Musings / Bald Narrative

On hair, bears and big-time crime.

If you are fortunate enough to glory in a full head of hair, you will find it hard to sympathize fully with the sensitivity of those of us who are hirsutely challenged. Some bald and balding persons take expensive, sometimes painful measures to cure or at least conceal their handicap. If so inclined, you can invest a fortune in wigs, rugs and hairpieces. These come in models of varying qualities; some carry conviction, most don't. You are too frequently able to discern on an expensive head the telltale line separating fact from fiction. The more effective, and certainly more painful, cure - hair implants - indicates the lengths that men are often prepared to go to conceal their thinness on top.

I have not made up my mind whether the current male fashion of a shaven head is due to the head's owner disguising a prior tendency toward hairlessness or simply following a trend. In attempting to describe the phenomenon of baldness, Wikipedia tells us that, "the psychological effects for individuals experiencing hair loss vary widely. Some people adapt to the change comfortably, while others have severe problems relating to anxiety, depression, social phobia, and in some cases, identity change."

One who failed to adapt comfortably to his hairlessness was the prophet Elisha, though few would go to the extent to which he went to silence his critics. In the second Book of Kings (2:23), the prophet was striding along the highway minding his own business when a gang of schoolboys emerged from a nearby town and chanted at him: "Get a move on, baldy!" It must have seemed hilarious to them, but Elisha's sense of humor did not run in that direction. He had a way with small boys that resembled that of a teacher I once had in heder. He decided to turn the joke on his tormentors, and produced two she-bears that proceeded to gobble up the boys - all 42 of them. We talk much of disproportionate punishment, but Elisha's conduct takes the biscuit. He was apparently not worried about international condemnation of his actions.

Do not overlook the difficulty of finding bears to carry out the grisly work: Call out "Go find me a she-bear!" and see where it gets you.

The incident the Bible describes occurred on the road from Jericho to Bethel. These days bears are not a commodity readily available in either Judea or Samaria, although some of the shaggy creatures wandering in those parts are frightening enough! So where did he find his bears? Had there been a store that sold them, you would not have been able to spot Elisha there because, as you probably know, it is notoriously difficult to find a prophet in a bear market. But, in producing she-bears, prophets have methods of their own, and with Elisha's record - reviving the dead and curing leprosy were everyday achievements for him - he should have had no difficulty getting his hands on any bears he wanted.

It is interesting that the Bible stresses that these fearsome bears were she-bears. This emphasis is supported by both folklore and zoology. "The female of the species is more deadly than the male," is the title and refrain of a celebrated poem by Rudyard Kipling, contrasting the relative fighting merits of males and females. The poem?s first stanza after stating the comparative complacency of the male contains the line, "But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail." It would surely be unjust to Kipling to infer that he added the creature's gender to that line merely to fit the meter. He was, in fact, echoing a widely held male prejudice.

Should you realize a lifelong ambition of going into the bear business, I would gladly make available to you a number of ideas that I have gleaned from my study of the subject. In the first place, bears do not make ideal pets. If you know them only through literature, you might think of them as cuddly. But even in literature they are not always benign. Think of the most famous stage direction in dramatic literature: Shakespeare's "Exit, pursued by a bear," from "A Winter's Tale."

The expense of keeping a bear is considerable, though they are omnivorous. You would be well advised to come to an arrangement with a restaurant to take their scraps off their hands. In what they are prepared to consume, bears will not draw the line at alcohol. A recent warning from the Slovakian Tourist Office advised visitors to beware of tipsy bears. It appears that the bears eat large quantities of fruit off the ground, that are in the course of fermentation. The result is plastered bears wandering around Slovakia, imposing a danger to all. Not that sober bears are docile, but a blotto bear is capable of anything. So, dear bear owner, keep your liquor cabinet locked. You can be as well-heeled as Bill Gates, but if your bear gets to your Glenfiddich 15-year-old, you will be quickly pauperized.

Where I see a future for the bear business is in organized crime. Imagine how the first families of crime would grasp the chance to buy a bear, with all its possibilities of intimidation, to replace their relatively ineffective Rottweilers and pit bulls. A while ago a feeling of patriotic shame swept over me when I read that one of our leading crime families had looked outside Israel to Belarus to hire suitable hit men. If they are already going to that extent, why not get themselves a she-bear or two?

This was not the only token I have discerned of a certain effeteness in the actions of our crime families. If you are an aficionado of gangster fiction, you must surely be disappointed, as I am, at the fallings-off from standard of our local crime organizations. True, they continue to visit mayhem on their rivals in spectacular ways. We must hope that the skill behind the detonation of a gang leader in his modest car on one of Tel Aviv's busy thoroughfares was conceived and executed by local labor.

But what concerns me is what they are fighting over. I have, as no doubt you have, a set idea of what I expect from organized crime. I have not read all those paperbacks for years without knowing that the rackets that occupy big-time crime involve protection, gambling, blackmail, nightclubs, prostitution and drugs. It turns out that our local crime families are blowing each other up over their respective dominance of a business - it almost hurts me to say it - that your enterprising grandson might run during his school vacation: They are in deadly competition over who will succeed in collecting more quarter-shekels from deposits on used bottles.

So be careful! Next time you return a bottle to your local supermarket you could find yourself waylaid. You might unconsciously have trespassed on the turf of one of those fearsome families and run the risk of forming a hedge fund by being spread in pieces over the shrubs of Namir Boulevard. Or, they might use their newly acquired she-bear on you.