Wednesday, March 2, 2016

red-headed stranger

This may come as a shock to you, but..... I am not a natural redhead. I know, I know — I should have prefaced my opening sentence with SPOILER ALERT, as is common internet etiquette, but, let's be honest, the color of my hair is pretty suspect.

Every six or so weeks, I find myself at a hair salon covered with a big vinyl smock. A young lady slathers my head with a mixture from a tube selected from the far end of their wall-length pallet of hair color. My particular shade comes from a supply that goes untouched between my month-and-a-half visits. After approximately an hour (including the application and a brief, motionless sit under the artificially-intense heat of a dryer plus a trim of what little hair I have left), the look that has become familiar to family, friends and coworkers returns and everything is back to normal. No more gray-tinged roots to throw off the delicate balance and long-time branding that is Josh Pincus.

One recent morning, I was at the train station at the end of my suburban street, awaiting another late train to take me into Philadelphia for work. I removed my cellphone from my pocket and punched up the inaccurate app that was created by SEPTA, the entity that operates the public transportation services in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Reading a report of a mere "two minutes behind schedule," I shoved the phone back into my pocket and waited. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a glimpse of bright red-orange on the station platform about ten feet away from me. I turned my head in the direction of the fiery color. Leaning against a railing that runs the perimeter of the wooden-planked platform, was a tall woman in a beige cloth coat, her gloved hand gripping the handle of a large, leather briefcase. Upon first look, she fit the description of thousands of women seen everyday in the workforce. Except this woman's head was crowned with a coiffure of blazing crimson. A startlingly unnatural color. A color that was very familiar to me.

The woman at the salon who colors my hair has assured me, on many occasions, that I am the sole consumer of that hue. Sometimes, we have even joked about it, sarcastically wondering why anyone else would ever want that color. But now, here I was standing less than a bus-length from someone who has raided my personal hair dye stash.

I thought for sure that everyone at the train station was staring at me and then shifting their eyes to the woman with the briefcase. It was different and way more uncomfortable than showing up at a wedding wearing the exact same dress as the mother of the bride. I knew there was whispering and covert pointing going on behind my back. "They must be related!," I imagined was the exchange in hushed tones between passengers standing along the outside darkened corners of the stone station building. The woman with the briefcase just stood, every-so-often turning her glance towards the empty train tracks, anticipating the arrival of the 7:52. She was oblivious to the silent mockery that flowed through the assembled crowd.

The train was taking forever to arrive. All the while, I could hear murmurs of conversation, snippets of which included "hair," "redhead," color" and "unnatural." I didn't want to turn around. I couldn't. Although I see most of these people every single day, I don't really know any of them. But there they were, passing judgement on me and my choices about my appearance. I couldn't approach the redheaded woman with the briefcase. I didn't know her either. Besides, that would just be weird.

Suddenly, the train pulled into view and chugged up to a stop at the station. Everyone made their way into a rough, irregular queue line and began to board. The woman with the briefcase took her place in line a few folks behind me.

The platform was now empty. Everyone who was waiting was now on the train.

And of course, there was no conversation about my hair, the woman with the briefcase's hair, or anything else related to the two of us.

At least, I don't think there was.

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