Monday, January 18, 2010

Tomato On a Stick

One of the most off-putting questions I ever get as a dad is when someone, upon seeing my daughter, says to me, "Where did she get her red hair?" The question in and of itself is a fair one, and not off-putting at all, on the face of it. But to me it is, personally, because, as long as I've been alive, I have always identified myself as a redhead. So every time I hear the question, part of me can't understand where it's coming from. Until I look in the mirror, and am reminded that the current reality no longer matches what my brain perceives as "the truth."

Hair color is on my mind today for two reasons: One because I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's great essay in What the Dog Saw called "True Colors," which discusses the changing Madison Avenue slogans of women's hair color products as reflective of and contributing to the attitudes and psyches of 20th century women (from "does she or doesn't she?" to "because I'm worth it"). The other reason is because my kid, the flaming redhead, had a bunch of her friends over for a study group today, and three out of five of them were also redheads, which, given the statistics, is just kinda crazy.

But what's on my mind in particular is my own hair color, and how it has changed, and changed my own psyche, over the course of my 40+ years. Because when you have flaming red hair, as I did all the way up until my early 20s, when it mysteriously started to turn brown, it is an identifier (some might call it a stigma, others might call it a blessing) that you are stuck with, that defines, to some extent, who you are. I had the added fun, too, of having a last name that was also a color, so "Red Green" or "Jeff Red" and so on was my particular stoopid cross to bear.

Though I recall getting compliments on it from adult females at the time ("Oh my god I'd pay to have hair that color!"), that didn't really do much to appease my young and adolescent self when all I really wanted to do was fit in and not feel like a freak. I imagine it is probably worse for redheaded boys than girls. Or it was, anyway. I get the feeling now, in the more enlightened 21st century, where kids have all sorts of ever-changing hair color, that maybe it doesn't matter as much now. Or at least here in Berkeley it doesn't. All I know is at the time I hated it. It didn't help, either that I grew up in Los Angeles, where the pale skin that goes with the red hair further separated me from the Tan and Beautiful. "A tomato on a stick" is one of my asshole adolescent "friends" called me at the time--referring to my red hair on my rail-thin body. And the thing is that, whether positive or negative, you hear about it all the time. Daily. It's the way people identify you.

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See what I'm talkin' about? This guy is a REDHEAD.

It was only as it started to go away, of course, that I finally began to appreciate it. Even before I had my kid, when I was 32, it had long been turning brown, and so when folks would see my driver's license, which said "red" under hair, or heard me refer to myself as a redhead, they would look oddly at me, or question it to my face. But of course I was a redhead, I'd reply. That was who I was. And when that point was disputed, I realized that I was actually bummed by the new truth. I dunno if it was Stockholm Syndrome or what, but after actually being a redhead for so long, I really didn't want to be anything else. I'd grown into it. I think I actually didn't change the "red" to "brown" on my driver's license until about 8 years ago---right about the time that it really, maybe, should have started to say "grey," simply because I didn't want to believe I wasn't a redhead anymore. Both my dad and my grandmother and my first cousin and now my daughter: all redheads. Redheads in the media and popular fiction, like Ron Weasley: my brethren. This was the club I belonged to. And I wanted it to stay that way.

The brown hair I never really enjoyed too much. It was what it was, to use the past tense of a phrase I hate. Now I'm in a whole different ballgame. Happily, though, I'm already over denying the gray. Hey, it is what it is. I'll admit that it bugged the crap out of me at first, of course, but my period of denial was much shorter this time around. It didn't help that the signals were coming in stronger: The number of times I was being called "sir" multiplied exponentially. I somehow found myself cruising past lines--like airport security lines--that used to seem to take longer. I was in the old white male club! Just like in that classic Eddie Murphy sketch! The turning point, at least in terms of my own denial/awareness, came back at 1up.com, when my friend Dana, after returning from a trip with the 1up gang to the sports bar outside our office, said that the bartender had said to her, "Where's the silver-haired guy who's usually with you guys?" I took it badly at first. "Silver haired guy? Huh?"

But still. Could be worse, right? There's the whole "bald" thing, which, knock on wood, looks like I'm likely to avoid (not that there'd be anything wrong with that). My hair is bozoid thick. Second, if one has to go gray, there are worse ways for it to happen then getting these "wings" I have sprouted. I mean, who doesn't mind looking like these guys:

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I get asked all the time now if I'm going to dye my hair. Almost every time I get my hair cut I get asked. But the answer is always the same for me: Why? Who would I be kidding? Anyone who already knows me would know what I did, so that'd just be embarrassing. And anyone who doesn't know me, well, who cares? What do I care what they think? And what would they think, anyway--if they thought about it at all, which is unlikely since they have their own lives to lead and probably aren't wasting a whole lot of brainpower on me, no matter how solipsistic I want to be? "There goes a gray-haired guy!" Well...so what?

That's what I am now. I'm a gray-haired guy. Just like I was a redhead before. Only this time, decades later, I'm going to embrace the hand (or head) I've been dealt. If it's good enough for Paulie Walnuts, it's good enough for me.

Bada Bing!

27 comments:

Macroe said...

A partner in my office, mid 50s and silver hair, recently got married and his new wife "convinced" him to dye his hair almost black. Just looks plain weird to me, but he says he´s happy that she´s happy.

Still, much better than the alternative: myself at 38, going going gone bald.

My moment of truth came about last year when my then 4 year old asked me "Where did your hair go, dad?". I offhandedly responded "It just fell off one day in the street". With utter bewilderment on his little face, "...and WHY did you not stop to pick it up!?".

Joe said...

Bald bald bald by 25. I shave it to 1/4" now. Looks fine, and best off: no more hair stress. I pity those who fret over their hair.

also: redhead girls=hot commodity
redhead guys=freaks to be avoided

Finally, a double standard that favors the ladies.

Sorry, Jeff.

Jeff Green said...

LOL. Thank you for confirming all my worst adolescent fears, Joe, YOU BALD BASTARD. :)

Matt Chandronait said...

All I've got left are gray "wings." I like to think of it as being a young Patrick Stewart. I'm constantly reminding myself that he was People's sexiest man of the year during his tenure as Captain Picard. That's how I cry myself to sleep every night, anyway.

Stray Neutrino said...

37 and also balding. Luckily, it's doing the vampire peak thing instead of the classic friar look.

Alex said...

I'm with you Jeff; I went from curly red through a frousled towhead to the current shaggy brown, and I'm looking forward to a shock of grey before I'm through.

As much as I respect Joe and other balding beaus for their cranial fortitude, I cannot disagree more; I spent one chilly Halloween as Mr. Clean, NEVER AGAIN.

Rene said...

Gray all the way..."because your worth it".

Just consider yourself a "Weasley" in disguise, good defense against the dark arts.

I remember a TV commericial for some hair dye product, that was as much advertised to fill in missing hair and it looked like a spray can of black paint and looked like when used...

I am in the Ron Howard camp...we wear hats alot :)

Logan said...

The thing is Jeff, you've got the cool, refined gray thing going on. Instead of Kyle Broflovski, you've become Nick Fury. Congrats.

Violet Son said...

When I first saw your photo back in the GFW days, I first thought of Jim diGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat. I consider that a great and geeky compliment.

Tristessa said...

Maybe it's just that we're used to women paying a lot of attention to their hair but I find it a little strange that men can't color their hair when they get older without (at least a feeling of) accusations that they're denying the aging process. Women can keep coloring it up to and through graying without any concern.

It's weird that many redhead girls I knew when I was in grade school got teased but I didn't. Of course, I was (still am) a certified tomboy who mostly hung out with the boys. I also had a build that slightly favored my mother's Eastern European side, so they might have thought they'd get a sound thrashing if they pressed their luck.

Being a green eyed redhead can get tiring though, as it attracts all the weirdest guys in the world...or maybe that's just from being a female? It makes waiting for a bus a tiring chore.

My hair also went a little brown as I got older. It seems like the less time I spent in the sun, the less red it looked indoors. In direct sunlight though, there was no question. I color it to look like it did when I spent more time outdoors - because I got tired of people sometimes seeing it as brownish. I'm a redhead and I won't have reality attempting to make it any other way.

Cheers =)

Ollie said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Excellent as always. I'm a readhead chap of 37 who, like you, hated the fact whilst growing up. Also, what's the fascination with redheads and their pubic hair? Really?

Anyway, I love being a redhead now and relish each of the few days I have left until the grey wins out.

I won't be dying it though....(well, maybe my pubic hair!)

otakudad said...

Jeff, I gotta go with Matt C. on this. Dude, I remember with disdain then day I was in my dorm in college (sophomore year) and I had some friends over and I think we were playing one of the Tekkens...anyway, a girl sitting on the bunk above me was looking down and says: "Larry, I think you're going bald"

I immediately dropped the controller, ran to a mirror (of course, I couldn't tell, honestly, at that time) but yeah, downhill ever since. And yeah. While thankfully my wife says I'm sexy to her, I think she's full of crap. :) (But I'm grateful that she's a good liar.)

Grey hair is ALWAYS superior to NO hair. :) Not to mention, it's honestly not self-delusion to think it's distinguishing. It honestly is. I had no idea you used to be a redhead, and honestly I NEVER CARED. You look like a veteran of life, is all. Be proud of that. (I suppose the same should be said of my lack of dead protein piled atop my head, but...)

So yeah, insecure people unite! (But don't look at me!)

Scarecrowcp said...

I just wanted to comment about how great this post is. A friend of mine sent it along, knowing how I like to keep up all things ginger, and how the last link I was sent was an article on how we are going to die out in the next 100yrs.

My hair was opposite to yours, I was born someone with brown hair and blond streaks and hit my ginger phase around 8 or 10. I don't think i realized how much of a mindset it really is until now. Thanks for the enlightenment, and hope to read more soon.

Anonymous said...

Apologies, Jeff, but this blog of yours - about hair color, and changing hair color - actually hits a bit of a sore spot for me.

Honestly, the one thing I've discovered in growing older is that my male friends who haven't lost their hair have no understanding... and I want to emphasize this phrase... NO UNDERSTANDING... of what it was like for me to lose my hair.

The first 24 months, as it was happening (and I count myself lucky that my hair-loss happened relatively slowly), I was in complete denial. Just in complete absolute fucking denial.

Finally I saw myself in a photograph. There I was with my cousin and his friend, and we were standing on a mountain-top at the end of a lengthy hike. I had been sweating and my hair was matted down. I looked at the photograph and couldn't believe it - just couldn't believe it. My scalp was completely showing through. I was virtually bald on top - a sort of triangle of hair was just... missing. I knew it had been happening, of course, because every morning after showering I had seen my scalp in the mirror. On a subconscious level I had chosen not to look at the pattern baldness in the hope that it would just go away, or that my hair would somehow miraculously grow back.

That night, after seeing that photograph, I spent hours just looking at the top of my head in the bathroom mirror. I was holding up a hand mirror and looking at my scalp from various angles. It was completely devastating. I can remember going to bed that night, more depressed than I had ever been. Yeah, sure - I had experienced pangs of depression before... but never anything like this.

The next twelve months were even worse, as my hair continued to fall out in droves. The one thing I discovered was that my family and friends didn't even care, which was incredibly upsetting - I knew perfectly well that if it had been happening to them that they would've been climbing the walls. I was supposed to act as though my hair loss was no big deal. Yeah, well it was. So much so that I stopped going out. It took me literally three years before I could start socializing again.

As I enter my mid-forties, a couple of guys I know, who have full heads of hair, have expressed concern to me over their changing hair color, which has been graying on them.

Yeah - you know, I hate to say this... maybe it's a bit shallow of me... but I'm not the guy they should be coming to about that.

bjoux said...

Over the years I've discovered that the more discrimination I get in regards to my beautiful red hair, the more I love it.
In theory at this moment in time I should be opting to shave my hair clean off rather than be a ginger. I used to have guys trying to set fire to my hair so that I could have REAL FIRE hair & an ex trying to get me to dye my hair black... why??? So I can be like everyone else and have normal hair? (Yes he was ditched shortly after that remark).
I never have and never will dye my hair, like you said- everyone knows I'm a redhead already!

wobbles said...

While I do approve of your "screw it" attitude, it is odd that you basically spend the entire first half of this post outlining how hair color can define the way people see you (and treat you), then manage to forget all those reasons when you get to the part where your stylist offers to dye it for you.

You're getting senile, Jeff! At least it goes well with your hair, right?

Dan said...

I prefer to think that my hair is changing into a shade you'd find on a car or a guitar, like "silver metallic."

12 y.o girl lol said...

im 12 an i think u hav sexy hair jeff lol

Anonymous said...

Why do I get the feeling that the so-called twelve year old girl... or rather... the 12 y. o. girl LOL... is really a guy in his early 40's pretending to be a twelve year old girl?

God some people just need to grow up and get a life. Hey, wait a minute... is that Robert Coffey?

Anonymous said...

Oh jesus, I just saw your Twitter feed, Green - you have Mass Effect 2, and are already playing it.

Yeah, you and thousands.

This game is all over the net. I checked out Bioware's own website this afternoon, and people were actually posting links to the torrent sites. Amazing. What's even more amazing is that people are gleefully posting gameplay videos over at U-tube. What's even more amazing still, is that the people watching these videos are leaving positive feedback comments and are awarding the videos with five-star ratings. "Dude, this game is awesome... have you had a romance with Tali yet?"

I wonder though - if a person were to videotape himself breaking and entering into a software developer's home, and stealing $50 worth of valuables, would he post that video on U-tube, and would the people watching it praise him for it?

Jeff, my niece, who's headed for Harvard, has never bought a music album in her entire life - for her, music has always been free. If you were to talk to her you'd realize in one second that she doesn't believe she's done anything wrong. For her, music is just... free. That's the way it's always been for her.

I fear that sometime soon young kids and teenagers will adopt the same attitude regarding video games, and that an entire generation will grow up simply believing that games are free.

And where will that leave you, Green.

At Safeway is where.

Bagging the groceries. Stocking the shelves. Pricing the goods... no, I'm kidding.

Stephen said...

Yeah, but are you a TRUE redhead?

JSD said...

Jeff Said, "There goes a gray-haired guy!" Well...so what?

Hey, Jeff. I'm a few years younger than you. I'm just starting to get a bit of gray, and I gotta say I totally agree. I've got friends bleaching their teeth and having lasers applied to their crow's feet and using Rogaine. But for me, whatever happens, happens. That's what nature intended, and when you mess with that, you don't look younger, you just look faker.

As for red-heads, my best friend was one growing up. And girls, I only dated red-heads until I moved to Japan. Red-headed people are some of the coolest, most beautiful in the world.

Term Papers said...

When I was having a long hair in my school. I usually punished by the teachers for keep hair so long. And after few year, i get clean bowled. That is so tolerating to me. I wait 3 years to get back my hair long, I make my hair with a new style that French Hair rebounding.

Felix said...

Jeff,

Is the "Out of the Game" podcast dead, deceased, no more, essentially an "ex-podcast"? I keep checking Itunes everyday to see if there will be a new one, since it really helps my long runs go by so fast... but I'm constantly disappointed to see nothing new.

You guys get off your butts and entertain me !

Thanks in advance

Anonymous said...

Aw, shucks, Green - that was such a cute story about your mother phoning home to make sure you were alright because your Twitter feed had gone dead over the weekend.

"Maybe my dear boy is lying in an alleyway somewhere after being mugged!"

My hope is that, in that situation, your wife or your kid would've noticed that you were... you know... missing.

"Hey, mom, where's Dad?"

"Who?"

"Dad, you know the guy who works for E.A."

"Is he not here?"

"No, and his Twitter feed has gone dead as well."

"Maybe he finally got into that big motorcycle accident we've been dreading, and is lying dead at the side of the road? Ah well, his life insurance policy will see you through your university education."

"Always look on the bright side of life, Mom!"

"You bet, kiddo!"

Update your frickin' blog, you Tomato-on-a-stick!

If anything, how about some kind of response regarding the recent Ubisoft scandal. Jesus man, back in the day an entire GFW podcast episode would have been devoted to that one issue.

See, this is the type of thing I really miss.

Now I'm going to have to listen to the PC Gamer podcast to get my fix.

The Goose.

(Ha! I goosed you!)

Anonymous said...

I love you, man. You've maybe heard of it already, but I just saw this place on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that's in Berkeley called Bette's Oceanview Diner. Looked pretty tasty.

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