The Boys in the Boathouse
A Novel -- really, none of this ever happened -- by Dr. Frank Emfbo
Bald is Beautiful
Bald is Beautiful
Every class has one.
The guy who won’t play along with the teamwork, tradition, rites of passage. The guy who, if he was a standout athlete who shamed the rest with his work ethic and performance, would be accepted anyway. The guy who wouldn’t drink. The guy who pulled weapons and got in fights with the varsity fuckers instead of calling in his gruntie friends for support. The virgin-by-choice, forty years before Russell Wilson.
Or the guy who wouldn’t shave his head.
Stories came down about guys in previous classes who wouldn’t do it. Religion, fear, embarrassment, family pressure, whatever the reason, the word was that anyone who refused would gain immediate pariah status. Outcast. Branded. Funny how none of those guys ever ended up in the first boat.
Our guy’s name was Gilbert. Friendly guy, hard worker, a little shy and awkward. By late winter of our gruntie year, Gilbert was one of about fifty guys remaining from the hundred-plus that showed up for the first day of practice in September. But as much as he struggled, he couldn’t find his way out of that last boat.
Head shaving night approached. The discussion in the locker room focused on that and nothing else. Well, that plus drinking and fucking. Somehow, word got around that Gilbert intended to miss the event, keep his hair, but stay on the team. Ridicule abounded.
Doctor Frank, in a moment of uncharacteristic empathy, took Gilbert aside one afternoon and asked him calmly if the rumor was true. Gilbert was taken aback, wondering why anyone would care. Well, the Doctor told him, you’re the only one. Which is OK, it’s your choice, but our class was counting on you. We were going to be the first class in ten years to trot out 100% of our guys for head shaving.
Gilbert explained he would love to be part of it but he was working part time and just couldn’t do his job with a bald head.
“Where do you work?”
Dead silence. I mean, sure that’s a pun but the silence was really dead. Doctor Frank was speechless. What the hell could a guy do at a cemetery that kept him from shaving his head?
Doctor Frank finally spit out the question. “What is your job there?”
Doctor Frank nearly choked.
Turned out, though, that Gilbert lived in the back room at the cemetery. He couldn’t afford to live on campus. The job – and Doctor Frank verified this in spring quarter when he took a class with Gilbert and had to meet up with him for a study group – was a combo security guard and on-call hearse driver. Answer the phone, get the address, pick up the body. Be kind and professional and empathetic. In return you get a room and a part-time wage. The boss didn’t think a bald nineteen-year-old would be taken seriously by grieving families, so he wouldn’t allow Gilbert to shave with the rest of us.
Somehow this seemed cool. In a freaking weird way, it was acceptable. There was a little reverence, a little fear that went along with that dude for as long as he stayed on the team. Somewhere during sophomore year, he bailed. Work, school and crew got to be too much. But in all our gruntie class pictures, there he was. Full wavy dark brown hair, standing out among cue-ball heads. Our undertaker.
Goes to show you, everyone has a story. And most guys didn’t want their story to be singled out. Most guys wanted to be part of the program, anonymous cogs in the Husky wheel.
There’s not much better way to be anonymous than to be one of fifty bald guys. It was the first time I ever heard “all you white guys look the same.” A couple dozen of us were walking to class and a guy from the hoops team was shaking his head looking us over. It was true.
So here it comes, grunties. The last day of finals week, show up at seven thirty, after the cooks have shut down the kitchen. Spring break is coming, when everyone else goes somewhere nice and forgets about school, but you guys have triple-day workouts coming up.
The varsity fuckers were packed in thick. Carpets and furniture had been rolled away so the bales of hair could be cleaned up. Grunties were sent downstairs to the boat bays to practice “Bow Down to Washington” which had to be approved by the Commodore before proceedings could commence.
Then came the weirdest part of the night. It’s still a little disturbing. Surprised someone didn’t lose their balls on this one, but we came through. A racing oar is twelve feet long, and we had to line up in groups of as many guys as could fit straddling one, packed tight along its length. Maybe ten or more guys per oar. From the boat bays we had to maneuver those oars, still between our big muscular Husky thighs, up a flight of stairs, through a doorway, around a corner, up two more flights and down the hallway to where the varsity fuckers were waiting.
All while chanting our class cheer. Seventy-nine leaves em behind.
When the guys in the lead started up a flight of steps, the ones in the middle got the shaft to the crotch. As they reached the flat at the top, it was first the guys in front, then the guys at the rear, that got it. But somehow we all managed to keep the family jewels intact. Doctor Frank wonders, would that be a Darwin Award if someone got denutted during head shaving night? I mean, the criteria is, remove yourself from the gene pool by doing something stupid, and we were channeling our inner Neanderthals… moot point.
So now we faced all these fuckers who had messed with our brains since September. And they had clippers in their hands. Our best strategy was to act like we wanted it. So at the first swath from a guy’s head, we shouted. Yyyyeeeeahhh! Seventy-nine leaves em behind! Do it, me next!
The last guys in line had to be careful about burns from overheated electric clippers. The varsity fuckers shaved patterns in our heads and left the rest for us to finish off ourselves. So after all the fanfare, it was over pretty quick and we wandered around snapping pictures of each other with Bozo bald tops, Mohawks, and Big Ws in our hair. The varsity fuckers gave us our “79” wool caps and took off for whatever parties they had to attend. Somebody swept up all the fluffy locks and made a pillow out of them for the trophy case. Which always seemed a little weird to Doctor Frank, but what the hell.
So now you’ve got fifty naked grunties standing around in the locker room, finishing the job, shaving each other’s heads with disposable razors. Those clippers only get down to an eighth of an inch. We wanted smooth. Which led to the only injuries of the evening.
It was a bad combination. Thick, healthy hair that hasn’t been cut for six months. Skin that’s as tender as it was the last time it saw the light, which was the day that head popped out of mama’s womb. Think about that. Nineteen years of protection from the elements, light, cold, wind, rain… how soft and delicate that skin would be.
All that. Plus, an impatient classmate with a Trac II in his hand.
There would be blood. A lot of it, running down sinks and shower drains. The guys with perfect smooth round scalps got off easy. The guys with lumps all over got nicked again and again. And the guys with smegs – those ugly pockets of folding skin at the back of the head – were told, fuck off, do it yourself.
But the festivities ended with everyone still walking, no arteries severed, and a young evening with all those young amped-up athletes having no plans for the night. Let’s go to Burgermaster. Safeway. The dorms. Let’s show off a bit and give our fellow citizens a few laughs.
That night we would discover why we’d been issued wool caps. Even in a heated room at the crewhouse, sleeping is impossible with a bald head. An extra blanket makes no difference when all the heat is escaping through the scalp. Gratefully we pulled our new prizes over our heads and went to sleep.
I woke the next morning and realized: A gruntie invented Velcro. Wool pressed to the bare scalp overnight won’t let go easily of the stubble that’s grown for eight hours, imbedding itself in the fabric. A casual grab and a vertical pull to the top of the cap, and nothing. It was bound up tight. We learned to grip the front of the hat and work backwards, gradually freeing the little nubby new hairs.
Doctor Frank’s class was a wild bunch but we’d been coached not to call too much attention to ourselves. We walked around town on shaving night looking stupid, went back to the crewhouse and went to bed. We had a day of rest before triple days started. A couple years later a new tradition was born that cracked that mold.
Doctor Frank took his studying seriously one year. Might have been his Junior year. He had a paper to finish after he’d helped whack the hair off that class’s crop of heads, so he got his ass to the library to work on it. Grunties were all over the crewhouse so it was too noisy to study there. One guy strode the halls proudly naked, having shaved every hair, every one, from his body. Posing for pictures. Dude looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost with a little bald nutsack and a bare penis. No leg hair, arm hair, no eyebrows. No fucking eyebrows. This is no shit.
So Doctor Frank is at the library, snugged away in one of those shut-the-door study rooms for people who think the quiet of the library is not quiet enough. He’s working through this final paper, hoping to get it wrapped before the library closes so he can go back to the crewhouse and pull an all nighter with his typewriter, big old Smith Corona dragged into the dining room so his roommate could sleep. But I digress.
I hear this commotion outside. I try to ignore it. I’m probably in the midst of analyzing the varying impacts of Max Weber, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud on the world monetary system. They made us do shit like that.
Finally wondering what all the laughing and applause is about, here in the quiet of the library, I stand up and open the door. I need a stretch break anyway. I walk to the railing overlooking the wide stairs leading to the main entrance. I snicker as dozens of bald grunties walk in formation, without a sound, through the downstairs lobby and up the stairs. In perfect time. They must have practiced this somewhere. They march silently to the second floor, around the rows of books and study couches, looping back to the head of the stairs. Now I can see their faces. They are stony and serious. Somebody forgot to tell them to treat their baldness as a happy privilege. They look pissed. They march, still in lock step, back down the stairs to the landing just above the entry area.
Then it happens.
On the landing, at the base of the stairs, some random guy is just standing there watching these crazy bald dudes go past. At some silent signal, three grunties jump from formation and take the poor fucker to the carpet directly in front of the guy on the bottom step. He obliges by jumping on the pile.
Still in formation, still in control and still without making a sound except the gasping exhale that comes from flying bodies landing on filled lungs, the grunties calmly step to the bottom stair, one at a time, and take their turns. When the pile gets too tall to stand on its own, three guys silently step out of formation to hold up the sides. When the bottom step is too low for launch, they start jumping from the second stair. Then the third. It becomes a challenge to hit the horizontal distance just right. Finally, a guy goes from the fifth step, attempting to be the twentieth body on the pile. His trajectory carries him into number nineteen, and the gruntie holding the pile on the far side falters, legs bending and straining as the tower leans and gives way. Bodies are everywhere, still not making a sound.
Grunties nonchalantly pick themselves up and return to formation. By now there’s a crowd of a couple hundred spread around the balconies up to the fourth floor, all looking down on the carnage. Random dude is still lying on the floor, gasping for breath but miraculously unhurt. Dozens of grunties march silently out of the building to raucous applause.
Somebody sees my letterman’s jacket. “Hey, are those crew guys?”
“No, I got no idea who they are. Must be some frat thing.”
I smile and head back to my hole. The Library Bung is born.