The baldheaded truth: Mr. B. responds to reporter's questions

Rick Wagner • Feb 27, 2018 at 9:00 PM

KINGSPORT — I was sitting at my computer in the newsroom on a Monday afternoon, Feb. 5, preparing to cover a local school board meeting that night, when a coworker handed me an envelope from Mr. B, my high school Biology II teacher.

My mind immediately flew back to my recent column about baldness, i.e. why I had it and why mice and Beatles didn’t.

“I couldn’t get my computer to work so I thought I’d drop off this letter today,” wrote Mr. B., otherwise known as Gary Birchfield, a longtime biology teacher from Church Hill and Volunteer high schools but now retired. “I always read your articles in the Times News. You do an excellent job and they are always interesting.” 

I wasn’t anywhere near being a journalist in high school, which I graduated in 1982, but I would ask interesting and odd questions, if I do say so myself. But after all these years, instead of me answering his more sensible questions on a test, he turned the tables and answered my “quiz” and “bonus question” from the balding column.

Question 1 was: Why are there no bald mice or Beatles? His answer was that there are bald mice and that he had no firsthand knowledge of Beatles’ hair.

“Some (mice) are not just bald but are totally hairless,” Birchfield wrote. “My buddy, George, was a hairless rat. My son got him for me in Kentucky. He, George and not my son, would ride around on my shoulder in the classroom — and never messed on me! His skin was pink, soft and warm. I really liked George.”

OK, I was not around during Mr. B.’s bald/hairless mouse time, but this sounds like Mr. B to a “T.” His room always was full of taxidermy animals that past and present students had prepared, as well as jars full of cow eyeballs and other such things used to teach biology. A live, hairless mouse on his shoulder? Now that would have been cool to see. But I digress, and the mouse was born bald, so to speak, not suffering from male pattern baldness.

As for the Fab Four? “I don’t know anyone who would have enough gall to pull the hair on a Beatle to see if it was real. Some men do retain a full head of colorful hair even until the end. But not you and I!” he wrote. “Eunuchs never lost their hair because they lost the testosterone-producing organs. Ouch.” (Testosterone mixes with something and causes hair folicles not to produce hair in balding men.)  

Question 2, the bonus, was: Why do some old wives’ tales seem to hold truth even if they are not true?

“The old folks were wise,” Mr. B wrote. “They watched the weather, nature and recognized some ‘signs of things to come.’ My grandmother, who knew nothing about the clouds, would look at some and tell you they were ‘snow clouds.’  Well, within 24 hours it would snow about 90 percent of the time. They had lived it and they knew. Not all wives’ tales are true, but some are based on observations made the by old wives. And they knew!”

I guess the hair-losing gene simply was in my DNA pool. “The mice and the Beatles are what they are because of the DNA and genes they received from the ‘crap shoot.’ ” Birchfield wrote.

Quiz: What could Mr. B’s grandmother predict with about 90 percent accuracy?

Bonus question: What is a surefire but extreme way for a male to avoid baldness? (Ouch!)  

Two other responses: A reader from Lee County after my last column called in to ask if I ever did any television acting, specifically was I bald William Conrad on “Jake and the Fat Man.” He also starred in “Cannon” voiced Marshall Matt Dillion on the radio version of “Gunsmoke.” Sorry, but that was not me. I wasn’t born until 1964, after radio “Gunsmoke” ended, and Conrad died in 1994. Another reader who grew up in Bloomingdale said the column made her reminisce about my late, bald grandfather Jim Winegar, who died in 1990, as well as his family and hardware store. Glad to provide a little trip down Bloomingdale memory lane.

We bald or balding guys are popular, aren’t we?

Rick Wagner covers education for the Times News.