Confession is good for the soul, so they say. What better place to confess than right here, for all to see?
So here it is: I am vain.
I grew up during a time in which male vanity was frowned upon. Oh sure, my dad’s generation wanted to look good. Who can forget those commercials for Brylcreem (“a little dab’ll do ya”)? There was nothing wrong with being neat and well-groomed.
But those tough guys would surely frown on the hair thickeners, beard darkeners, teeth whiteners and botox.
I have one excuse for my vanity. I am on television each day. Sure, we’re all about journalism, but we have to be presentable. (OK, for those of you who just shouted, “Too late, Dave! That ship has sailed!” I beat you to it.)
Now admittedly, back in the golden age, no one accused Walter Cronkite of being a pretty boy, like some of the studly news readers we see today. But Uncle Walter was viewed on small black and white screens, with less than crystal clear reception. We often just listened to Walter as we struggled to make out his image on our snowy picture tube. And even “the most trusted man in America” wore a toupee late in his career, perhaps at the urging of executives who wanted him to be more telegenic.
When I was starting out on TV, I didn’t even wear makeup. Why bother? The cameras weren’t that great, and I had 25-year-old skin. Now, we have high definition cameras, you have larger-than-life, razor-sharp screens in your home, and I have a few more decades of wear and tear. So yes, I wear makeup. I have often rushed out of the studio for a speaking engagement, and someone always notices. I tell them, “Yes, I’m wearing makeup, but don’t get the wrong idea. I only wear makeup on TV. Well, and church. And Walmart. And maybe to get the mail. But that’s all!”
How vain am I? I was annoyed recently when a fast-food cashier automatically gave me a senior discount without even asking. Not that long ago, cashiers never even considered me a candidate for a senior discount. One might ask every now and then, and I would proudly respond that I was not yet eligible. Now, with grayer hair and a fresh set of wrinkles, all it takes is just one look. I almost want to do a few push-ups, right there at the counter, just to prove my youth and vitality. But what if I can’t get up?
And am I the only man who is embarrassed when I have to state my date of birth in a public setting? I’ll be at the doctor’s office, inquiring about my account. “I’m David Carroll, account number 54321, can you check on something for me?” The lady will reply, “Certainly. Date of birth?” “Well, like I said, my account number is 54321.” “Right. Now what’s your date of birth?” I’ll mumble the answer under my breath. “Excuse me, I didn’t get that. Could you speak up?” I then repeat it so that everyone in the waiting room, hallway and parking lot can hear it. Soon, they look at me and say, “Oh my. You must wear a LOT of makeup on TV.”
Still, I am a proud baby boomer, and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to comparing myself with my peers. Donny Osmond and I are about the same age, and he looks a decade or two younger than me. However, I’m also in the same ballpark with the Brady Bunch boys, and I stack up a bit better against them.
I will confess to the teeth whitening, although it was a long time ago, after I had braces removed. My teeth were definitely not TV-ready.
I haven’t yet gone the Cronkite toupee route, though I don’t quarrel with those who do. I once thought I might be a candidate for one. When I was 25, my regular barber was on vacation, so I went to another guy. While making small talk, he observed the top of my noggin, and asked my age. I told him, and he said, “Son, you’ll be bald by the time you’re 30.” “How can you tell?” I asked. “Well,” he replied, “I’ve seen a lot of crowns in my day, and you’re about to go bald. It’s coming soon.”
If he was trying to recruit me as a new customer, he failed. That’s not what I wanted to hear, so I never went back. Incredibly, most of my hair is still here, despite his expert prediction. I happily returned to my regular barber, who always tells me, “You’re looking good now,” after every haircut. I wonder if he knows how vain I am?