Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dyeing to Live

I have graying hair, if you must know.  It started going gray when I was in my twenties.
Also, my mommy cuts my hair, still -- if you must know that. I think I get a get out of jail card with this, though: she is a licensed hairdresser and it is free.
Ponce thought he had it.
Anyway, once, when I was about thirty, she said, “Why don’t you let me dye your hair?” I said no. Then she asked me again. I said no. Then, I caved in. It was then that I began to live the life of the ever-looming lie.
I’m not what you would call a “metro-sexual.”  There’s not a lot of thought, in the course of my day, that goes into appearance. Sure, I try to wear clothes that match. I shower once a month whether I need it or not. (My dad’s joke.) I even shave pretty regularly. I refuse to cave in to the idea of dudes getting manicures and pedicures, much to my wife’s chagrin. (What’s wrong with my toes, anyway? [Don’t listen to her if she comments. She’s a horrible judge of toes. She wouldn't know a beautiful toe if it brought her tea.]) In short, I’m no slob, but I’m not exactly The Situation.
So, there I was with dyed hair. Dyed hair eventually goes away, I learned. In my case, the temples would go gray, first. And being a guy who doesn’t realize he needs a haircut until his locks begin to obscure the page numbers of the book he is reading, I would let too much gray grow in.
I'm not Dorian, but I am gray.
Then, the conundrum.
I teach teenagers. Teenagers look at you funny. They look at you closely. (I once had a student who kept a running log of the ties I wore to school for the month of February. There was, apparently, a bet of some kind, regarding how many I actually owned.) They see things like gray temples one day and brown ones the next. They are tenacious little devils and they are not afraid to point out your flaws and hypocrisies.
So, now, it was a constant chess match: “Just die the rest and leave the temples a little gray…” I’d say. Mom obliged. I’d toss and turn at night. I’d tell people fabrications about how my hair looks grayer when it gets longer -- "Go figure," I would say with a shrug. (One math-teaching colleague [I normally wouldn’t hang around with that type, but she is exceptionally nice -- nice enough to make me forget her dabbling with the witchcraft they call “quadratic equations”] believed this ruse for years, until I let her in on the truth, after I stopped dying it, bless her heart.)
One day, I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I had to stop dying my hair. No one seemed to notice -- or cared to say anything -- when it went gray.  (One colleague did say, tactfully, “What the hell happened to you?” when we came back from summer break, but other than that, I was cool.)
So, now, it is pretty gray. (Me and George Clooney:  Studly. Sophisticated…  Oh, shut up.)
What’s weird is that it made me feel a little funny in the beginning, when I stopped. Like I was…getting… older.
Who wants to live forever?
Let’s face it: every day we’re  getting closer to an infinite stay at that most restful of resorts, Coffin Corners. That’s scary, for sure. But I wonder if all this avoidance behavior isn’t making death even scarier for a lot of us. Isn’t it better to slowly get used to the idea than to shade the truth, aesthetically, for as long as we can?
I know people say things like cosmetic surgery, hair-color and fashion make us feel better about ourselves. I believe that. I’ve watched the reality shows and studied the theories of the fashion philosophers. (I especially like the one show  with the two British ladies who dress people up and have no qualms whatsoever about, um, adjusting their female clients. They kill me.) But couldn’t these good feelings all be like joy going into the meat grinder and coming out dread?
It seems to me there is a fine line between growing old gracefully and giving up, so we have to be careful. There is also a fine line between taking care of yourself and just filling in the cracks with putty.
Nah. I’m gray. It’s cool. It means things are changing. It means I'm getting older. But instead of dying my hair, I think I’ll work harder at getting on the treadmill or at finally getting into Tai Chi, as I have threatened to do for years.
You know what else? When I started dying my hair, the gray was just beginning  to show. When I stopped, I was mostly gray. In a way, I made the aging happen faster. Talk about yer irony.


  1. I started getting grey hair when I was 13. I started colouring it very early on and at 46 I still do because unfortunately my grey hair is all shades and in between and still isn't growing in all nice and even. For the last ten or so years I've used henna and that's a hellish process.

    I get comments when my skunk stripe gets too big and I hate it when the grey shows up. Getting older sucks. I try to accept my wrinkles, laugh lines,my aches and pains but my hair stays flame henna red until it looks more stupid than cool. After that I might try cherry cool aid.

    1. Well, there is also something to be said for premature gray, isn't there? I was in my twenties, so I get what you are saying. There's also something to be said for just going for an aesthetic look, as women tend to do, as opposed to men, who normally just dye to avoid age. I say long live the henna red!!

  2. I keep threatening to cover my grey with a nice bright shade from Manic Panic. I don't have that much grey yet, but MP does make a really fine shade of purple.

    1. That's the stuff, right there -- just going for the color burst sets you well above the mere age avoiders, I say!