"The Bald Spot" by H. G. Dwight (from the collection The Emperor of Elam and Other Stories, 1920; reprinted in Sunset: The Pacific Monthly, September 1924)
A little tale of ego and pridefulness and of how one may set (or not set) artificial limits for purely artificial reasons.
[And, of course, the protagonist had to be named Jerry. In fiction, very few heroes are named Jerry. Jerry is more commonly either a buffoon, a villain, or (if he is lucky) a side kick to the story's hero; he may even be a third-string character. Not that I'm complaining. My wife, on the other hand, swears that every character ever written named Kitty is either the upstairs maid or a hooker with a heart of gold. But enough of paranthetical remarks. On to the story, such as it is.]
Our protagonist is a not quite young but at least youngish man who takes pride in himself and in his appearance. On a regular trip to the barber. he refuses to use pomade, preferring to let his hair remain dry. The barber makes some silly remark about Jerry's hair getting a bit thin. Nonsense! Jerry thought. His hair is as it always was. When the barber takes out a hand mirror to show Jerry the finished haircut, there it is -- a bald spot. Certainly that must be an error.
Back at home,Jerry uses a hand mirror to check out the back of his scalp. The bald spot is still there. Perhaps it is just a trick of the light. But no. No matter how he angled the mirror, the bald spot remained.
So it had come to this. His youth had fled without Jerry even realizing it. Jerry had gone blithely through life believing there was alway tomorrow. If adventure did not come today, there was always tomorrow. A thousand beautiful women to pursue? Again, they would be there tomorrow; there was no rush because there was always tomorrow. Now, instead of youth with its flowing hair and fast automobiles and pretty girls, there was a rapid slide away from youth to taking the elevated and having to perhaps settle for a less than beautiful woman -- the obvious fate of those who time has passed by.
Figuratively girding his loins, Jerry half-heartedly decides to face his fate and to saunter into the outside world with his bald spot. Strangely, people do not stare at him or his bald spot, but Jerry feels they should. He passes a group of children happily at play -- they all have full heads of hair. The happy people he sees are young people with hair, not balding people. Life seems to have passed the balding people by.
Jerry wanders through New York with these dark thoughts, finding himself on the George Washinton Bridge. He stands by the edge of the bridge and contemplates suicide. Why not? Youth is gone and he only faces a helpless inexorable slide toward death. He will never be able to be Important or do something Important now. (When you are young and there is always tomorrow, the word deserves a capitol I.) The darkness of the chasm below seems to be calling him. Then a voice interrupts him, asking if he's thinking of jumping.
The voice belngs to an older policeman. Jerry turns to him. If he were thinking of jumping, shouldn't the policeman be trying to stop him? No, the cop says, you.ve been standing there to long; if you were going to jump, you would have done it by now. The cop asks him what his problem was. Did he break up with his girl? Did he lose his job?
Jerry notices the policeman's hair. It is slicked down. The cop says that his hair "stared droppin like leaves in the fall o' the year, when I was about as young as you." He goes on to say that he uses plain castor oil on his hair. It's just as good as the "high falutin' " stuff they try to sell you at a barbershop. And the missus, he goes on, "says a bald spot's worse inside the bean than out. an' there ain't no oil that'll help it."
Jerry considers that wisdom for a while. Then the policeman offers to "go over to a place I know an' let me treat you to a shot of something wet." That sounds good to Jerry and off they go.
Sometimes you just have to look at things from another's viewpoint.
Harrison Griswald Dwight (1875-1959) was born in Constantinople, where his father was connected to a school there. Dwight entered the consuar service after graduating from Amherst. He served as a translator with the Supreme War Consul in Versailles and in 1919 was the secretary to General Tasker Bliss at the Paris peace conference. He later worked as the assistant drafting officer for the State Department in Washington, D.C., moving to the protocal department a few years later. Frm 1935 t 1947, he served as assistant director for the Frick Collection in New York. In addition to four collections of short stories, along with books reviews, poems, and a handful of articles, Dwight's short story "In the Pasha's Garden" was the subject of an opera produced by the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1934. Dwight also published a book about the Frick Collection of art.
Regarding The Emperor of Elam and Other Stories, Edmond J. O'Brien wrote in The Best Short Stories of 1920: "Those who read Mr. Dwight's earlier volume 'Stamboul Nights' will recall the very real genius for the romantic preservation of adventure in exotic backgrounds which the author revealed. Every detail, if studied, was quietly set down without undue emphasis, and the whle was a finished composition. In the title story of the present volume, and in 'The Emerald of Tamerlane," written in collaboration with John Taylor, Mr. Dwight is on the same familiar ground. I had occasion three yers ago to repint 'The Emperor of Elam' in an earlier volume of this series, and it still seems to be worthy to be set beside the best of Gautier. There are other stories in the present collection with the same rich background, but I would like to call partiular attention to Mr. Dwight's two masterpieces, 'Henrietta Stackpole Rediviva' and 'Behind the Door.' The former ranks with the best half-dozen American short stories and the latter with the best half-doxen short stories of the world. I regard this volume as the most important which I have encuntered since I began to publish my studies of the american short story."
High praise, indeed.
The Emperor of Elam and Other Stories is available to be read online.