New York Confidential: Bald pride and the style battle against hair loss

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The Independent Culture
EARLIER THIS week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on its front page headlined "The Comb-Over Loses Out in Battle Against Hair Loss". It documented how the comb-over, which it described as "the most elegant baldness remedy of all", was losing market share to shaved heads, buzz cuts, baseball-cap cover-ups, implants, transplants, toupees, wigs and weaves.

As a balding man, I read this with particular interest. I personally favour the buzz cut, which enjoys the advantage of being in fashion. This means that people can't tell whether I'm bald or simply following the latest trend - provided they only glance at me for a second. However, the buzz cut will inevitably go out of fashion and when that happens, I'll have to have what Martin Amis calls a "rug rethink". I think it may be a little premature to write off the comb-over.

Given that all baldness remedies are ultimately detectable, the comb- over can't be ruled out on the grounds that it fools no one. On the contrary, the fact that it is so transparent a solution may work to its advantage. It's such a cack-handed, obvious attempt to cover up baldness it may ultimately become a fashionably ironic hair style. John Waters, the camp, independent film-maker can pull it off. Why can't I?

You think this is far-fetched? I recently met a top New York disc jockey called Keith Fancy who appears to model himself on John Waters, right down to the pencil-thin moustache. The appropriately named Fancy has one of the most conspicuous comb-overs I've ever set eyes on, with a parting that begins just millimetres above his left ear. Every Wednesday, Fancy runs a club night called Vanity on 23rd Street between Madison and Park that is one of the most fashionable spots in town. Admittedly, he's the only person I've ever seen there with a comb-over, but that may change. In the Wall Street Journal article, the late-night talk show host Tom Snyder sings the praises of this time-tested baldness remedy. "I'm covering nine miles of scalp with six miles of hair," he brags. If only our own Robert Robinson would be equally candid about his own baldness solution, he could become a role model for future generations.

ARE YOU a troubled young woman, with a fixation on older men, looking for a job? I recommend the White House Intern Programme which appears to be about as difficult to get into as Stringfellow's on a Tuesday night. In a bizarre postscript to the Monica Lewinsky affair, a 30-year-old woman was arrested in New York earlier this week for stalking George Stephanopoulos, Clinton's ex-adviser. Like Monica, she too was a former White House intern.

Doesn't the White House bother to vet the applicants for internships? I spoke to another of Clinton's former aides, a woman who wishes to remain nameless, to try and get to the bottom of this.

"I didn't get the impression there was any screening process at all," she confided. "The level of incompetence among the interns was staggering."

Was she ever stalked by anyone?

"Not by an intern, no," she said, leaving me to guess who on earth her pursuer might have been.

WHEN ENGLISH people come and visit me in New York, they inevitably commit some appalling faux pas that I then torture them about for the remainder of their stay. For instance, on one occasion I was sitting with two newly arrived friends in the back of a yellow cab, when they started playing charades. I initially thought this was quite amusing until I worked out that the words one of them was acting out formed the name of our cab driver. It's difficult to imagine a more politically incorrect response to the impossible-to-pronounce, ethnic names of New York cabbies. I quickly put a stop to this before the poor man worked out what was going on.

However, a recent visitor committed a faux pas which surpassed even this. Imogen Edwards-Jones, a columnist for a rival broadsheet, flew into town last week and decided to go for her first-ever manicure. After she'd been seated, a plump Korean woman placed a finger-bowl in front of her so she could wash her hands before the manicure began. Imogen thanked the woman profusely, raised the bowl to her lips and drained it in one gulp. She assumed it was an aperitif.

THE HIGHLIGHT of the New York Film Festival, which is currently in full swing, is Celebrity, Woody Allen's scathing satire of America's fame culture. One of the reasons for the excitement is that Leonardo DiCaprio is in the film, playing a spoilt movie brat who leaves a trail of teenage models in his wake. (That performance must have been a stretch.) For once, the Woodman hasn't cast himself in one of his own films. Instead, the neurotic, indecisive character around whom the action revolves is played by our very own Kenneth Branagh.

In one scene, Branagh, who plays a journalist, receives a "Monica" from Melanie Griffith, who portrays an ageing movie star. As the New York Observer has pointed out, this is ass-backwards. These days you only have to open the covers of a glossy magazine to see that it is journalists who perform this service on movie stars every day.