Facing strands of my remaining male vanity

As a little kid, I hated going to the barber. Was it really that painful?

I don’t know when my mother took over, but I doubt it added any style. This was the ’50s, remember, and then the early ’60s.

Looking at those photos, I see a vast improvement when my girlfriends took over.

And then the hippie movement hit. I let mine grow out. It was wild, felt free, and even attracted chicks. One, who’d known me in high school, kept voicing her disbelief, “You’re so cool now.” Like what happened?

Looking at the photos, though, I should have had it styled. Really. It’s embarrassing, even with the headband.

Sketch of me by the late Douglas Dorph,, 1971 or ’72.

Once I moved to the ashram, it started getting shorter. Not all at once, but by degrees. We were cleaning up our act, as Swami said.

By the time I was back out “in the world,” mine was mostly about sideburns, and then my locks were in the hands of my first wife, the artist.

Flash ahead a decade, right after the divorce, and I was visiting the Big Apple for a job interview. A good friend who always looked great in a new ‘do arranged for me to visit her hair stylist in Brooklyn. The session was quite the revelation, even after he ran his fingers through my mane and declared with disgust, “Dis hair wasn’t cut in New York.” I mumbled a dumb apology akin to groveling.

Well, whatever he did worked. I landed the job.

A second current was running through many of those years. It started at the temples, the receding hairline. Invisible to me was what was happening at the crown. Shortly after I relocated to New England, I was starting to look like a medieval monk there.

Well, when I was walking with a good friend who’s a family physician, he quipped that a popularly advertised shampoo or daily pill wouldn’t do any good in my case. I had the wrong patterning or some such for it to address. Alas.

And then, once I’d remarried, my daughters warned me of dire consequences if I ever grew my ponytail back. So the thinning continued.

After the younger one had gone off to college, my roommate from my own first year after came up for a visit. I was in shock. His eyes were still the sparkling blue and his voice and laughter were as musical as ever but – gasp – that naturally blond Afro he had sported was totally gone, leaving a shiny dome in its place. Something was off, seriously wrong.

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WHEN THE PLANS EXPAND

Deciding to move the family restaurant into the old textbook building next door opens the door for all kinds of changes. Playing around with the possibilities was fun for me – hey, I wasn’t really constrained financially, was I? Could we even use building blocks or construct a movie set? Alas, the story needed to move along faster. Besides, it’s about Cassia ultimately and what she and her generation would inherit. Here’s a passage before I boiled it down for the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:

Graham’s the first to admit the structure will need to be expanded, not just renovated. Adding to the rear will allow for the central cookery. The traditional Carmichael’s burger joint would then take the strip facing the campus, while Carmichael’s Bliss could run along the side street that bisects our holdings. The second floor would allow for function rooms, while the new Carmichael’s Stardust could sit above Bliss. Adding a third floor would provide for offices, and above that, a penthouse Dimitri and Graham, along with a small rooftop garden.

~*~

Among the many considerations that went into envisioning the new design was just what kind of ambiance they wanted. Would there be booths, and if so, would they have high backs for privacy or lower ones for visibility? There are actually a lot of questions like that, when you start investigating. I realized that would be better served in a restaurant trade magazine than in my new novel.

Still, it’s fair to ask. Do you want privacy when you dine? Or do you prefer being able to watch people? Is there a particular design statement you think would fit the new Carmichael’s?

~*~

A view of a Noodles & Company kitchen from the counter. Photo by Malcolm Tredinnick, Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons.

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.

IVY TOWERS? OR IVORY TOWERS?

Well, it was fun trying to envision the possibilities of the new operation. But I left plenty of detail in the final version of my new novel, What’s Left, as it is.

In contrast to her father’s desire for a bold contemporary design, here’s a whimsical touch from an earlier draft:

Graham suggests we plant climbing ivy. Says it’s subdued, reflects the campus across the street and softens the harshness of the old textbook building itself. He’s right.

Why stop there?

In the emerging design, a permanent awning extends over the sidewalk. Graham’s suggestion of not just ivy on the wall but flowerboxes under the windows meets widespread approval. And the entry opens into a light-filled atrium.

~*~

Well, I’m starting to like the look of it. Now, to see what happened to this.

I do have to remember that all of this is a backdrop for a bigger story – Cassia herself.

Which reminds me. There are many fun movies about food, wine, and restaurants. Which of your favorites would you suggest we see?

~*~

A Greek Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas by Nicholas Hartmann. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FATHER

The driving force for my new novel, What’s Left, is her struggle to recover her father after he vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe when she’s 11. It’s a tall order, even when it’s self-imposed.

She would say he’s not a typical father. He comes from mainstream roots in Iowa, becomes a professional photographer and starts practicing Tibetan Buddhism before marrying into her mother’s close-knit extended household, one based on running a family-owned restaurant where Cassia and her cousins all wind up working from an early age.

The crucial twist comes through her aunt Nita, who guides Cassia into a long, patient investigation of the photos her father left in disarray in his studio. Bit by bit, the focus shifts to Cassia’s discovery of her own nature, dreams, and destiny – one where her extended family plays a big role.

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AN UNCOMMON FAMILY

The close-knit extended family of Cassia’s childhood is quite different from her father’s. Hers is the one he leaped into when he married her mother. What was he escaping? And what was he embracing in the act?

As my newest novel, What’s Left, unfolds, hers is a family with a mission and a place in the world. Everything her father accomplishes in the ensuing years is enabled by their enterprise and unity.

For Cassia, her brothers, and her beloved cousins, the big question becomes: Will this be too confining for their personal ambitions and dreams? Or will it assure them a secure future if they settle in and stay put?

Do they ever think of themselves more as a tribe than as individuals? We follow our elders in decisions and wisdom?

A family business is full of peril. How will they choose?

~*~

In a passage I cut from the final edition, the family’s spiritual practices are considered. On one hand there’s the Orthodox Christianity; on the other, Tibetan Buddhism.

Well, you could also see it as a refuge for my family. As a calming influence guiding us through some turbulent times. Through it, our eyes returned to the greater good in our shared mission. We were given a vocabulary and fresh ways of thinking about the eternal elements of life. We accepted its reliable foundation in teaching these to our children – including me.

~*~

Well, that could be one uniting factor. I see another family that’s held together by its emphasis on sports and sports medicine. As for others?

What holds your family together? How far does it extend?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pinker, like hers. (Rochester, New Hampshire)