The history of hair loss seemingly begins in the Bible, when the prophet Elisha, on his way to Bethel, heard the shouts of children: "Get out of here, baldy!" Elisha looked at the children and cast a curse. Two bears moseyed out of the woods and mauled 42 of them to pieces.
In 2013, the mauling of children by bears is not considered a best practice. So when Devon Alter began losing his hair as a teenager, the USF St. Petersburg freshman decided to go a different route. He created a podcast.
Each episode begins: "In a world where there are many attractive people with great hair, one man dares to be different. One man dares to be — 18 and balding."
Sound like making a mountain out of a mole hill? That's the idea: that ordinary people — whether a co-worker, a classmate or just a balding teenager living in his childhood bedroom — have important things to say.
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Like many a tale, this one begins with a boy's voice dropping. Alter, who is now 19, was in the seventh grade at Madeira Beach Middle School and suddenly sounded like a '50s dance-show host. Everyone said he should be on the radio.
One day, as a student at Seminole High School, Alter cut his shoulder-length blond hair for a school play. It didn't really grow back.
So these were his lots in life.
As a freshman at USF St. Petersburg this past year, he majored in mass communications. After a tryout for a local radio show didn't go as planned, a producer asked him if he had a website or any work he could share, to keep in mind for the future.
Alter did not, but it seemed like a good idea. He could start a podcast for little or nothing. But what to name it? Given his last name, "Alter-ing Your Life" made the rounds.
"I got to the point where I was like, 'Oh, who am I? What do I stand for?' " Alter says. "And it was oh, '18 and Balding.' "
• • •
Generally, hair loss is not considered a marquee quality. Typically, it is downplayed, using a baseball cap or ambitious comb.
"I've considered shaving my head but you really have that divide because there's two types of bald guys," Alter says. "There's the bald guys that are like machismo, like Vin Diesel or Bruce Willis or that kind of thing, and then you have the fat, bald dad. So I kind of want to make sure I'm on the Bruce Willis end of the spectrum before I decide to go more bald."
Balding doesn't really bother Alter. He has a girlfriend. And anyway, there are enough radio and TV shows dedicated to people with hair.
What there aren't, he says, are platforms for people to talk about what it's like to be autistic. Or to be a resident adviser in college, or to be a teen parent, or simply to be in the "friend zone" with a girl you like.
So each week, he has someone ordinary on. Like an old classmate who got cut from her American Idol audition. "I'm not afraid to sing anymore," she told the audience during a recent show, before nailing a few lines from Patsy Cline's Crazy.
Or a friend who's raising the child she had as a senior in high school and who says on the show that it's her self-confidence that took the biggest hit. "Have you had a kid? Do you know what it does to your body?"
• • •
Alter records on a washed-out futon in his bedroom at his parents' house on the St. Petersburg-Seminole border. He sets four microphones on a fold-out table in the middle of the room, near a big TV and the metal shelves with the rainbow fish his mother made in pottery class. He has Seinfeld on DVD, Aladdin on VHS and books on yo-yo tricks.
Jessica Stangarone, the Seminole High classmate who was cut from American Idol, apologizes for messing up the words to Crazy.
"Good," Alter says. "It's not copyrighted if you mess up the words."
Stangarone remembers Alter in high school. More accurately, she remembers always saying "Devon, go away."
Alter says he can be a bit much. He can't keep his arms and legs still when he's talking. His manager at an ice cream and candy shop calls him a chili pepper: good in small doses.
When he ran into Stangarone after high school, his reaction was, "Oh my god, she's talking to me. This is awesome."
• • •
"You see in the media all the time; you see in the newspaper; you always see celebrities being interviewed about how exciting their life is or some crazy story happens so you interview someone about it," he says. "But what I think is lost is every day there are people with interesting stories to tell. All you have to do is talk to them and find out what their interesting story is."
Contact Lisa Gartner at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.