Perplexity persists, but for good reason, as I believe the television commercial is our most honest gauge of American intelligence. I have been considering one I saw for the first time while the Braves were in Montreal. A gentleman appeared on my TV screen in great perturbation of spirits, and a caption asked me if gray hair was creeping up on me. It is not, really.
That is, it is not creeping up on me for two reasons. One is that gray hair has prevailed with me quite some time now, and I never leave home without it. I feel I look rather distinguished with gray hair. The other reason is that in 1923 I stepped into the office of Judge Robert E. Randall to buy my first State o' Maine resident fishing license. Judge Randall was our presiding judge for municipal court, manager of our bank, and town clerk.
As town clerk, he sold fishing licenses, and it was his pleasure to give a complimentary fishing license to the bridegroom whenever he married a couple. In those happy days, the 25-cent fishing license was good as long as I remained a bona fide resident of Maine. But the state reneged on that friendly arrangement within a few years, and that is why I have brown hair today.
Judge Randall filled in the blanks that day as to age, weight, color of eyes and hair, and were I male or female. Since then, every time I have gone to renew my annual permit, the incumbent clerk has copied from the previous license. And while I may be distinguished in my gray hair, my fishing license (now complimentary, for I am a senior citizen) says my hair is brown. Accordingly, to answer the television screen, if gray hair is creeping up on you, it is because you never caught a trout in Maine.
It is a sorrowful lack, to be sure, but then the commercial suggests some sort of cosmetic preparation that will "restore" the gray and give the participating gentleman a "natural" look. This is where the intelligence of the American people comes in, and I fell to wondering what color is most often considered "natural." The gentleman on my TV (for the record, the Braves beat the Expos handily) was shown fondling a gray moustache while looking distraught, and then he was shown again in the ecstasy of joy fondling the same moustache in a "natural" black after application.
While they made a pitching change, I decided the gentleman would have done well to have kept his natural gray and skipped a natural black, which would likely accentuate a yolk yellow if he slobbered his egg at breakfast. Extraneous as that may be during a baseball game, it is important to bear in mind for appearances. What dignity would enhance "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" if Coleridge had written, "Unhand me, graybeard loon with mustard!" Coleridge wasn't hep on the natural look, eftsoons. Come to think of it, I never heard anybody say "eftsoons." Try it, it might improve television.
Myself, I have never been one to feign elegance, and I have gone about my affairs with nothing more than my natural look. True, it's a bit better than the look of an advanced buffoon, but not so good-looking as a squash pie. But it's mine and all me, and I have done all right except the time I scairt the witches when the Town Players did "Macbeth." I not only haven't used, but I've never considered using a potion that will make me look any more natural than I am anyway. If I looked any more than that, I'd feel deceitful.
In 1966, when my hair was a natural brown indeed, my wife and I excused ourselves from domestic affairs and spent some time visiting Europe. People on every hand would look at me and gesticulate their admiration of my flowing locks, and it was (to me) embarrassing when I was stopped on the street so the local newspapers could take my photograph. Now and then I would need a haircut, and I would set out and walk about a village until I found a barber shop.
When we left Paris, we drove to Chantilly, which is noted for its lace and its horse races. Here we found a fine inn, and the next morning after breakfast I sought a barber. When I entered the shop, I thought I was in the wrong place. The thick draperies caused a subdued light, and the air was heavy and pungent with incense. A young lady booked me in with great formality and entered my statistics on a form. She ascertained I was en passant and made notes as to my preferences in style and general contour. She told me it would be but a moment, and asked if I would care to be seated.
IT was but a moment, and out came three barbers who shook hands profusely and welcomed me to their palais des cheveux de belle monde, incorporated.
It was the absolutely natural look of their hair that caught my eye and appealed to me. The hair on the head of the first was Irish green. The second one's hair was red, the red of a fire engine before they found lime. And the third was topped with a royal purple commemorating the destruction of Carthage.
The trio took me into a secret chamber and gave me as good a haircut as I ever owned. They were businesslike and firm-handed. I decided at once there was nothing wrong with them, but that their hair was just a barber's trademark to be expected in France. Their price was in line, and we parted good friends. The incense lingered with my taste buds until I had onion soup for supper, which I found always good in France. That was 30 years and more ago, wasn't it? I wonder if gray hair has crept up on the lads? If it has, they can go for a natural look.