‘But Mommy, I just wanted to have beautifully colored hair’ wails my three year old daughter, Lucy. She’s in the bathtub with streaks of chalk dust in her mousy blond hair, and I ‘m instantly transported back to the first tub of Manic Panic I bought; Tulip, 1992, Smash, Washington, DC.
It was Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year at college, and coming back to an actual city from the miniscule town of Fredonia, New York offered me the opportunity to stock up on music, books, and band t-shirts. I drove my blue ‘87 Colt covered with stickers from the Virginia suburbs into Georgetown with my Doc Martens on and a mix tape blaring Violent Femmes, Dead Kennedys, Concrete Blond. Despite months of lot parking, I maneuvered into a street spot; crank the wheel three times to the left, three times to the right, leaning all of my strength to make up for the lack of power steering.
I walked down to M Street and tried to get my bearings, walking first toward Urban Outfitters, rolling my eyes and turning around toward Orpheus, Smash, and the hole-in-the-wall shoe store where I bought my Docs a few years before. The hammer and sickle boots I coveted were gone from window of the shoe store, replaced by Union Jacks. I couldn’t afford new ones anyway. The paycheck from the hardware store where I worked during breaks from school was earmarked for t-shirts and maybe a new record. I dug through the used CDs at Orpheus before moving on to the vinyl, but nothing grabbed my attention.
It was time to look for t-shirts, and I got turned around again outside before making my way to the Bad Brains subway poster that hung at the top of the stairs down to Smash.
It was always a bit of a disappointment to me after yearly trips to New York City in the mid-to-late ‘80s. I still have the first black nail polish I bought at Unique, rifled through silk-screen cast-offs at their Factory Warehouse next door, wandered the tiny Antique Boutique gazing longingly at all of the beautiful things I couldn’t afford. I had found vintage military jackets and skirts at Andy’s Chee-pees and Alice Underground that actually fit my small frame.
Smash was, well, a small display of boots, overpriced, some bins of t-shirts, and the display case of Manic Panic by the register. After small town living, though, it was a veritable emporium of alternative living. I rifled through the t-shirts for a bit, settling on a This is Not a Fugazi T-Shirt large enough to wear as a dress, as was my style in those days. I took it up to pay, and realized that, after years of wanting Crayola hair, I could buy dye and take it up to college. What a revelation! My family would never know that I was running around with colored hair.
I fought with myself over colors for a good half hour. Plum? Pillarbox? Violet? I have no idea why I finally chose Tulip but my hands shook as I handed my money to the ubercool woman behind the counter. I had been dyeing my hair for years, but this was different from the Sun-In I used through high school, or even the Nice n Easy blue-black I had to have stripped out a few months prior. Of course, I couldn’t wait and immediately after my grandparents left our house from Thanksgiving dinner I disappeared into my bathroom. I emerged an hour later with hot pink hair, much to my mother’s shock and, thankfully, amusement. I headed back to college a few days later, stopping at my grandparents’ house along the way with my shock of hair hidden under a bandana and baseball cap. It was a family joke for years that when my grandmother photographed me to show me how terrible I looked, she had no idea that I was protecting her from my hair.
I wasn’t sure of my natural hair color until I got pregnant and had to stop dyeing it. I had plum hair while I worked at the factory sewing men’s pants after I dropped out of college, dark auburn at the children’s department, bleached blond and then shaved at the health food store, blue at the comic book store, and bright red at the adult video store. I even managed to hit upon a lovely purple-red while bookkeeping at the non-profit, although that was supposed to be less purple and more red. For a while, ‘not the color on the box’ was my mantra.
Sometimes I miss those days of dyeing my hair as my mood shifts. I didn’t stop because I had a kid; the upkeep is just too much trouble and now I own the bathroom that will get stained. Sometimes I’m sensitive of how ‘normal’ I look, like when I walked into Trash and Vaudeville in jeans, and sometimes I’m sensitive of how ‘not normal’ I look, like when people ask me if I regret any of my tattoos. I don’t miss club politics and drama, or the amount of time it used to take to do my makeup. I really don’t miss the glop of Manic Panic between my fingers as I try to ooze it onto every strand of hair, or all of the times I walked around with ears to match my hair because I forgot to put Vaseline on them. If I miss anything about my punk-goth days, it’s the pageantry and costuming.
‘I’ll make a deal with you, Lucy,’ I sighed, toweling her off. I got a hexagonal box from my closet and took it into her room. After she was dressed, we opened the box and her face lit up as I pulled out blue, black, white blonde, and pink wigs. ‘You can have these to play with whenever you want different hair, but you already have beautifully colored hair.’ I traded in playing dress-up at the club for playing dress-up with my daughter. I think I traded up.
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