Blondes: A Reprise

BY KATHY PERUTZ

Note:  The piece below is a revision of my post # 7 “Blondes” and was published on August 2, 2016 in The Huffington Post   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-perutz/blondes-do-have-more-fun_b_11200444.html.

 

One thing is certain, short of alien invasions and Armageddon, and that is that the next president of the United States will be blond. Or at least blond on top.  And so it is incumbent upon us as Americans to understand what “blond” – with or without the final “e” – is all about, “blond” being the shade as in champagne or key lime pie and also referring to men with fair hair, while “blonde” means a woman and a lot more.

There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays.

So begins the greatest soliloquy on the subject of the twentieth century. Perhaps of any century. It goes on for a very long paragraph, which would put most blondes to sleep, but it is a very good passage, written by that master of English prose Raymond Chandler whose books are full of twists and turns, cops, cigarettes and booze, wisecracks and blondes. Chandler wrote about crime and criminals with an innocence that turned his books into medieval romances, the knight in shining armor defending the lady fair, though many of these ladies were not the kind who appear in sitting rooms, at least not with their clothes on.

The passage is from The Long Good-bye, a wonderful meandering book full of digressions like Don Quixote, who really was a knight in armor, or Moby Dick, who wasn’t talking.  Philip Marlowe, the detective extraordinaire of Chandler’s books, is a man like his creator, strangely prim in his private life (Chandler was a virgin until his 30’s, very close to his mother, and eventually married a blonde named Cissy, 18 years his senior), romantic and cavalier, although inordinately fond of drinking.

All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very tired when you take her home.

That’s from a man’s point of view, of course; Clairol gives us the woman’s perspective with Blondes Have More Fun, a slogan that landed them in the Advertising Hall of Fame, later topped by  Clairol with If I’ve Only One Life to Live, Let me Live it as a Blonde!

I was a blonde when I was little – that is, I was a little blonde. The black hair covering my skull at birth soon fell out and was replaced by flaxen curls, light as the hair on Northern heads in Finland or Iceland where the sun is weak and women are strong. At three, I had fair ringlets and a chubby face, which in the hands of a Reubens or Renoir might turn a child into a cherub, but in my case it was a good thing ringlets covered up some of my cheeks because I was fat as a baby pig. There is a photo somewhere, probably mulched at the bottom of the Hudson along with other mislaid objects of New York childhoods, taken in the backyard of our house in Kew Gardens, Queens many decades ago, of me with my mother hanging out the clothes. My mother was a pretty redhead, though you couldn’t see that in the picture and I was cute as a lace doily. A Daily News photographer who happened by snapped us and I landed on the cover of the News as Monday’s Child (Monday, washday), my first public appearance as a blonde.

What did the blonde say when she found out she was pregnant?

I wonder if it’s mine.

By the time I was 12, my blondness had suffered serious alteration. The once-pale blonde had turned to gold, but not of the durable variety. It was the gold of a cheap ring in Vegas, lasting not much longer than the honeymoon. My summer streaks faded as the days grew shorter and when I was in Junior High I took matters in my own hands and dabbed on Light ‘n Bright to bring back the freshness of my preteen youth.  By the time I went to college some 4 or 5 years later, I was a mass of streaks resembling the samples a furniture upholsterer might give out to clients needing their sofa recovered.  Even my father noticed, he who had forbidden my use of makeup in seventh grade but never realized when he was face to face with it.

I admitted to having bleached for quite some time. (People bleached their hair in ancient Greece too, more than 2000 years before I did, but I didn’t mention that to him because I didn’t know it then, and in fact would still now be in ignorance were I not living in a time when you can Google anything that enters your head, bleached or not.) It didn’t look natural, he said, I should make it all one color, though he was vague on details as are many men, I find, who can’t understand the difference between dyeing and bleaching no matter how often you explain it to them.  Simply, dyeing means putting color in, bleaching means taking color out. That’s it, though show me a man who doesn’t use “dye” when he means “bleach” and I’ll call him professor.

My father said to stop using Light ‘n Bright. When I explained that it would take years for all my hair to grow out, he told me to have it done by a hairdresser.

I came out of Lily Daché on Fifth Avenue a platinum blonde. I walked up the avenue and could feel people turn to look at me. I was bathed in light, each step took me higher off the ground, I floated into the hotel lobby and when my father saw me and realized I was me, he let out a loud gasp and clutched his heart with both hands. (He’d had yearnings to be an actor in his youth.) I was very sorry to hurt him but also elated. I, who had been kept in pigtails for far too long, who wore my mother’s hand-me-downs and could never fit in with the popular girls at school or talk to a boy without turning an unhealthy shade of purple, was now metamorphosed or perhaps alchemized into the most desirable thing a person could be: a blonde bombshell.

A blonde in a BMW was speeding in a residential zone when a police car pulled her over. The female police officer who got out was also a blonde.

She walked up to the side of the BMW and asked for the driver’s license. The driver searched frantically in her handbag and finally asked the policewoman, “What does the driver’s license look like?”

The blonde cop was having none of it. “Don’t be a smartass. It’s got your picture on it!”      

The driver emptied her bag and found a small rectangular mirror at the bottom.  She held it up to her face. “Here it is.” She handed it to the policewoman, who started walking towards the police car.            

In a moment the cop was back and returned the mirror to the driver with a smile. “You’re free to go,” she said. “And if I had known you were a police officer too, we could have avoided all this.”

When I became a blonde, I discarded my shyness and despised anyone who was attracted by me.  This gave my adolescent self-hatred a firm basis. Groucho’s law: anyone who accepts me as I am is not worth my time.

I was a blonde because I needed to be. I suffered for it, the bleach burning into my scalp and opening it up and later forming welts. The color was slightly green when it was freshly done, and then would “oxidize,” as my colorist explained, so that by the third week it was a perfect light ash. After that it began to veer towards orange, turning brassier, and at the end of 5 or 6 weeks I’d have to go back and have my roots done again.

Getting my hair bleached was the most expensive thing I ever did in my life, including cars, travel, children and medical expenses. When I became allergic to the bleach in my fifties (I’d faint, run a fever, and come close to death, as in opera when the heroine takes poison), I had to abandon the two-step process that took 5 or 6 hours from start to finish and accept being a single process blonde, which meant not platinum, just as light as possible.

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non- fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and . . . speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal.

Less than 2% of adult white Americans are blond naturally. 75% of American women color their hair according to a Clairol study, and they should know, having 70 shades of blond on the market.  Seventy Shades of Blond. Talk about blondage! It excites us – the hair, the walk, the pictures in our mind, Marilyn, Brigitte, Beyoncé; ask not what nature can do for you, ask what you can do to nature. A blonde is the perfection of self-invention, and anyone at all can become blond – poor or rich, black or white, Arab, Jew, old or young, gay, straight, trans and not-saying.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co- pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

It’s true, blondes do have more fun. We who are not naturally blond but choose to become so are a gorgeous part of the American Dream where everyone can be young and sexy, rich and powerful. And if our Presidential candidates are blond by choice, that’s to be expected, since blond is optimistic and they are vying for the biggest job in the world, blond-in-chief: Trump – who spent most of his life with dark hair and more recently wore something resembling an orange dishrag before turning to a more professional colorist – or Clinton, who has been blonde time and again and knows what she’s doing. .