Several months ago, while working from one of my go-to Starbucks locations, I received a random compliment from a stranger. I realize that for others this may not be a particularly noteworthy event, but I’m neither female nor stunningly fit so the idea that somebody took note of a physical trait was novel.

“I’m sorry for staring, I just wanted to say you have really nice hair.”


My hair was getting pretty damn scraggly – I was overdue for a haircut, don’t use styling product. My hair is gray as winter, thin, straight. The only redeeming quality I could offer about my hair is that it’s still there. But I honestly can’t remember receiving a random compliment from a person I wasn’t involved with; it’s just not the sort of thing I’ve seen happen to white guys of unremarkable condition in suburban Midwest coffee shops.

And so, fed by ego, I wondered: is there a superpower hiding in my hair? And if so, how long has it been there?

I continued to grow it out – as of this writing it’s been over four six months now since my last haircut. I’ve been waiting for the inevitable anti-compliment to the effect of “um, JSA, you’re looking a little rough.” (Because that is something I can absolutely remember being told. More than once.)

“Dad, you should keep growing your hair.”


“You don’t look so old now.”

(Leave it to a 9-year-old to cut through all the bullshit.)

Now, growing up and living in the Midwest has never come to me naturally. All communities have their own definitions for ‘belonging,’ a set of invisible rules for establishing trust and value and respect and threat. These codes of conduct become distilled stereotypes for what one community represents to another – the fast-and-blunt New Yorkers, Berkeley hippies, flannel Seattleites, boisterous Texans, San Diego surfers, etc., etc.

And the polite-but-skeptical-and-distrusting Midwesterner.

So now, almost a full year later, the butterfly effect is fully airborne. Long hippie hair has returned as part of my visual ID, and I feel more “in my skin” because of it. All because of one random act of flattery. It’s been a great reminder of how little things can flourish into something meaningful, as long as you’re willing to stay open to the possibility.