I’m sure most of us here not only knows what a comb-over is, chances are we actually personally know at least one person who sports a comb over. I once had a science teacher who had one in a pretty advanced stage. The strands of hair he used for the job originated from the right side of his head in an area just above his right ear. They were long enough to be draped clear across the top of his head with their ends landing into the opposite side of his head just above his left ear. Apparently he used some form of adhesive to keep them there because windy days didn’t seem to bother him as far as I recall. By my estimates, if the strands of hair that do the sad job of covering his bald spot (or rather, the area between his hair spots) were allowed to dangle naturally from their roots, they’d easily clear his collar bone.
A few years after I graduated from university, I had the opportunity to see first-hand what a comb-over looked like before it’s been, well, combed over. Me and my boss at the time had to board a ship early in the morning and awaken the captain — a guy who had one wicked comb-over — to discuss some urgent maintenance issues. Considering he was the captain and we were standing on his ship (there is none of that “permission to board, captain” protocol in Philippine inter-island shipping), he seemed to be willing to endure the indignity of meeting with us (my boss was a very impatient man) sans the morning routine he presumably goes through to prepare da hair. So yes. At that very moment the captain walked into the bridge and, years after I formed my original hypothesis on the matter, I got my empirical validation. Strands of hair hung from the side of his head down to just above his right breast pocket. Worse, for him, the discussion stretched to almost half an hour of awkwardness.
There are three key questions one can ask about the comb-over phenomenon that when seen under a different-coloured light (which I will show later) actually tell us a lot about the human condition in general.
Do people who sport comb-overs actually believe they are effectively masking their baldness?
Obviously not. I’m even quite sure that comb-over folk actually know that they don’t fool anyone. But they do it anyway. It’s a ritual that’s become part of their comfort zone. And lest we hastily judge or make fun of people who sport this ‘do, consider some of the little useless rituals that we do ourselves — like, say, the superstitious gestures or ticks we make just to assure the irrational side of ourselves that we’ll get through the day without a boulder falling on our heads out of nowhere as we stroll down the street.
How does one single out a specific set of strands to grow to an abnormal length and then consciously apply these to the onerous task that is the subject of this article?
Indeed, when one realises how long it takes for a strand of hair to triple or quadruple in length (relative to the rest that are trimmed to normal lengths regularly), a comb-over scalp architecture does not just happen. Setting one’s scalp up for a comb-over ‘do seems to be a carefully planned and measured undertaking.
But is it?
This brings us to the third question:
How does one get to such a point?
The second question above comes from the thinking that comb-overs come about by design. And I purposely answered the above question in a way that further propagates this line of thinking.
Comb-overs don’t just happen.
The third question however is a bit more insightful as it leads us down the path to a more sound explanation of how a comb-over ‘do comes about.
I believe that comb-over regimes happen progressively. They start as a small bald patch that can be hidden with a very minor change in the way we comb our hair. In my case, for example, a scar just above my hairline at the left side of my face predisposes me to grow a bit of an extra fringe there (and comb it down a bit) to even things out — achieve that symmetry that is so prized in the animal kingdom, so to speak.
For those of us who are unfortunate enough to possess the male pattern baldness gene, the baldness can advance in a slow enough pace as to elude awareness of the small incremental changes in the way we comb and have our hair trimmed as the shinier spots on our head advance in scope. The majority probably get it at some point and make a decisive correction in their grooming patterns.
Unfortunately, some don’t — at least not until they are way past the point-of-no-return in their emotional and social investment in their chosen hair grooming regime.
Funny that I set out to write this article with the aim of making only one point. Instead I came up with two that are mutually-exclusive (the usual unforeseen outcome of sheer brilliance). Point 1 is the unintended bonus so I won’t elaborate much on it and focus more on Point 2:
Point 1: Just because something looks like it was designed in a single conscious effort does not mean it actually was.
Point 2: Admit it. Comb-overs are funny in a sad sort of way. Thus, the sad and laughable state and nature of Philippine society can be considered a comb-over on a national scale.
We got here because we kept trying to unsustainably mask an increasingly gaping wasteland in our collective psyche as a people. We are so invested in our little quaint rituals and traditions and have crossed a point-of-no-return barrier that becomes more formidable as we soldier on down a path that will lead us to a future of irrelevance that is both pathetic and hilarious.
Next time you see a person sporting a comb-over, stop and think how from your point of view the solution to his predicament is so obvious yet most probably so alien to him.
[A personal favourite of mine, I originally wrote this article in April, 2009 for the now-buried FilipinoVoices.com and, fortunately, backed up a copy as a note on Facebook.]