The Art of Seeing by Michael Milton
Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving grounds. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of personal prejudices.
My search for love has often been preceded by some change in my hair style. And in the words of singer Jim Morrison, “Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts.”
I am far less vain about my hair now that I have safely landed in a relationship. Still, I used to have the notion that the right hairdo would attract the right man into my life, or at the very least, get me noticed by someone who might be the right man.
Coco Chanel agreed. “A person getting ready to change their hair is ready to change their life.”
Here’s the thing. Though I am told I have nice looking hair, I never quite believe it.
I often think how nice it must be for the person (if such a person exists) who simply accepts their hair as it is.
My hair wasn’t, at one point, the only aspect of myself I assumed was the single brick in the wall which separated me from my true love. The list I had accumulated of my flaws was rather long; the size of my nose, the side drift of my mouth, early on-set of crow’s feet (I do laugh a lot, so there is at least a bonus there.) I’ve wondered about the message my size fourteen feet send or the sound of my voice. And, of course, my performance in bed.
As of this moment, I have been with my partner for twenty-five years and for most of our time together, my hair (nose size, feet, crow’s feet) have all remained basically the same. But in the years before we met, I was a little edgy about my looks and tried new things to spruce up my appearance.
I remember a conversation years ago with a stylist friend about the power of hair in luring in love.
“I want a change,” I said. “But something that doesn’t make me look I am trying too hard.”
She shook her head. “So you don’t want to change the color,” she said. And you don’t want to go shorter and you don’t want extensions but you’re ready for a whole new life? Hmmmmm. OK.”
I heard the sarcasm and it was shortly after the conversation with my haircutter that I decided to really make some changes.
After a particularly painful breakup back in the early 1980’s, friends insisted they had a guy for me to meet at a New Year’s Eve party who was ‘just my type’ and they strong-armed me into a commitment to come to the celebration.
After agreeing to go, I recalled that earlier conversation with my stylist friend and I decided “What the hell?” and took a plunge I had long considered.
Back then, I had a crush on actor Christopher Atkins. Remember him? He co-starred with Brooke Shields in a film entitled The Blue Lagoon? He had a mass of perfectly organized, tight blonde curls bobbing sexily around his chiseled face. I decided my already modestly wavy hair would take to Chris’ style with no problem.
Well. There was a problem.
After three hours of uncomfortable chemical applications, the hair on the sides of my head took on the curls enthusiastically. However, the hair on the top of my head just got straighter and straighter.
Bear in mind this was New Year’s Eve and the salon was an absolute madhouse of clients with parties to attend. My stylist hadn’t anticipated that I’d be sitting in his chair for quite so long, cutting a big slice into his biggest earning day of the year.
“There is nothing I can do for you,” were his final words after many bold attempts and repeated applications of vile smelling curling products.
When your stylist gives up, you know you’ve taken the wrong turn in terms of your hair.
My solution? On my way home I bought a gel named “Iron Hold.” I applied great gobs of it to the sides of my head and then combed the curls out straight, figuring the whole greasy mess gave me a “Godfather” kind of allure.
The evening began well and the oleaginous back comb actually looked pretty good.
Still, before midnight, my date began to give me odd looks. In the men’s room I discovered that even “Iron Hold” had its limits. One by one, clumps of hair on the sides of my head—which had taken so well to the curling iron just a few hours before—were beginning to break free of the gel.
Are you old enough to remember Bozo the Clown; the bald pate and the wild curls on the sides of his head? Well, now you know what I was looking at in the mirror.
I made some excuse to my date and fled into the night. At home, I took a pair of scissors and rid myself of the offensive curls, leaving it to a barber to make sense of it all the day after New Years’.
Too bad. The guy had been, as friends had promised, seemed to have been “just my type.” Perhaps if it had been Halloween? Who knows what might have happened then?
I took a long hiatus from dating while my hair had time to return to some semblance of normalcy.
The gentleman I am now with, I met after my hair had grown back. Obviously, we met before the days of apps like Grindr, Scruff, Silvery Fox or Chappy.
When we attend a gay party these days, the story of our meeting barely raises an eyebrow. But at family get-togethers, I dread the moment when the question inevitably rolls around, “So how did you two meet?” I always hope this question- and- answer part of the evening will lose steam before reaching me but it never seems to.
My hair began to gray early and by thirty, I was definitely in the ‘salt and pepper’ category.
And as I contemplated resuming my search for love, I decided it was absolutely necessary for me to go and have my hair colored for the first time. I was only thirty, for God’s sake! The gray added a decade to my age. I knew nearly nothing about the hair coloring process and opted for the cheapest single rinse on the salon’s menu.
I thought I looked great. Definitely younger. Friends were kind but not effusive.
“Jealous,” I decided.
My new friend and I met at a dive bar on Amsterdam Avenue—now gone—which included a back room to which folks might retire to become, well, better acquainted. You could smoke indoors then and seeing a stranger across a crowded room was made even more difficult in the dim lighting.
So, I’m standing, I’m drinking, I’m posing and thinking I have an early next morning and am about to leave when suddenly (cue the orchestra!) the cig smog momentarily cleared and I saw him across the pool table.
Muffled moans and groans emitted from the back room. Whitney Houston wailed on the stereo. He looked up from his beer and smiled. And an hour or so later, I was sure I was in love.
This is not the story I tell my family. I wish sometimes that we had met at school or at church or on the subway. I wish it had been Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening” that night instead of Whitney urging us to shake our booties with someone.
It was what it was. And to me, it ended up being quite beautiful.
And even though I will probably always hedge the answer to that question, it warms my heart to know in that single moment, in a bar where your feet literally stuck to the floor (please don’t ask me why!) where beer was all that was served, where half the men’s jeans were torn in some provocative manner, I met the love of my life.
And I was pretty sure it was my newly colored hair that had won the day.
Well, after a few dates, I discovered my new beau was eight years younger than me. Confident with my new hair color, I had felt fine subtracting the eights years that separated our ages in order to make us the same age.
How did I know a couple of months later, we’d grow even closer. And soon I realized unless I walked away from the whole relationship, I would need to come clean on this discrepancy in our years.
Heart pounding, sweat staining my Brooks Brothers work shirt, I finally blurted out my real age.
He seemed genuinely surprised.
“I just thought we were the same age” was his diplomatic response.
He did, however, point out that I ought to find someone else to do my hair. This was the most shocking part to me. I had no idea people could even tell I colored my hair.
He went on to say, “In fact, in the right light, you look a little like Lucille Ball.”
It worked out that the rusty undertones of my naturally brown hair were the colors primarily picked up by the cheap dye I used and if I stood directly underneath an undiffused recessed fixture, I indeed could have been wearing a frilly apron yelling, “Ricky!!!!”
My friends, it would seem, had simply chosen their responses carefully.
Still, as our relationship grew, I gradually stopped coloring my hair and now after our years together, the salt and pepper (a lot more salt than pepper now) is very much pronounced.
And he hasn’t left yet.
My boyfriend sent me eight birthday cards over our first official month’s period as a couple after my confession, each sent intended to catch us up year-wise.
The salutation on each card read, “Love you no matter what.”
My advice: leave your hair alone! In fact, I now refer to my grey hair as wisdom highlights.
Life is short. You might as well live it with really great hair.
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