As I stared into the mirror, old age began staring back at me, and I sure didn’t like the looks of that old geezer one little bit.
When I was a boy, I wanted to be just like my Dad, so when I saw photos of him in the Navy with a full beard, I wanted one too. Unfortunately for me, at eight years old, the best I could do was to draw one on with my mother’s eyebrow pencil.
In high school, my facial hairs began to sprout so I decided to let them turn into a beard. By week’s end, I had a mild five o’clock shadow, enough to require a visit to the principal’s office where I was informed that if I grew a thing like that in college, they’d give me umbrellas to sell. I guess the confused look on my face led the principal to explain what he meant in plain English. “Son, you look like a bum out on the street.” I was told that if that “stuff” on my face wasn’t gone by the following day, I would be. So, I spent the rest of my high school career clean-shaven.
My first day of college, I began growing a beard. I wound up liking it so much, I actually never did shave it off. Over the years it has grown long, been trimmed short, shaped and contoured every which way and was never a problem until I turned forty. Tiny gray hairs began to erupt. As I stared into the mirror, old age began staring back at me, and I sure didn’t like the looks of that old geezer one little bit.
I suppose it was in the genes. My grandfather turned snowy white by the time he was middle aged, looking very much like Albert Einstein. Not a pleasant prospect as far as I was concerned. I complained to my wife, who tried to smooth my ruffled feathers by telling me these new gray hairs gave me a distinguished look. I just couldn’t see it. She shrugged. “If it really bothers you, you can always touch up your hair and beard with a little dye.”
I rolled my eyes at that prospect, but the next day I found myself at the local pharmacy, sneaking down the aisle that housed a wall of hair-dye products, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone that I knew. My eyes darted up and down the shelves where boxes of every conceivable color were displayed. I quickly dismissed shades of red and blonde. “Brown…brown…brown,” I muttered as I finally zeroed in on the right rack. There was Golden Brown, Ash Brown, Bronze, Mahogany, Raw Umber and Burnt Sienna. When I moved down to Honey, Caramel, Toffee, Chestnut, Chocolate Cherry, Sweet Cola, Cinnamon and Nutmeg, I wondered if I had accidentally wandered into the candy department. My head was spinning with the varieties facing me. I decided to play it safe. I chose Medium Brown.
At home I read the directions over and over. It seemed simple enough. Mix the white creamy liquid with the gooey coloring, apply it liberally, leave it on for twenty minutes and rinse. There were, of course, all kinds of warnings and disclaimers about allergic reactions. Cautions instructing me to test a sample first, but I was just too anxious to get started, so I slathered my beard and hair with the concoction. In minutes, my face felt as though it was on fire, and the smell of ammonia caused me to tear up. My eyes followed the hands on my watch. Those twenty minutes seemed like hours. I finally washed the goop out to find that there was hardly a difference. It became clear to me. My gray hairs had to be some kind of indestructible strain that needed a longer application than the instructions called for, so I re-applied, and sat down to read a book. After a little more than an hour, I went back to the bathroom to check on my progress in the mirror. Medium brown had turned into jet black! No matter how much I scrubbed, it never got a shade lighter. The positive was, it did cover the gray. The negative? For the next month I walked around looking like Neanderthal man.
The following month, the gray began to resurface. Now, more experienced, more dye-savvy, I made the safe choice of Light Brown, left it on for only thirty-five minutes, and rinsed out to what looked like a very handsome, natural shade of color…inside the house. But, when I went outside into the sun, Light Brown turned into Bozo the Clown Scarlet! I considered re-dying with just a touch of a darker shade but I kept picturing my hair and beard somehow turning grape purple. Instead, for the next five weeks, I avoided going out in the sunlight like a vampire.
After months of trial and error, I finally came up with the right combination of time and color, leaving me looking natural and young again. Touching up my hair became routine. Over the years, the gray became more persistent, the touch ups more frequent until one day I got tired of the dying routine. “What do you think of me letting my hair go natural?” I asked my wife.
“I think you’ll be fine.” She smiled reassuringly. “Look at how many famous people let their hair go grey.”
So I made up my mind. I dumped what hair coloring I had left and let nature take its course. It wasn’t long before my hair passed from light brown to white, leaving me uncertain of whether I’d made the right decision. Then, one day I was standing in an elevator and a young woman stepped on. She looked closely at me and said, “You know, you look like someone.”
I smiled. “I do? Willie Nelson?” I asked.
“No, not him. But someone.” She continued studying my face.
“Kris Kristofferson, maybe?” I suggested.
“No, not him.”
“How about Sean Connery?” I asked.
“No. I’ve got it!” She smiled. “I know who you look like. Santa Claus!”
As soon as the elevator doors opened, I headed for the hair coloring section of the nearest pharmacy.