(Author's Note: Last night I read an abridged version of this essay in the Word Ninjas open mic at Kieran's. It went over quite well.)
There comes a time in every hirsute man's life when he must choose between two unpleasant options: either continue on his hairy way and invite unflattering comparisons to Big Foot and Robin Williams or declare endless war against his follicles in a desperate bid to join that elite group of men one constantly sees in ads for cologne and deodorant. For the most part I have yielded the field to my androgens (the male hormones associated with body hair). My eyebrows and the nape of my neck are generally only trimmed when I get a haircut. I shave every other day (all the way down to the collar), but that's a common practice among men hairy and not. Only once have I waged an all-out assault on this scourge, the prosecution of which took me to a place I'd never been before.
It was a chill wind that blew through November in that Year of Our Lord 2006. On my way down Hennepin Ave, across from the YWCA, I would pass a salon that advertised waxing services. Eventually, I overcame my fear of the unknown and made an appointment to get my back waxed. (Yes, I really am that hairy.) The salon was empty on that particular weeknight except for the man who would be servicing me. He was very friendly and chatty and led me to the basement, where there was a room with a table covered in sheets that looked very hygienic and white.
I removed my shirt and lay on the table on my stomach. In my memory there was a stereo in the corner playing soporific, Enya-style music, but that could've been a later addition by my unconscious, since every other room I've been in like that has had a stereo in the corner playing soporific, Enya-style music. When I said I went to a place I'd never been before, I was referring to the pain. Never before had I voluntarily subjected myself to the physical pain that this amiable, gregarious, smaller-than-me man was inflicting on my back. Do you remember that scene in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" when Steve Carell has his chest waxed? I now know for a fact that, if he was truly getting waxed, he did not need any motivation for that scene.
Luckily for me, I have a higher pain threshold than Steve Carell's character had in that movie. Very little sound escaped my mouth as he worked me over, and I was confident enough in my tolerance to flip over and let him do my chest. This pushed my stoic facade even closer to the breaking point, for the pain of a back wax turned out to be a mere warmup to the Guantanamo-esque torture of a chest wax. I soldiered on, though, leaving only a small patch of hair in the middle of my chest to mark my masculinity and maintain consciousness.
During the treatment, my waxer regaled me with stories of his other clients, mainly women who had no qualms about exposing themselves to him while he waxed their nether regions. One voluptuous black woman stripped to reveal a pubic area that the waxer said resembled a shar pei. My guess is these women felt comfortable with him because he set off their gay-dar as strongly as he did mine. As if to confirm my suspicion, he told me about his idea for a holiday show called "Gay Nativity." It was such a brilliant (and potentially lucrative) concept that I found myself wishing I'd thought of it first.
After we were through, my waxer explained that I would have to scrub the waxed areas thoroughly with a loofah when I showered so as to avoid getting in-grown hairs. This was news to me and made me wonder if the whole thing would be more trouble than it was worth. A few minutes of blinding pain is one thing, but spending extra time in the shower to use a loofah was something else entirely, especially since I did almost all my showering at the Y. I found it ironic that this attempt to make myself more attractive to women was making me feel uncomfortably effeminate.
When I put my shirt back on, the difference was visceral. The skin felt almost like a mannequin, hard and smooth. Upon returning to my apartment, I showed off my smoothness to one of my roommates. He was politely bemused by my appearance and perhaps slightly discomfited that I had seen fit to share this personal, physical secret with him. Duane and I were good friends, but we were also heterosexual men who didn't normally confide in each other so intimately. Our relationship was defined by Vikings vs. Packers, not waxing vs. shaving.
I decided to finish the job on my own and shave off my pubes. At the time, it seemed like the way to go in order to even out my body hair coverage (except, of course, for my still-bushy arms and legs). In case any other man is struck by the same fancy, let me be perfectly clear: There is nothing easy about shaving one's testicles. Films such as those in the "American Pie" franchise have done us a grave disservice in discounting the dangers inherent in such activities. Only a fool would attempt it without the proper training. That I am still living today to impart this advice is testament only to the grace of God.
Having survived that ordeal, I embarked on a lifestyle of near-hairlessness. It was remarkably similar to my former, hairy lifestyle, differing only in the degree of my self-consciousness while nude in the YWCA men's locker room. Even in my former life I had been quite self-conscious in that setting. Now I was even more self-conscious. I wondered what the other men thought of me as I traipsed about with my smooth torso and nearly-smooth crotch. Perhaps they thought I'd landed a small, but crucial role in a locally-produced porno, just the sort of artistic initiative one would expect from a member of the Uptown Y-Dub. More likely they were thinking the same thing I was: "Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact."
Other than that, my life didn't change at all. After a month or two of scrubbing with a loofah at the Y, I was back to my hairy old self and feeling rather silly about the whole experiment. It hadn't given me the confidence to talk to any attractive women, nor had it gotten me any modeling work in the cologne and deodorant advertising industry (or the porn industry for that matter). I learned that, just because you're hairless, it doesn't mean you're smooth.