The gray started when I was fourteen, with a pale skunk stripe along the part at the top. From there it wandered down the sides, sucking the color out of my temples before I was twenty and all of it before I was thirty. At first, it wasn't too annoying to dye out the evidence, but as life got busier it became a hassle. When we had our son, I wasn't allowed to dye it because exposure to hair dye (and a million other commonplace items) caused my doctor to go into hysterics. Thus began my real education.
First of all, no one believed I was pregnant, including one labor and delivery nurse who came in, looked at me, went back out in the hall and announced--very loudly, on the assumption that I was deaf--"She says she's having a baby, but she's, like, too old to be pregnant and stuff!" She was really surprised to find a baby and stuff in the room later.
Over the next twenty years, as my face started catching up to the hair, I found out that gray hair means getting shouted at a lot. I SAID, HAVING GRAY HAIR GETS YOU SHOUTED AT. It also makes...people...speak...very...slowly...and...use...little...words, as if your brain bleached with your hair.
If you know you'll need to go to the hospital, for goodness' sake dye your hair beforehand. It shouldn't make a difference in the care you get, but it does. The same thing goes for car repair places. For that matter, most businesses have the same problem: if you're gray, the staff will discuss you in the third person when they're standing three feet away, and when they do address you it will be loud and vague: "Don't worry about that, honey.--I don't know what they did with her car, and she's been here for hours. Shouldn't somebody come in and get her?"
It's not just me. Dale Jarrett, who had a long and successful NASCAR career as a sort-of redhead, went gray back in 2001. He was shocked at how fast people started asking him when he was going to retire and offering him the senior discount on everything--and he was in his early forties. Men in suit-wearing cubicle jobs have, if anything, a worse time than women because they need some gray for credibility but not too much or they'll get axed in favor of somebody younger. ESPN sometimes seems like one long commercial for stuff that will freeze a man's hair age at 35. (Okay, that and the stuff that is supposed to prevent guys from running to the john every five minutes. That's nature's revenge for when the guys were in their twenties, their wives were pregnant, and the guys made fun of them for having to go all the time.)
If you're gray and fiftyish, and you've been meaning to tint yourself but haven't gotten around to it, want some real fun? Go into a business before you dye and look at something you're thinking about buying eventually. For maximum entertainment value, make it a high-tech gadget. Once you're back to whatever color you have now declared natural, go back to the same place, dressed about the same way, and look at the same merchandise. On my first visit, I had a cell phone salesman shout at me about how simple the phone was to use. On my second, he pointed out all the fancy features, then looked at me oddly and said "Wasn't your mom in here the other day?" No, but if she was you'd have heard about your attitude.
Picking out the dye is always another problem. I bought some root touch-up last month that was supposed to match any medium brown. It looked pretty good to start with, but when I went out in the rain, all the dark brown washed out right away, leaving the whole top of my head fire-engine red. The company wasn't sure why that had happened, but cautioned me not to dye over it in case something even weirder happened, so it's been an, er, interesting month. As if interesting results weren't enough, you have to sort through color names that sound more like a coffeehouse menu: Espresso; Cappucino; Hazelnut; Cinnamon Cream. Guys' hair dyes come in Blonde, Light Brown, Medium Brown, Dark Brown, Red and Black. Ours apparently come in regular, decaf, and latte.
Well, sitting here writing isn't getting the chore done. It's time to curl up and dye. Mind, I like the way Hazelnut looks. It actually makes me feel younger. It won't take more than half an hour or so to get the job done. But is it fair that what I'm looking forward to most is NOT GETTING SHOUTED AT?
(sigh) Till next week...