The elephant in the women’s restroom

Overheard in the 3rd floor women’s restroom in Franklin Hall:

“What’s with Sledzik and the hair thing. Is he going hippie on us — or hermit-y?”

No, I didn’t hear the comment myself, but one of my colleagues was paying attention from a closed stall. She’s a veteran journalist, and I’m workin’ from her notes.

It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. Unless you’re good friends, it’s impolite to ask about personal appearance. So, instead, we chat in the bathroom or whisper out of earshot.

Enough with the gossip. Today, I meet the elephant head-on.

What’s up with the #%@*ing hair, dude?

So glad you asked.

With long hair, I can hear better. Last summer, I sought treatment for a longstanding condition I call CHS, also known as “can’t hear shit.” Yep, the old man got hearing aids. I wearied of asking students to repeat themselves, and my wife grew tired of shouting instructions. Today, thanks to my friends at Oticon, I hear way more shit than I care to. It’s a mixed blessing.

I decided to grow hair over my ears a that point, but just long enough to cover the appliances. Vanity is motivator at my age, and I don’t fight it. The hearing aids followed laser eye surgery 5 years ago. Can a nip-tuck be far away?

Then, things escalated.

Long hair is seriously cool. I learned this during a 2-week trip to the West Coast last summer. Old hippies and burnt-out surfer dudes abound in NoCal. They have ponytails, earrings, and the occasional tattoo. I’m not big on piercings and ink, but my wife — she was diggin’ those old hippies. So what are my options? After 33 years of marriage, you gotta keep ’em interested, right?

Why not go for a ponytail? After all, there’s a little bit of hippie in everybody who came of age in the late 60s. That’s why I grew my hair and headed for the party school of the nation in 1971. It was “far out” while it lasted, and I intend to recapture at least some of that in my old age.

Long hair as a mid-life entitlement. OK, I’m past the mid-life crisis stage — unless I live to 112. But in the mid-90s, I did grow a cheesy mullet ponytail that looked like crap and tangled in the breeze. This time, I’m gonna get it right — a full-blown freak flag. All that can stop me is that awkward 12 months between “clean cut” and “duuude!”

I trust you’ll help me through the transition.

Because I can. You all know the dog joke, so I won’t bother. As a tenured college professor, I know being quirky is more or less expected. No problem. I’ve always been a renegade, just ask my mom and dad. They’re in their 80s now, and they’ll like my present mane about as much as the one I grew in 1971. They’ll get over it. They love me.

So there you have it: the elephant exposed. And you in the restroom — stop getting all WTF? over my hair. I’m old and increasingly eccentric. But if you pay attention, I can help you a get a job! Check the track record.

I know what’s coming next: What’s with Sledzik and the cargo-pocket pants? You’ll find the answer in my wardrobe mantra: “All khaki, all the time.”


23 Responses to The elephant in the women’s restroom

  1. Ike says:


    Hammer Pants.

  2. Christina says:

    I do have to say, I did laugh out loud when I read this post and concluded, my dad might suffer from CHS too. Maybe it’s a dad thing or a guy thing, but regardless, he suffers from CHS too.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the post and the picture made me giggle.

  3. Kevin Moist says:

    Right on, brother. Let that freak flag fly.

    After years of trying to be the clean cut button-down academic guy and getting nothing but grief for my efforts, a few years ago I finally decided that life is too short not to let it all hang out, at least a little bit. Haven’t cut my hair since… Perhaps relatedly, haven’t cared as much about the grief either…

  4. LOL. Been through all that myself. Except for the hearing aid. But that might be lurking just right the next corner of my life.

  5. Stacy says:

    I have to show this to my husband. Not for the long hair, but to show that hearing aids can be cool. Too much loud Aerosmith in his early days.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    Lots of Boomers and GenXers with hearing problems. For some it was loud rock-n-roll. For me it was shotgun blasts sans ear plugs. In 20 years, the millennials will be cursing iPod earbuds.

  7. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you didn’t overhear the restroom conversation yourself. ‘Cause those would be some POWERFUL hearing aids.

  8. Michele Ewing says:

    Thanks for the laugh this morning. I’m impressed that you were able to dig up your old student ID. Oh, it wasn’t me talking about you in the restroom. I figured the hair thing was just “Bill being Bill.”

  9. Desiree Bartoe says:

    This post was so colorful and so you. It made me seriously miss sitting in on your lectures that often included the same unique style. I laughed through every word and image of this post, with highlights being the past and present photographs and the comment about the shot gun blast (that hit close to home…literally!).

    I think the hair fits the personality and you can consider this comment my “Like This” click.

    Oh and I would like to personally confirm the “I can get you a job comment” – times two.

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Desiree. It’s feedback like this that keeps us motivated.

    Funny aside. I showed my wife the photo I was using with the post. Not knowing the topic or the title, her response: “Ugh. You look like the Elephant Man.”

  11. Bev Clark says:

    What can I say, dude? AWESOME.

  12. Bill Huey says:

    There you go again–flaunting your hair, your gun, your preference for eating meat you shot yourself. Next you’ll be wearing some big fur thing taken from the mane of some poor critter you did in.
    It’s a good thing you’re tenured, or you’d be turned out for your uncollegial ways.

  13. Jan Leach says:

    Bill, How come Barb hears all the best stuff in the women’s restroom? I never hear anything, probably due to CHS! Great post for mid-winter blahs. BTW, piercings are not so bad; I have two in each ear!

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I can refer you to a great audiologist, Jan. Jan? You hear me, Jan?

      As for the piercings, they’re fine for women. But no matter how many tough guys I see with earrings, I still think they’re “girlie.” And since the ink is permanent, tattoos are never a consideration.

  14. Thanks for the inspiration. In college, my hair looked like Roger Daltrey in Tommy. Then I went corporate. Then I lost my hairline dammit. I’m living vicariously through your hair, Bill. I think we all need to blog our our personal grooming more often.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Not sure the answer is to write about grooming, but I do believe bloggers should write about themselves occasionally, to expose the personality and the values behind their work — and their madness.

  15. Dave P. says:

    As another long-haired (but pre-tenure) faculty member, I approve. 😉

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      In the post, I refer to growing a crappy mullet ponytail back in the 90s. Did that in the 2 years before tenure review. Given that journalism is a “professional school,” one colleague questioned my sanity at the time. But I knew my file was good enough for both tenure and promotion, so I ignored him.

      Only now, as we review the sad, sad case of Professor Bill Reader, do I realize that having “the right stuff” in one’s tenure file doesn’t protect you from the politics and pettiness of our academic world.

  16. Jackie Lloyd says:

    You never questioned me when I looked like greasy death warmed over after all-nighters that produced mediocre situational analyses, so I’m not going to question the hair. Rock it out.

    Crap, I didn’t realize people were listening in the 3rd floor women’s room!

  17. Bill Koch says:

    Look, I subscribe to the theory that if you HAVE hair, you can do anything you want with it. I’ve been vainly protecting the last remaining 171 hairs on the top of my melon for some time, and a month ago said enough is enough! They succumbed to the clippers and now I’m combing my hair with a washcloth! Sweet!!!

    I prefer to use my hearing loss as an advantage.

    And since you’re the king of job placement, do you also offer your services to former KSU PRSSA Advisors? I’m getting real tired of paying retail for healthcare, and I’d like to get back to Ohio!!

    Lastly, I’m a little worried about the fact you STILL HAVE your OU student ID. Does this perhaps potend you saved the empties from your shuffle on Court Street, the brush you used to paint the wall, or water samples from the Hocking? Seriously, you need to declutter!

  18. […] Oh, yeah. I didn’t list the 4th big event: My impulsive purchase of a 4×4 pickup truck. I think it’s gonna go nicely with the pony tail. […]

  19. Greg says:

    Funny, although I wore a long mane for many years in college and then a few years in academia, I’m thinking of going the opposite director – cutting it all off or at least very, very short. Seems a way to make the morning ritual less complicated, no more “hat hair” and very cool (the temp cool, maybe not the “cool” cool) My freak flag will be my Grateful Dead hat!!

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