Apparently I have a genetic flaw –well, Brien called it a mutation, but I think he was just guessing. Anyway, if it’s a fatal one, it’s sure taken its time to raise its hand, and since it waited until late in my life I suppose it’s too late to prevent me from giving it to my kids. Come to think of it, my father had it too, and he didn’t seem too concerned about giving it to me. I think Brien is just jealous of my genes –he gets like that if he thinks he’s been issued the default product.
It started out innocently enough. A friend of his decided to dye his hair to get rid of the grey. Apparently he overdid it and was criticized for his profile picture on the dating website he uses. So, Brien wanted to know what product I apply. He, by the way, is the same age as I am, although considerably heavier –I’m not sure that’s relevant, but I always like to draw it to his attention anyway.
“Brien, you know I don’t dye my hair,” I said, surprised at his comment.
He promptly furrowed his brow, at my denial. “Don’t get all petulant on me, for god’s sake. I’m not going to tell anybody.” He glanced around the busy coffee shop, and when he faced me again, there was a mischievous smile on his lips –the kind that cameos the teeth. “Unless, that is, you don’t tell me what you use…”
Brien has naturally greying hair –I probably shouldn’t use a gerund: his grey is a fait accompli. It is the colour of an old mouse, but considerably less well groomed. He seems to pride himself on the fact that he doesn’t really need either a comb or a brush because of his curls. Once again, language belies the truth –he has one untidy curl on the top of his head that usually passes as a rogue fly-away, and only assumes a curl shape if you look at it from a certain angle. It’s also the view that aggrandizes what few strands he has left. I looked at him and smiled. “Okay, then, if you’re going to play dirty, I use a shampoo I buy at Walmart…”
He fingered a pencil he’d hidden in a shirt pocket and hovered it over the napkin. “Name?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know –whatever’s on sale. They’re all the same, I figure.”
“My friend has tried everything, and he can’t seem to get it right.” He paused for a moment to think of a more convincing argument. “The women on his site are laughing at him for his fake colouring.”
“What’s wrong with grey hair? I mean, won’t they find out if he gets into a relationship with them? Won’t they see his bottle of dye on the bedside table along with his teeth?”
Brien thought about that for a moment. “I don’t think he has false teeth…”
“Then why fake the hair either?”
The wry smile again. “You do…”
My hair has always been a cross for me to bear. I have a full head of the stuff, but the curls keep it in a kind of Beethoven shape -he was actually born on my birthday, so it was a standing joke around the office. One person even grabbed my hair to pull it off my head, thinking it was a wig. But, like Dorian Gray –pardon the pun- it hasn’t changed much over the years. I’m hoping there isn’t some Wildean picture of it in an attic somewhere, of course. I shook my head vehemently at his accusation and sighed.
“Look, it isn’t natural for someone not to get grey at our age…” His eyes narrowed and his mouth puckered for some reason. “And besides, I don’t believe you.”
I sighed again, but this time loudly enough for the next table to hear. “Here, look at this,” I said, offering him an ear-level view of a few greys I knew were tucked away under some curls in front of my right ear.
“Doesn’t prove anything and you know it!” he said with a shake of his head. I must have looked puzzled because he rolled his eyes and tapped his pencil on the napkin. “A lot of guys leave a bit of grey undyed here and there -just to pretend they’re not trying to hide anything. That it’s how they are –salt and pepper, or something.”
His explanation didn’t help. “How do they do that?”
He had to shrug. “I don’t touch the stuff, so I haven’t kept up with the technology.”
“Neither have I,” I had to admit.
He stared at me for a moment, his eyes buzzing back and forth over my head like a couple of hungry bees. And then he sighed deeply and brought them back to the hive. “Well then you must be genetically abnormal. I’ll bet you have a mutation!” He said the word like it I was a mutant -something feral and maybe mildly unpredictable, because he immediately sat back in his chair and moved his coffee closer to his side.
“Don’t you ever wonder if people are staring at you behind your back?” He examined me for a moment. “I mean your skin is wrinkled like mine, and we’re both wearing old-fashioned glasses and clothes from another era…” He shook his head slowly –and a little sadly as well, I thought.
“Your point, Brien?”
“I’m saying that apart from your hair, you still look your age.” He eyed my hair again and nodded. “My point is your hair’s an anomaly. It looks too good to be natural.”
I was confused. “Isn’t that what your friend is trying to do?”
A little shrug. “But he got called up on it though, didn’t he? And his didn’t even look as natural as yours.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “But…”
“I tried to talk him out of dying it so he could look his age again. Honesty is what women want, I told him –someone who looks like everyone else his age. But he wouldn’t listen.” Brien took a sip of his cold coffee and immediately put in down. “Anyway, I said I’d talk to somebody who was better at it…”
“So… Where are you trying to go with this, Brien?”
A smile suddenly appeared and so did wrinkles around his eyes. I’d even say they were twinkling, but I think it was his allergies. “Ever think of dying your hair grey? To look your age, I mean…?”
I hope my kids don’t have to go through this when they get old.