess what? It feels really good to revel in that for an hour a week. And boy did I revel. I mean, I wanted to liiiiive in that show. The only problem was, I didn’t know who I wanted to be more – I mean, Angela had all that turmoil and anguish, which I could somehow relate to, even if I didn’t know why. But then there was Jordan Catalano.
I think I may have talked about Jordan Catalano on here before, but let me just re-iterate – Jordan Catalano was the most beautifully brooding character I had ever seen, and hence, I wanted to be him. Like, no joke, I created my whole high school look based on him. I got a suede sherpa jacket, I wore jeans with holes, flannels with open sleeves dangling past my wrists, and most importantly, and why I’m writing this overly-verbose intro here… I grew my hair long.
Starting sophomore year, my hair was full-Catalano. It was down to my shoulders, parted in the middle, thick and full and brown. It became a defining characteristic for me. I loved it. I kept it despite all the maintenance and the not-so-coded insults my football coaches hurled at me for four years. Even when the long-hair thing was kinda over by ‘97, I still didn’t cut it. I didn’t want to let go of the notion that I was deeper than I was. If that makes sense. I associated the long hair with an idea of like, uniqueness sure, but also an indicator of an emotional life that I had learned to nurture. Also, being the quarterback with hair down to your shoulders was pretty damn cool. I’m just as vain as anyone, guys. I ended up cutting it all off when I got cast in my first play at U of O, and at that point I was ready to join the crowd of normies. I never had long hair ever again. Until the pandemic hit.
At first, I just let my hair grow because there was a stay at home order and all of the barbers had shut down. Then it was because I was just too lazy to cut it myself. Then sometime around August, it became an active growing. My hair had gotten to a length that was stepping out of ‘shaggy’ and into ‘long’ again, and that got me excited. So I told Emily that I was going to grow my hair until there was a vaccine. It was my little way to answer any questions about it, while secretly waiting for it to get back to it’s Catalano glory. But there was a problem – in the twenty-five years since I first grew my hair long, a few things had happened physically. Namely, the little part down the middle that was so cute back then had become kind of a gaping chasm of scalp. The old hairline has been slowly rising like a modest woman in the 1800s lifting her skirt to reveal her ankles. But these ankles were desperate wisps of hair surrounded by creepy white scalp. In other words, no matter how much Finasteride and Rogaine I’ve tried using over the past few years, the hair on my forehead has thinned out so much that it really put a damper on my desperate attempt to re-live my long-haired glory days.
Having long hair with a receding hairline, I mean, if you can pull it off, I tip my cover-it-up cap to you. But for me, it really didn’t work. Instead of stepping back into my cocky high school persona, I had sludged into like the guy who still has a garage band, years after it stopped being cute.
But there was one little glimmer of hope – a baseball hat. Having the long hair pour out the back of a hat actually did look good! So like Ron Howard, I started wearing a hat everywhere. And Emily even admitted that it was a good look – long hair, waving down to my shoulders, a nice, manly beard sprouting on my face. I definitely felt like I was matching the terrain up here. I would drive to the post office in my hat and scruff, looking all burly mountain-man. I started noticing people would give a little more deference as they saw me pull up. Little did they know that this mountain man was blasting ‘Mirrorball’ by Taylor Swift (can we talk about ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ please?) or his favorite Dick Pick (no, not that kind you perv, this kind) on the stereo. It was all a facade. I wasn’t really a mountain man. But as long as I kept my hat on, I could pass for one, and it felt really good. So the baseball hat became glued to my flimsy-haired head. Like, no joke, I never took it off.
Things got so bad that I started putting on a hat just to drink coffee in the mornings, or brush my teeth next to Emily at night. It came to a head last week when Emily and I had to shoot a thing for a sponsor, and I was supposed to be dressed nice for a Christmas cocktail. I had on a fancy cable knit sweater and slacks, and came downstairs, rocking my old garage band hair, and Emily said, “Hmmm…Maybe you can wear a hat?” We laughed, but I was crying on the inside. Not really. But we decided it was time.
To be fair, Emily would have let me grow it to my butt-cheeks if I had insisted it was important to me, or if I actually thought it looked good. But I didn’t, for two reasons: 1. I didn’t have the patience to actually try to style it or put product in it, so it was all puffed out frizz and wispy wires all day. It looked like a really enthusiastic, middle-aged Phish fan had left a concert and wandered into our house. And 2. I have a thing about trying to capture the glory days of my youth. It has led me to some pretty dark realizations about myself. In fact, I’m so interested in why men try to hang on to their youths, that I’ve actually begun writing a silly novel about it (more on that when it gets closer to being finished). So, once I came to terms with the notion that I was just growing my hair to feel like teen-Brian, it was adios muchachos.
Em and I watched the first two minutes of a tutorial on youtube, got bored, and decided to just let ’r rip. The good news was that we were in quarantine for the foreseeable future so it didn’t really matter if it didn’t turn out well, I could always shave it and look like an enthusiastic, middle-aged Hoobastank fan had wandered in. So Emily got the scissors, I got the cocktails, and the kids got the spray bottle to shoot me with ice-cold water every twenty seconds. Aaaaaaaannd…
It turned out really well! For her first time ever cutting a guy’s hair, Emily crushed it. I mean, yeah, she gave me bangs. And one side of those bangs is much longer than the other. But all in all, she did a much better job than I thought she was going to. I will definitely make an appointment at her salon again. This is such a better look, and I’m not putting on a baseball hat just to read in bed anymore.
Also, you gotta check out this pretty hilarious video of the process (just wait for the ad to play):
Do I miss being Jordan Catalano? You bet your So-Called ass I do. But trying to recapture your youth can a dangerous thing, no matter how beautifully brooding it can be. I think it’s best to look back on our glory days like a boxed set of DVDs that we can take out and watch every once in a while. I don’t need to like dress up in cosplay and throw them a convention, I can just watch them and appreciate them for what they are. So now I can let myself get obsessed with a new series, one that’s a little more age-appropriate. I hear the Queen’s Gambit is good. But I’ll always stay in love with Angela and Jordan.