Not only does the new normal involve wearing masks and gloves in public, it also places people in other positions never before imagined.  While my hair still retains a semblance of the appearance it gained from my last haircut, albeit longer and curlier, my wife, Katie, recently perceived hers to be in dire straits.  The emergence of grey at the roots disturbed her to such an extent she enlisted me to assist in coloring her hair!



As with childbirth and numerous household undertakings, I generally have it easier than Katie in the world of hair.  About a decade ago, silver interlopers began to infiltrate my dark brown mane.  Instead of perceiving a crisis, people said it looked good with “salt and pepper.”  Gradually, the ratio of salt to pepper increased. Now I barely have enough pepper to justify the phrase.  My hair color has so much salt, perhaps it should be called briny.  Still, there are no telltale roots to call attention to my aging appearance.  Those pesky roots are probably what cause people, men and women alike, who commenced coloring their hair to continue coloring their hair, ad infinitum.

Personally, I’m not judging the appearance of grey in a woman’s hairdo.  Grey can be attractive.  Brown or black or red can be attractive.  Nowadays, even pink or purple can be attractive.  But it’s my understanding that once a person starts coloring their hair, it’s hard to break the habit.



First, the process:  Katie has used the same color for approximately twenty years.  Gorgeous dark brunette when I met her, she is now an appealing blonde.  Does she have more fun?  “Sometimes,” she says, “but I just like the color, and it goes well with my skin and blue eyes.” I agree, of course.

It is possible to purchase an off-the-shelf hair color product at CVS or the like.  However, Katie first obtained her particular shade from her stylist, Jimmy, in New Jersey.  The situation is akin to house paint: you can buy a ready-made can at the hardware store, but if you want to achieve a particular, precise hue, there is mixing to be done.

When we moved to North Carolina in 2009, Jimmy kindly obtained a year’s worth of the exact color for Katie’s hair dye from his wholesaler and provided it to her.  And for several years, until Katie found a local salon she liked, we’d arrange to pick up additional packages of her color when we visited North Jersey.  Once she established a relationship with Cece, a local stylist, Katie could obtain her color locally.




I have never had a “stylist.”   From when I was a child of five or six, and continuing through adolescence, I had a barber named Dominic.  His coke-bottle thick glasses unsettled me, but Dominic did the job without unintended amputations or further ado except he often complained to my mother I had “two holes in my head.”  Such a concept was initially alarming.  Eventually I understood the “hole” was the whorl of hair at the top of my head; most people have one clearly defined whorl.  Apparently, I had two.  Or so he said.  No one has mentioned it since.

Perhaps, it was his glasses or, perhaps, his complaints, but I felt no loyalty to Dominic.  As soon as I attended college, I embarked on a thirty-five year odyssey through a series of barbers, cutters and crimpers.  Whatever was convenient is where I went.  While the cutters changed, my “style” did not.   In the last couple of years, I have also gone to Cece, who is invariably friendly and capable.  In fact, Cece is certainly capable of far more than I ask of her.  Every seven or eight weeks, I have a “trim.”  My annual hair budget is about $150.




I knew Katie has a stash of her color.  I didn’t know, however, that another element of hair color is “developer.”  Apparently, it is built into the generic hair color packages one buys at the pharmacy.  But for bespoke hair, one must mix the color and the developer precisely.  This is where expertise comes in; also, one has to be able to obtain the developer and, as sweet as Cece is, and as doubtlessly willing to help if asked, it’s awkward to ask one’s stylist to provide developer during the pandemic hair hiatus.  That’s like asking your landscaper to provide you a mower so you can do the job without him.  Fortunately for Katie, though not for him, a new neighbor of ours owns a salon presently shut down by the pandemic.  He was happy to swap a supply of developer for several bottles of wine.  Now, to the mixing and the application….



Katie had commenced applying a mixture of developer and color herself when she urgently called me upstairs. When I arrived in the bathroom, she had a towel draped over her shoulders and an expression of fear and anxiety I’d rarely seen.   She listed some of the problems before we even considered the greatest possible problem, namely: I was going to be taking over the application of the dye.  “There are areas on top, the sides and back I can’t see,” she said.

Further, Katie said: “I hope the mix of dye and developer is okay.  And what if it’s not covering sufficiently?”  She continued:  “Also, the brush,” (salvaged from a watercolor paint set), “may not have been applying color evenly.”  She explained there is a lag between application of the coloring and when the roots begin to transform from telltale grey.

While Katie held up strands of hair with a comb to reveal cross-sections of roots, I took hold of the brush, dipped it into the bowl of mix and prepared to apply my first strokes.  “Careful,” she said, as I immediately dripped some excess onto her ear, which reminded us why I’ve been fired for life from house-painting projects.

Gradually, while both of us were anxious, we found a rhythm.  Katie moved her comb a few centimeters and I dabbed.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Of course, I had to replenish the brush after every few strokes.  This process involved such pitfalls as placing too much color on the brush, too little, not rubbing hard enough, rubbing too hard, etc.  When we felt all the areas had, at least, been touched, we paused to see the result.  Over twenty-five minutes or so, the applied color emerged to cover eighty percent of the roots.  “A solid B-minus,” I declared, satisfied.

“Not good enough,” said Katie.  “Let’s do it again.”

I couldn’t protest because, of course, she was right.  The importance of a woman’s hair color and the sensitivity around the subject cannot be underestimated!  I tentatively loaded the brush again and aimed for the remaining grey.  Tightrope walkers probably concentrate less when crossing a thousand-foot gorge.

After ten more interminable minutes that seemed much longer, we stepped back from the mirror, put down our respective comb and brush, and waited to see the results.  Slowly, slowly, it came.  “Hmmmm,” we looked at each other in surprise.  “Not bad.”

Indeed, her hair color looked almost as it did after a professional job.  It was, at least, in the ballpark.  And our marriage was still intact.  The job will not last as long as if Cece had done it, but a few weeks of benefit had been earned.

We’d achieved a win-win-win.  We saved money; we appreciated each other’s efforts; and, we derived a great deal of satisfaction from the accomplishment.  So, do we want to do it again?  Please, no!!!  My maiden entry into the world of cosmetology went as well as could be hoped, I think.  But the disclaimer “you wouldn’t want to do this at home,” still adheres.

Now, for someone to cut the bangs….