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Close to the Vest
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
A few years back I'm in a barber shop in Fort Wayne, one of those old-timer places where the candy stripe gizmo twirls all day and all night, and shortly after I've settled in with the towel around my neck the barber quietly asks me if I'd like to take a look at the shop's recent issue of Playboy while he cuts my hair. It's such an odd request that at first I'm not quite sure how to respond. My initial thought (which I'm thankful I don't articulate) is, Wow, People still read Playboy?!? Is this possible? I wasn't even aware it was still around, for I hadn't seen a copy of the magazine lying around in some doofus' apartment in like 20 years. I always thought Playboy was one of those things that most guys outgrew when they turned 19 or so and realized that the magazine's faux "sophistication" didn't exactly correspond with anyone's reality.
But here was the owner of the shop, a pleasant guy in his fifties, waiting for me to respond to his earnest, old-school hospitality. What to do? In normal circumstances I wouldn't be caught dead reading Playboy, anywhere, but I wasn't sure I had the effrontery to deny his offer. It would seem, I don't know, rude or something, arrogant, maybe insulting. And there was also the tiny matter that this guy would soon be holding a straight razor to my throat and perhaps it might be in my best interest to not do anything to tick him off? After a brief hesitation which I hope he doesn't notice, I say "Sure" and with a smile the barber glides the magazine into my hands.
So there I am, liberal, proto-feminist, pretentious artist/actor me, thumbing through a copy of Playboy while my new best friend looks on approvingly and the regulars gab. I make appropriately impressed, hetero remarks when I see the glossy photos and the owner laughs at my response, he has one of those light whistle-laughs that you hear from old Irish guys when they're playing cards. Pretty soon the conversation in the room turns to politics and of course I chime in like everybody else, suddenly I'm like the staunchest John Birch Society guy ever, suddenly I'm decrying the damned liberals and political correctness and climate change and all the other forces that are leading America straight to the edge of Hell. I'm one of the guys now, with the copy of Playboy being my ticket in. The barber gives me a tip-top haircut, short back and sides, and I over tip him when I settle up. He claps me on the back, I thank him, I give "the guys" a wave and out I go. Back in my car I become myself again, of course, I immediately light up a clove cigarette and pop Madonna's Immaculate Collection into the CD player, and the Playboy experience finally begins to recede into the background.
I'm sure that an earlier version of myself would have been appalled by the chameleon performance I gave at the barber shop, I would have berated myself soundly for being untrue and betraying my beliefs while yucking it up with the locals, but you know, sometimes it's kind of pleasant to not feel like you have let everybody know what you're thinking every second of the day. Sometimes it's nice to take a break from yourself, from your opinions and your dogma. It's one of the good things about getting older, you don't feel like you have to prove yourself to every single stranger that you meet. When you're younger you feel you have to answer every clarion call, regardless of the appropriateness of the situation.
It's a lesson I plan on remembering this weekend, when I go to a friend's party on Sunday to watch the Colts play New England in the AFC Championship game. Like everybody else, I'm gonna cheer for the home team and ridicule the hated Patriots and their a-hole coach and pretty-boy quarterback. I'm gonna make fun of everything related to New England and cheer loudly when some blitzing Colts linebacker decks Tom Brady and crushes him to the ground. I'll laugh at Brady's hair, his teeth, his dimple, his profound arrogance. I don't think the Colts have a prayer in the game, but I'll root hard for them anyway, hoping they will shock the Patriots with an improbable victory.
Of course, I won't tell everybody what I really think, and that's smart, because I happen to be the only person in Indiana who gets a kick out of the Patriots and their hideous coach and quarterback. There's no question that New England is the single most hated sports team to Hoosiers, more so than even the Satanic Kentucky basketball team. Everybody despises the Patriots and Bill Belichick and Tom Brady with an almost biblical fury.
But I can't help it Belichick and Brady absolutely crack me up. I think Belichick's notoriously morose and uninformative press conferences are just about the funniest pieces of performance art imaginable. The way his jaw his set, the way his lips are like two pieces of granite laying on top of each other. And I never quite understood why he gets pegged as the "arrogant" coach when it seems to me that every successful coach (and athlete) has to be arrogant to be any good. Plus, he's funny there's a priceless YouTube video that shows Belichick confronting Tennessee Titans receiver Derrick Mason from a few years back. Mason makes a catch near the New England sideline, he then starts talking trash to Belichick, who responds by saying, "Aw, shut the f--- up, Mason. Look at the scoreboard." It's a perfect put down, glorious with mocking and meanness. Watch it once and you'll become an unwilling fan.
And as for Brady. . . the rap on Brady has always been that he's effete and not one of the guys, that he's too pretty and his wife is too gorgeous and he's above it all, yet every time I see him jumping around and headbutting teammates and swearing on the sidelines he just looks like a slightly gonzo meat head who hates to lose. Which, by the way, is usually what most fans love about football players. And Brady never just wants to win, he wants to kill the other team, which is another quality that well, if the guy is on your team, you love it.
But on Sunday, at the party, I won't say a word about any of this. I'll be rooting for Andrew Luck, the oddball Colts quarterback who seems like a cross between Stephen Hawking and Lil Abner. If the Colts and Luck somehow win, I'll be happy and exultant, like everyone else in the state. But if the Patriots win. . . well, I'll just keep those thoughts to myself.