I enjoyed the blunt, direct nature of Outspoken Hostess, figuring she was compensating for her youth and size. Petite and pretty, she was the youngest worker in The Pie Shoppe. At barely twenty, she hadn’t outgrown the know-it-all teenager, which she broadcast from a face well below my chin. I never had to guess what she was thinking. Over the three years she’d known me, she offered unabashed and unasked for opinions on my eye makeup, hair, lipstick color, uniform cleanliness, and overall skinniness. Yet, she was charming, like the cute and quirky sitcom sidekick who says all the things the star of the show is thinking but is “too nice” to say. Perhaps I seemed like a lost chick and, as a young mother with two small children, she’d taken me under her wing. Since I was almost old enough to be her grandmother, I tended not to take her too seriously.
It was slow. I was at the hostess stand waiting for customers and staring with longing at the sunshiny day outside, when Outspoken Hostess said, with the slightest lilt from her Spanish accent, “What are you doing after work, Dawn?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Maybe you’d like to come for a makeover at my house. My mom can do it for you.”
I looked down at her dark, straight, streaked hair pulled neatly into a bun at the nape of her neck. Two artfully selected burnished tresses framed her round face. My hair was also twisted into a bun. I touched my frizzy flyaways self-consciously. “Uh. Why? Do I need one or something?” Outspoken Hostess and I often shared dry-humored ribbing as well. I figured she was creating some entertainment to pass the doldrums.
“I wanna make your hair darker. Give it some color.”
“My hair already has some color.”
“Yeah, but you need a different color. Gray is not hot. Gray doesn’t look nice. You need to brighten your hair.”
I didn’t want to reveal it, but this hurt. Wrinkles don’t bother me. Neither does sagging skin. I’ve even shrugged off perimenopause symptoms, however difficult they sometimes are. Quite irrationally, gray hair is different. My fading hair makes me feel like a flower withered, dry and drab, and, like a vase full of dead flowers, society seems ready to throw hoary old ladies in the dumpster. Still, the perverse devil’s advocate in me decided to play this game. I said with a grin, “I thought gray was the new black. Lotsa celebrities are going gray. Some of the younger ones are coloring their dark hair white.”
“That’s not gray, that’s platinum blonde,” she deadpanned as if she wondered how I could miss something so obvious. “I’m serious. I’m being real. When I care about people, I tell it to them straight. Just let her do it. My mom can give you a cut, style and color. We’ll do it for free. You just pay for the product. You’d look tits. So boss.”
Tits? Boss? Damn, I felt old. I surmised she meant those nouns as positive adjectives. I believed she was verbally putting her arm around my shoulder, giving me a heart-to-heart. “I’m trying to embrace my gray hair,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.
“Why? Don’t you want to look your best?”
“Doesn’t gray hair look good too? It’s a color.”
“No. It doesn’t. It’s dull. It’s plain. Think about your man. You can’t get yourself a new boyfriend and then let yourself go. You have to keep looking good so he’ll stay.”
“My boyfriend is encouraging me to grow out the gray. It was his idea.”
She laughed. “What boyfriend would tell a girlfriend that?”
“A good one.” I laughed too. “You wait ‘til you’re my age. You’ll remember this conversation. You’ll wanna embrace your grays too. You’re going to be embarrassed you were so rude to me.”
“No, I won’t. I will look good. My hair will be colored so I will look my best.”
“C’mon, it’s not that bad. A woman can still look good with gray hair.”
Another server, who was also young, was listening in and Outspoken Hostess turned to her. “I’m trying to tell her she needs to color her hair so she can look her best. Don’t you think she’d look good if she got some color?”
I said, “I’m growing out my gray hair to see how it looks. What do you think?”
She startled at the attention drawn to her. Her blue eyes spiraled, like the center of a whirlpool, moving quickly around between Outspoken Hostess and myself. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly before she sputtered, “I don’t know. I can’t tell. Your gray hasn’t fully grown in yet.” Then she ran off, seemingly as quickly as she could, presumably to check on her tables, but most likely to avoid any more spotlit questioning.
“See!” Outspoken Hostess looked smug.