Our back lawn is sprouting clouds of gray, remnants of our Covid-19 haircuts safely executed outdoors. My husband had salt-and-pepper hair when he answered my 1999 ad in this publication, then called the Jewish Bulletin. Now the pepper is gone. I am running out of pepper, which has migrated to the back of my neck, invisibly. Full frontal, in the mirror, I am gray and I see my mother. Now in my eighth decade, I have earned my gray locks. I will never go blond, like the older women in my mother’s building. I will also never go orange, lavender or pink, although my hair has turned all those shades, much to my consternation.
In my 40s, I had dyed my hair a couple of times, but after a month or two in the sun it began turning orange. Even worse, the fumes from the dye made me gasp, so I left the salon while the color processed, standing in the alleyway where I was surrounded by stylists on a cigarette break. After that experience, I went the do-it-yourself route.
First, I tried Clairol Loving Care, a temporary rinse touted as covering only the gray. Ha! It covered everything but the gray — towels, shower tiles and the sink. My wiry gray strands put up a valiant battle and resisted the assault with bravado. Not so the shower curtain at the Holiday Inn in San Diego.
After that, I called Clairol’s hotline for advice. My problem, I was told, was Resistant Gray Hair. She recommended the stronger stuff, so I bought a bottle of Nice’n Easy, in a medium warm brown shade. At first it was nice and easy. Then it became hateful. After two months of oxidizing in the sun, my hair was turning auburn, with a line of demarcation at the roots. I was in danger of being expelled from the sort-of-winter color harmony, sabotaging my fuchsia lipstick, my wardrobe and my integrity. Medium ash brown toned down the auburn and helped me through spring, but after I sat through “Richard III” on a hot day in Golden Gate Park, Agent Orange returned with a vengeance.
Once again, I called the Clairol hotline and was told to try Loving Care. Hadn’t I done that once before? After I spent $35 on a color corrective product, the orange disappeared, and my days of dabbling in dyes and rinses ended — for an entire decade.
But in 2000, shortly after I remarried, my hairdresser persuaded me to try a new semi-permanent rinse that contained no peroxide or ammonia. After my husband said, “You look terrific,” I was back on the bottle again.
For the next 20 years, I experimented with shades of Clairol Beautiful, which I applied at home. It did not turn my hair orange. It did not turn my hair blue. And it did not make me gasp. But during the summer of 2019, I began receiving interesting comments about my punkish pinkish-lavender hair.
“It’s really cute,” my teenage granddaughter said. “I love it!”
But at an outdoor Beth Am reception, a congregant drew me aside.
“Janet, what are you putting on your hair these days?” she said. “It’s pink!”
“Hmm,” I said. “I’m not putting anything new on my hair. I’ve been at the beach, and the sun must be having its way with me.”
The next time I saw her, with my hair freshly rinsed in ashen brown, she said, “Much better. Now you look like you again.”
Then Covid-19 came along, and I went off the bottle. I trashed the silvery Advanced Gray bottles for super-resistant gray: they contained toluene, reputed to be carcinogenic. Then I tossed the non-toluene-containing copper-colored bottles: Honey Brown, Cedar-Red Brown, Medium Ash Brown, Medium Warm Brown. Gone, gone, gone.
After four months without a haircut during Covid-19 isolation, I phoned my hairdresser, who brought her tools to the back yard. Now semi-retired, she had stopped using hair coloring herself, but she wondered why I had decided to go gray.
I thought of the women in my mother’s apartment building. They grew blonder and blonder as they aged. I thought of my mother, who finally embraced the gray, which was less aging than the blond of her friends and neighbors. I also thought of Glenn Close, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Rita Moreno and Helen Mirren.
“I’m starting to like my gray hair,” I said. “Blond is so yesterday.”