TWO weeks before his 44th birthday, a...


TWO weeks before his 44th birthday, a writer we know asked his barber to cut his hair in the new style known as "the fade." That's the one kids on MTV wear as they rap about how tough it is growing up in the '90s.

Pals of our friend politely remarked how well the cut suited him. Colleagues at work took the transformation in stride, though some wondered whether mid-life crisis was afoot. "Trendy," they said. The writer's wife bought him a hat.

Our friend, meanwhile, proceeded as if nothing had changed. He didn't feel different, except on blustery mornings when the north wind blew shivery needles of cold into his closely shorn scalp. After a few days he forgot he even had a haircut unless he looked in a mirror.

No one asked him for identification when he bought cigarettes or beer. Store owners didn't follow him suspiciously through the aisles. Policemen regarded him with the same merciful inattention as always.

As his "fade" grew in, however, the reflection in his mirror developed an unfortunate resemblance to Kriss Kross -- minus the young rappers' braids, of course. Then he began to wonder whether he really wanted to share hairstyles with Mike Tyson, not exactly a role model.

The clincher came the day before his birthday, when his wife presented him not with the expected watch but -- another hat.

That evening the writer slipped back to the barber shop, where all evidence of his brief second adolescence was discreetly erased. Next morning he awoke to find himself 44 years old -- and perfectly content to be just another middle-aged gent.

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