Three rumbling baritone blasts vibrated my desk sending ripples through my coffee. “BaBoom!” BaBoom! BaBoom!” My heart leapt into my throat. We’re under attack! Shit I can’t die in this country! I swiveled my chair, got up, and walked to the bank of long windows lining the south side of my office. Three destroyers, two submarines, four helicopters, two high flying copters leaking paratroopers out the side door and two low flying copters with air assault soldiers sliding down ropes into the freezing February waters. In the foreground several hundred of my students stood at attention. I’d forgotten! Graduation was a few days away and they’d been drilling on the parade grounds for three or four hours a day for weeks. It was a dress rehearsal for the big event. Our seniors would become commissioned officers, a new batch of freshly minted ensigns in the Korean Navy.
I glanced at my reflection in the floor to ceiling window and froze for several seconds. Where did this hair come from? Up until a few years ago I’d kept my hair short enough that I didn’t have to comb it. I’d just wake up and go. It was convenient. I sat back down at my computer to continue work on my novel, Wine Tasting is Bullshit, but couldn't concentrate. Doubts started bombarding my peace of mind and rouge thoughts hacked at the edges of my pleasant morning. Why are you writing another novel when Saving Bill Murray didn’t even sell five hundred copies? Is the Korean Naval Academy safe? How high is it on North Korea’s priority targets list? Do I have Avian Influenza? Is Swine Flu making a comeback? Would it be possible to have AI and Swine Flu simultaneously? Why is it so dusty outside? Is this the new Microdust the news has been talking about or the regular yellow dust from China? Fuck why does the air have to suck so much here? Should I start wearing a respirator? Hm a bathroom break might help?
I splashed my face with cold water and it hit me like an uppercut from Mike Tyson in his prime. “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Ronald fucking Reagan, my hair was eerily similar to Ronald Reagan. I hadn’t planned it, I didn’t set out to have a Reaganesque quaff but there it was staring at me in the mirror, laughing that trademark Reagan laugh, the Ghost of Ronald Reagan’s Hair. I walked back to my office in shock. How had the Ghost of Ronald Reagan’s Hair come to live in my hair? Did I do this subconsciously or had my follicles been possessed?
I sat at my desk trying to remember how the hairstyle was born. The blame lay on my barber, a man in his sixties who runs an old school Korean barber shop a few blocks from my apartment. This isn't a retro-hip-old-school shop it's a dyed-in-the-wool-don’t-talk-don’t-fuck-around-drink-your-coffee-and-read-your-newspaper-shave-you-with-a-straight-razor-and-better-hope-I-like-you kind frequented by Korean naval officers and old salty Korean navy vets. The interior is immaculate and look like it had stepped out of a time machine from 1960’s Korea. On my first visit I almost turned around and walked out the door. Four men looked up from their papers at me with faces made of stone. The barber, dressed in a doctor’s smock, looked up from shaving a man with a straight razor, flashed what could be called a distant cousin of a smile and told me to sit. He didn’t look like someone I wanted to disobey. Before he cut my hair he asked me just one question.
“What do you do?”
I told him I was a professor at the Korean Naval Academy and he started cutting. It was the best haircut I’ve had in my six years in Korea and in the numerous times I’ve been back he’s spoken only two phrases to me, anyanghaseo when I enter and leave and kommapsimeda after I pay. It's perfect. The only thing I hate more than a chit chatty “stylist” is a chit chatty dental hygienist. “Ah hey I can’t really answer you my mouth is full of pointy metal stuff.” As a teenager I had an ultra-chatty dental hygienist with very large breasts that would rest on me while she cleaned my teeth. It made for some uncomfortable situations.
So my barber had planted the Ghost of Reagan’s Hair in my hair. He, and everyone in his shop, most likely loved Reagan so it was understandable they had channeled the ghost of his hair into mine. Maybe Ronald Reagan typified what a foreigner should look like to my barber. I thought about trickle-down economics and deregulation and cringed. I thought of Margret Thatcher and did a double cringe. After studying political science as an undergrad I came to detest Reagan’s presidency but as much as I hated his policies The Ghost of Ronald Reagan’s Hair reminded me that growing up he was one of my heroes. I remember seeing him on the television. Wow! The President of the United States! He’s funny and good looking! Maybe it was because he was the first president I can remember or that as a youngster I often semi-confused Reagan with my kindly neighbor, Reds Jones, who looked very similar. Maybe it was because I witnessed the tail end of the Cold War and had it hammered into me by my elders that Reagan had single handedly defeated the USSR.
I had to ask myself: Why did you keep the lush Reganesque do? Is there something about the presidential coiffure beyond its obvious good looks and classic style that has a hold on me? I had been feeling a tad more conservative right before I discovered the Ghost of Ronald Reagan’s Hair inhabiting my follicles. After reflecting deeply for some time on TGORRH I came to the conclusion there’s a distinct possibility the hairstyle could be a direct reaction to my ever increasing torment at the hands of militant political correctness. Maybe it’s a reflection of deep nostalgia for a time when people weren’t so incredibly oversensitive. A time when people used information to formulate their opinions instead of popular sentiment, what’s fashionable, or their emotions. Maybe that time never existed but it should have.
Overly sensitive individuals, or people using PCness as a fashion accessory, are missing the whole purpose of why discrimination issues became important in the first place; to address and stop the behaviors and practices that were furthering “discrimination against political, social or economic groups….or groups defined by gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.”[i] Many have gotten so extreme they’re well on their way to becoming fascists. For example several weeks ago I got into an argument with an American man who posted a petition against raising dogs for food in Korea on a Facebook page for expats living in Korea. When I pointed out that it he was being somewhat of a cultural imperialist, especially because he is a meat eater and pigs may be smarter than dogs, he tried to shame me by saying I didn’t care about the beautiful dogs that were being eaten, and asked me “You do know that cultures change right? Are you saying that any advances a country makes because said country wants to be modernized is against their culture? You do know that cultures evolve, right?” He proved my point for me. He was a cultural imperialist because he considered not eating dog ‘progress’. He couldn’t see it wasn’t logic he was operating on but his own cultural imperatives. The truly ironic thing is he saw himself as a champion of social justice all the while being the opposite. He was shaming a culture for their custom and tradition of preferring to eat one meat over another.
I see the same thing in action when I am excluded from online conversations about certain topics and told to “check my privilege” or that I’m a straight, “white”, male so what I have to say isn’t valid and doesn’t matter. Wait, isn’t that breaking the laws of social justice and PCness? Judging me by the color of my skin, my sexual preference, and my gender? It’s something I deliberating writing about for fear of being labeled a racist or a conservative as others have been in the past. Why does it make me a conservative or a racist to say that I am being prejudged, and at times excluded, because of the color of my skin, my sexual orientation, or my gender?
Like David Crosby, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RPovmMwef8&feature=kp, I almost cut my hair but ultimately decide to let my freak flag fly, a flag in the shape of Ronald Reagan’s hair that smells of coconut oil and holds its shape even in the stiffest of breezes. May it be a beacon of hope to all of the straight, “white”, heterosexual men languishing in America’s online forums and debates.
Author Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist and English lecturer at the Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea where he lives with his wife and son. He is interested in evolutionary biology, the Cold War, international relations, existentialism, British roadsters, sailing, jujitsu, East Asian history and cultures, and literature. His first novel, Saving Bill Murray is available here, His second novel, Wine Tasting is Bullshit, is forthcoming.
President Reagan presents an introduction for the Horatio Alger image courtesy of shutterstock