坦然面對白髮

否認,掩飾,最終接受;且看男人如何學會接納自己一頭銀髮 WALTER KIRN◎撰 from the NEW YORK TIMES

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銀狐俱樂部:察吉爾、喬治克魯尼、安德森庫柏 Illustration by Joe Ciardiello

這本該是我們之間的祕密。四十五歲的我頭髮有些花白,我的髮型師宣稱有一種靈丹妙藥,可以巧妙、自然、幾乎不着痕跡地讓白髮「消聲匿跡」。我坐在美髮椅上照着鏡子,拿不定主意要不要開始掩人耳目。我用獨自在家、沒人支持時會避免的方式檢視自己頂上,從不習慣的角度審視自己,發現白髮比自己願意承認的還多。

白髮並非摻雜於顏色較深的髮絲中,而是大片吞噬整個區塊,尤其是兩鬢和後腦勺,有如白霜或黴菌攻城掠地。

「我建議留一些,」髮型師說,「留剛好的量讓你顯得與眾不同。」我點頭。但最後一詞頗為刺耳,聽來它正是「老」的另一種說法。

七年來這樣的對話每月重複上演,內容大致相同。時間推移,季節遞嬗,但我頭髮的顏色始終如一,或近乎不變。每到染髮劑效期的尾聲,我的自然髮色(或者說缺乏色彩的髮色)就再次占上風,每回都更明顯一些,逼得我自欺欺人越陷越深。

當時還是我女友的內人說:銀髮在我這種年齡的男人身上看起來很有味道;起初她說得輕描淡寫,後來越說越斬釘截鐵。為了證明,她舉出許多不論怎麼看都很帥氣的名人,像是男星喬治克魯尼、知名主播安德森庫柏等;他們都是銀狐明星隊的,我討厭他們。而我討厭他們,不是因為他們的帥氣不受年齡影響,而是他們能處之泰然。

法國作家莫泊桑的短篇小說〈面具〉中,有一個喜歡夜生活的花花公子在舞會上昏倒。醫生救治他的時候,發現他戴着一副幾可亂真的年輕面具。醫生用剪刀剪開,才發現男子一頭白髮,皺紋滿佈。

我年輕時讀過這則以及其他類似駐顏有術的故事,如《格雷的畫像》等。其中共有的陰鬱面似乎是:說到衰老,逃得過一時,逃不了一世;而且逃得越久,下場越慘。

我的髮型師似乎不苟同,她對現代產品信心十足。本來我也是,直到六個月前她試了效果更強的染髮劑,因為原本的已經不敷所需。

結果慘不忍睹。要否認白髮還容易一些,要否認綠髮就困難多了。我還是設法達成了任務,只不過是暫時性的。浴室鏡子告訴我事情不對勁,但我認為是鏡子的錯。

我躲開浴室裏的鏡子。

我要上一個深夜電視節目,躲不開梳妝室的鏡子。我的頭髮成了陸軍制服的顏色。化妝師沒說什麼,只是皺眉,但我青春期的女兒可就沒那麼好心了。一天下午,在午後四點無情的光線中,她說:「你的頭髮超怪的。」

內人也打破外交式的沉默,說:「是綠色的,而且不是微妙的綠。」她說得好像真有這種顏色,我也希望是如此。

承認自己滿頭銀髮的過程,其實不是一個過程,而是一起事件,有點像吃了十年辣味起司漢堡後首度在減肥診所量體重。某個抑鬱的傍晚,我走在任教的蒙大拿密蘇拉市街頭,決定隨意在市中心找家美容院處理我的頭。我走進一家店,站在美容師的椅子旁;他一頭銀髮,梳了個像詹姆士狄恩的髮型。我一言不發讓頭髮說明來意。

他用手勢示意我在男廁旁的沙發上坐下。我坐了一個小時,等候接受緊急處理。輪到我時,我說:「一根不留,全剃光。」

一天又一天、一週又一週過去了,我真正的頭髮長出來,越長越長,逼得我得面對一頭銀髮,銀白的程度連自己都嚇一跳。如同偉大作家所言:時間在面具的底下加速流逝。更糟的是,我開始察覺周遭人看我、對待我的方式變了。蒙大拿大學碩士寫作班的學生問起四十年前的作家,語氣好像我認識他們個人似的。內人比起以往更常用手指梳過我的髮絲,彷彿在檢閱它們是否牢固。

一天上午,十多歲的女兒要我把當月在搖滾演唱會買的黑色T恤換掉,改穿她在我衣櫥裏瞄到的淺藍色扣領牛津布襯衫。我滿心不悅,垂頭喪氣地換上。她說:「看起來好多了。」

最慘的一次、也是迫使我終於接受現實的一次羞辱,發生在紐約市的三明治店內。點餐後,櫃檯後的女服務員問我能不能問我一個問題。被問到能否回答一個問題,向來不是好兆頭,我立刻全身緊繃。「問什麼?」我不高興地說。

女孩看來十八歲左右,問的內容大致如下:「我不是說你看起來老還是怎的,但嘟哇音樂是什麼時候?你記得嗎?嘟哇音樂?是什麼時候?六○年代?五○年代?」越說越糟,「四○年代?」

「五○年代末,六○年代初,」我冷靜地答,懷疑自己是不是想太多。那女孩真以為我躬逢其盛,還是純粹覺得我一副教授樣,看起來博學多聞?

「那一定很酷,」她說,「走到哪都能聽見歌聲!」

自此之後,我開始習慣了滿頭銀髮,我不得不然。那些「銀狐」名人(套句內人的說法)不再像從前那麼讓我不是滋味了。心情好的日子,我甚至把自己當成銀狐的一員,深信髮色的改變揭開了我內心隱藏淘氣活潑的一面。年紀比我輕的問起遙遠的過往,例如嘟哇音樂或是否見過一九六四年過世的作家芙蘭納莉.歐康納,我會以刻意強調的歡欣語氣回答,好像這些問題荒謬至極,但我見多識廣,不會放在心上。

最難釋懷的,是獨自走在街上瞥見陌生的男人,老得就像我當初想掩飾的模樣。這就是如今旁人眼中的我嗎?我試着拋開不去想。

我也把髮型師拋諸腦後。現在我躲着她,一直無法面對她。或許因為我找了別人理髮,也可能是我不希望她尷尬。她秉持專業精神,想要完成不可能的任務,卻功虧一簣。

不過她還年輕,會克服挫折。我的話,就連試都不想試。


Getting Over Gray

It was supposed to be our secret. My hairdresser claimed to possess a special elixir that could subtly, naturally, almost undetectably “blend away” gray hair, which, at 45, I had a touch of. Sitting before the mirror in her chair, uncertain whether to start the masquerade, I examined my head in a way I shied away from when I was alone at home without support. I looked at myself from angles I wasn’t used to, discovering that the gray was more extensive than I’d been willing to admit.

Instead of threading its way between the darker hairs, it had consumed whole sectors of my head, especially on the sides and in the back. It was advancing the way frost does, or mold.

“I suggest we leave some in,” my hairdresser said. “Just enough to make you look distinguished.” I nodded, but that last word did not sit well with me. It sounded exactly like what it was: another way of saying “old.”

Every month for seven years, this conversation, or some version of it, was repeated. The world moved along, the seasons changed, but my hair stayed the same or approximately the same. Toward the end of each color cycle, my natural color—or lack of it—would reassert itself, a bit more conspicuously each time, forcing me deeper and deeper into fraudulence.

My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, began to argue—mildly at first but increasingly emphatically—that gray hair looked terrific on men my age. For evidence, she pointed to various luminaries who looked terrific no matter what. George Clooney. Anderson Cooper. They were the silver all-stars, and I hated them. I hated them not for their age-defying male beauty but for their ability to accept themselves.

In the short story “The Mask” by French writer Guy de Maupassant, a rakish man about town who loves the nightlife collapses at a dance. While attempting to revive him, a doctor notices that his patient is wearing a lifelike youthful mask. The doctor cuts it off with scissors, revealing the man’s white hair and wrinkled face.

I’d read this story when I was young, along with similar tales of postponed decrepitude such as The Picture of Dorian Gray. Their gloomy common message seemed to be that when it comes to signs of aging, you can run but you cannot hide—and that the longer you attempt to run, the worse the final reckoning will be.

My hairdresser seemed to disagree: Her faith in modern products was that strong. And so was mine, until six months ago, when my hairdresser tried a stronger potion, convinced that the old one would no longer suffice.

The results were disastrous. Denying that your hair is gray gets easier, but denying that it’s green is difficult. I managed the feat anyway, temporarily. The bathroom mirror told me something was wrong, which I decided was its—the mirror’s—fault.

I avoided it.

What I couldn’t avoid was the mirror in the makeup room of a late-night TV show I appeared on. My hair had become the color of an Army uniform. The makeup woman said nothing. She only frowned, but my teenage daughter was not so kind. “Your hair is all weird,” she said one afternoon, in the pitiless light of 4 p.m.

My wife broke her diplomatic silence then. “It’s green,” she said. “And not a subtle green.” As if there could be such a thing. I’d hoped there was.

The process of coming out as a gray was not, in fact, a process but an event, a little like a first weigh-in at a diet clinic after a decade spent eating chili cheeseburgers. While walking the streets one moody evening, I decided to stop at a beauty shop on a random block in downtown Missoula, Montana, where I was teaching. I walked into the shop and stood beside the chair of a gray-haired cosmetician with a pompadour. I let my head tell the story; I didn’t speak.

He showed me with a gesture to a sofa by the men’s room, where I sat for an hour, awaiting emergency treatment. When the time came, I said, “Don’t try to save it. Shave it.”

Day by day and week by week, my new old hair grew in and grew longer, obliging me to confront, with awful clarity, a general grayness that startled even me. Time had accelerated under the mask, just as the great writers had said it would. Worse, I began to detect in those around me changes in how they viewed me, treated me. My students in the graduate-school writing program at the University of Montana asked me about authors of 40 years ago as though I might have known them personally. My wife ran her fingers through my hair more often, almost as though she were checking if it would stay on.

One morning, my teenage daughter asked me to change a black T-shirt that I’d obtained at a rock concert that month for a light blue oxford button-down she had spied hanging in my closet. Grumpily, beaten down, I put it on. “That looks a lot more appropriate,” she said.

The keenest humiliation of all, the one that at last compelled me to accept myself, occurred at a New York City sandwich shop. After taking my order, one of the girls behind the counter asked if she could ask me something. Being asked if you’re willing to be asked a thing is always a bad sign; I instantly stiffened.

“What?” I grunted.

The girl, who appeared to be 18 or so, followed with something like: “It’s not that I think you look old or anything, but when was doo-wop? Do you remember? Doo-wop music? When was that? The ’60s? The ’50s?” It just got worse. “The ’40s?”

“Late ’50s, early ’60s,” I said coolly, wondering if I was being paranoid. Did the girl really think that I’d been on the scene then, or did she merely find me professorial, a man who appeared to be rich in general knowledge?

“That must have been so cool,” she said. “Walking around hearing singing on all the corners!”

I’ve grown into my gray hair since then. I’ve had to. The celebrity “silver foxes” (to use my wife’s term) don’t irritate me as profoundly as they used to. On my good days, I even count myself as one of them, convinced that my color shift has revealed in me a certain mischievous élan that was veiled before. When asked by my juniors about the distant past—about doo-wop and the like or whether I ever met Flannery O’Connor—I reply with an overemphatic cheerfulness, as though the questions are patently absurd but I am too seasoned and comfortable with myself to take offense, at anything.

The hard part is when I’m alone, out on the street, and glimpse a male stranger who looks fully as old as I once pretended not to be. Is that how I appear to others now? I try not to think about it. I let it go.

I let my old hairdresser go too. I avoid her now—I still can’t face her. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been seeing other scissors, or perhaps it’s because I don’t want to embarrass her. In the highest tradition of her profession, she attempted to do the impossible and failed.

But she’s young. She’ll get over it. I won’t even try.

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