Color Me Exotic
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We don’t do a lot of exotic things to our bodies down here in the south. Men get a little nutty with tattoos occasionally—my sister’s name tattooed across her husband’s chest comes to mind—and we get an occasional teenage transplant from the north, sporting piercings of every available spot on his body, and we have a few Goths living among us. Other than that, things are pretty normal here in the sunny south, but every now and then something odd happens to one of our own, usually by accident.

I once had a moment of insanity and dyed my hair sunset-red. I thought it looked pretty good, but apparently no one else did. I kept getting funny looks and no compliments, not even a whopper of a one told straight to my face. While conversing with someone, their eyes would glaze over and wander to my hair, then a cross between a wince and a grimace would convulse across their lips.

Thank goodness the dye washed out in one day. Once my hair returned to normal, my brother said, “Phew! Don’t ever dye your hair that color again.” He said that color as if it were a nasty word only whispered in darkened barroom corners.

I took his advice to heart, and the closest I get to a hair-color change these days is when I swim in chlorinated water, which gives me blonde highlights.

In the south we try to hold true to our manners, so when confronted with a total disaster, we smile, lie through our teeth, and say, “Why, honey you look right purty with purple hair,” while thinking, Good Lord, I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that. If we’re too shocked to say anything, we pretend nothing is out of the ordinary. After all, our Mamas taught us that if we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all. But there is always someone in the crowd who lets his tongue outrun his brain.

My brother and one of my sisters live in the same neighborhood, and my sister had recently left her husband for a new start—a new start that included a hair-color change.

One evening, my sister’s daughter knocked on my brother’s door and told him to come up to the house a minute. “You’ve got to see Mom,” she said while dancing from foot to foot barely suppressing the need to howl with laughter.

“I don’t know. I’m a little tired.”

“Come on,” she beckoned with her hand, and then whispered out of the corner of her mouth, “She looks like Kelly Osborne.”

Curiosity overrode exhaustion, so he shoved his feet into some shoes and followed his niece up to the house. When he stepped inside and got a look at my sister’s hair, a wave of shock nearly catapulted him back out the door. Holy cow. Bug-eyed, he stared at the change. She had dyed her short, mousy brown locks a pitch-black color. It looked as if someone had dunked her head in a barrel of crude oil.

My sister laughed at his expression and said, “Don’t you dare make fun of my hair.”

“It’s black.” He stared a few more seconds, and then remembered his manners. “There’s nothing wrong with your hair-it’s-it’s shiny,” he said, while on the inside he was thinking, Good grief, did you get happy with a bucket of roofing-tar?

Later my sister headed out to meet her ex-husband to pick up one of her kids. A car pulled up beside her and a whispered argument started between the occupants.

“Oops! Sorry, wrong place,” the driver said.

“No, that’s my wife’s car,” her ex-husband said.

“But that’s a black-headed woman,” the friend said. “That’s not your wife.”

He put the vehicle in gear and started to pull away.

“We’re in the right place,” her ex-husband insisted. “That’s her car.”

Exasperated the friend whispered furiously, “But that’s a black-headed woman.”

At that moment, my sister turned toward them and grinned.

The friend clutched his chest, jerked back, and yelled, “Holy hell, what did you do to your hair?”

Some things are just too shocking to heed Mama’s teachings.

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