The fortyish woman with the brown, wavy, medium-length hair came up and rested her head on her elbow on my checkout counter. “These geezers…,” she said, raising her eyebrows and rolling her eyes.
I was on a working vacation extended to several years, employed as a cashier at a farm stand in Naples, Florida. I was staying at my mother’s villa but was about to fly back to Redondo Beach, California, my former home, for a visit.
The day before I went on my trip, I got a haircut. “Make it look like it was cut two weeks ago,” I told my stylist.
“Then why didn’t you get it cut two weeks ago?” she quipped dryly.
My hair grows fast, anyway, and since this haircut really did come out looking as if it had been cut two weeks prior, I needed another haircut in a couple of weeks, on my return from California, but I didn’t have time. When I got around to that next cut my bangs were the length of Michael Jackson’s, albeit without the curl.
The day before this cut, I colored my hair. Nothing new; I had been coloring my hair as a matter of course for a couple of years, since taking a close look into the mirror and finding my hair around the front sugar-white as the sands along a Gulf of Mexico beach, as if somebody had come up behind me and hollered “Tsunami!” My suddenly seeing that much white must have shocked the color out of the rest of the hair around my face, because practically all of it went white right after that, as beautiful and white as my grandfather’s was. But he looked distinguished. I just look tired—even more tired than I actually am, plus it makes my green skin tone look even greener. So I had been applying a warm blonde that not only warms up my skin tone but also blends away the gray and highlights my natural brown hair color (what’s left of it).
This time when I went to the store to get my usual color they were out of it. I was in a rush, so I thought rather than go to another store I’d just try something new. Mistake number one. Mistake number two, I chose a vegetable dye. Vegetable dyes, my hair stylist later explained, really lop onto your hair and the color’s nearly impossible to get out.
I applied the color and stood in front of the mirror waiting for the color to come up. It began to turn a rich warm brown. I decided to give it another minute or two to get the full benefit of the color. As I watched in the mirror, it suddenly turned bright RED. What I thought would be a warm brown, about the color of Brooke Shields’ hair, suddenly was the color of copper piping. I jumped into the shower and washed it off, then wrapped a towel around it. Came the unveiling: still the color of copper pipe—in splotches. I had these copper splotches on the top of my hair and at my temples, more on the left than the right. Actually, the splotch on the top was more like a wide copper swath from forehead to crown, right down my part—rather like the Chisholm Trail. You could have herded cattle along it. I quickly ran to the refrigerator, grabbed half a Key lime, and squeezed the juice into my hair. No lemons in the house. It was either that or Clorox. I left it in all through dinner, until my hair got crisp. It wasn’t quite so garish; at least I didn’t think so. If you want the bald truth, ask your mother.
“It’s not so red now, is it?” I asked. My mother grimaced, shielding her eyes.
I emailed my daughter. “Try washing it with dish detergent,” she said.
I did this the next morning before going to work. I applied the dish detergent right on top of the dried Key lime juice. I couldn’t get all the suds out without being late for work. I blew it dry. I figured maybe the crispness of the Key lime and the dried suds would subdue the garishness.
“I thought you’d been to one of those wild rock concerts,” observed my boss, who listened to rock music in his pickup loud enough to shatter the truck windows. “Next I expect you to show up wearing one of those nose rings.”
Probably if I’d worn the nose ring, no one would have noticed my copper-splotched hair.
Next day I went to get my hair cut. “Just cut out the red,” I told my stylist.
“Try baking soda,” she offered. I had been considering borax. If you recolor it you’ll have to use a very dark color to cover the red,” she went on. “Try some of this,” she said, handing me a flat, black plastic bottle. “It’s about the only thing that’ll work.” It was a bluing conditioner.
“I’m not going to become a bluehair, am I?” I panicked.
“No,” she assured me. “Just apply it on the red places.”
I did, and it did tone it down to a blue-copper. I experimented with a series of hairstyles which I hoped would draw the viewer’s eyes away from the main swath and temple splotches. They helped, but none was totally effective.
The following day I went to the store and bought a dark, warm brown hair color, much darker than I normally would have used. Now I had warm reddish-brown hair, reddish brown over the parts that had previously been golden blonde and a darker, copperish brown at my temples and along my part. My hair grows fast, fortunately. Unfortunately, as it grew out and I smiled a big ear-to-ear grin, I suspected I might have been mistaken for the Cheshire cat. Next, to work on becoming invisible….