March 12, 2009
Would you wear only clothing made out of human hair for a year?
It wouldn’t necessarily be dirty, but it would be itchy – and obvious to those around you.
Man, do religious folks love some self-mortification. Take Flagellants, for example. This radical sect took it to the streets in the 13th and 14th centuries, combining frenzied whipping with hymns and chants to produce something akin to a Homecoming Day parade gone BD/SM. Eventually, The Church condemned the movement as heretical once it began to threaten the establishment (ain’t that always the way?), but self-flagellation as practice (though rare) exists to this day. The hair shirt is a slightly less public expression of this urge to debase oneself, and it’s what I thought of when we came up with this dare. Next to the tonsure, it’s probably my favorite Weird Olde Religious Thing.
Fun Facts About Hair Shirts:
– Also known as sackcloth (as in “sackcloth and ashes”)
– Traditionally made out of goats’ hair
– It’s not only a shirt! It can also be worn in a band around the loins for the maximum amount of itchy, lice-filled discomfort
– Some truly hardcore monks in the Middle Ages created a version made of fine wire, which is possibly the origin of the pronged, metal cilices worn around the upper thigh by those lunatics in Opus Dei
Fascinating, ain’t it? Personally, I think that this challenge, though fun to ponder, might be slightly too daunting. Imagine having to come home and change out of your human-hair suit into your human-hair pajamas and robe, all the while wearing human-hair undies (or going commando, I guess). Can you imagine the itching and the chafing? Oh, god. You’d end up spending most of your million on Gold Bond and hydrocortisone!
I don’t deal with discomfort well at all, and there is no discomfort like the discomfort caused by free roaming hairs rubbing against your skin. As anyone who’s ever cut their own hair and then didn’t shower immediately knows, hairs that are free to travel (up and down your body) are incredibly irritating and crazy annoying. Hair on skin is a maddening sensation that, no matter how much you scratch, refuses to be relieved. Imagine the sort of damage you’d do to yourself in your sleep, when your animal brain took over and your rational self-control fell by the wayside, and you let yourself scratch unceasingly at all the little hair-triggered itches on your body. You would definitely draw blood and possibly much, much more. Consider this: The New Yorker ran an article about people with chronic, constant, intense itches that didn’t respond to scratches and which had no medically identifiable cause. The most amazing story of the lot was about a woman with an itch on the right side of her scalp that just wouldn’t quit. She itched and scratched and itched and scratched incessantly, but the itching never stopped. And then this happened:
One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.
That’s some crazy shit, right? And yet, you know what scares me more than itching myself crazy for a year? Having a day job for the next 40 years. And so, despite being a delicate flower that complains about even the least bit of discomfort (I really do), I would try this. I think I would probably last for 17 – maybe 18 – minutes tops but, fuck, dude. It’s a million dollars. Maybe you’d just grow immune to the feel of hair on your skin. Probably not, but maybe. And if I have to call the dare off part of the way in, so be it. But I’d give it a try. Because money buys happiness. That’s just a fact of life.