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Grey Is The New Blond

By Ray Lesser

Some women are willing to do anything to attract a man, even if it means letting their hair turn gray.

For ages women have been trying new things to become more appealing to men. In ancient times they rubbed themselves with flowers and herbs to mask the ever-present odor that comes from dressing in dead animal skins, and only taking a ritual bath once a year. They tried painting their faces different colors using mud, blood, and soot, which I’m sure also did wonders for their complexions. Women even fastened bones, feathers, and small live animals in their hair to impress the opposite sex of their worth and elegant sense of style.

Much of their efforts were probably wasted on the men of that time, who mainly noticed women who brought them a sizzling piece of meat to eat, preferably with a coconut shell full of fermented jungle brew and the sports section of the newspaper.

But in addition to women’s best efforts, natural sexual selection was also at work. Men seemed to be more attracted to women with blonde or red hair, perhaps because it was rare and seemed exotic, or perhaps because it was easier for them to spot at a distance, even if they weren’t wearing their glasses, which weren’t going to be invented for another several thousand years. It wasn’t long before many members of “the fair sex” were artificially making themselves even fairer. Classical Greek women dyed their hair red with henna and sprinkled it with gold powder. During the Renaissance, upper class ladies of Italy sat for many hours in the heat of the sun in an attempt to bleach their hair blonde using onion skins. This beauty treatment worked best in attracting men wearing necklaces of garlic and carrying strings of dried anchovies.

By the mid-20th century, the cult of the blonde reached its apex. Thanks to constantly improving hair dyes, ever-darker women could follow the advice of the famous 1960s Clairol commercial: “If I have only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde bombshell like Marilyn Monroe, only not so crazy and suicidal!” One recent study found that five out of every six blonde American women had some chemical help, spending over $100 million annually to help support the dumb-blonde joke industry. (Q: What does a postcard from a blonde’s vacation say? A: Having a wonderful time. Where am I?) Though, as Dolly Parton says, speaking for many of her stereotype, “Blonde jokes don’t bother me because I know I’m not dumb, and I know I’m not blonde.”

Today, the popularity of blondes remains high, sometimes bordering on bizarre, as evidenced by ads for some egg and sperm donors that offer bonuses for blondes. As Rita Rudner noted, “Blondes must have more fun. How many brunettes do you see walking down the street with blonde roots?”

But the newest, attention-grabbing hair color seen on big city streets and in salons, is gray – or more appealingly called white, silver, pewter, platinum, or ice. Older women are tired of constantly dying their hair, and are beginning to realize that their new natural color makes them stand-out just as much as any bleach blonde.

Personally, I love this trend. Even guys want to remain in style, and now I realize that my hair, what little of it I have, is getting more stylish every day. Also it makes it much easier for me, as one of the silverbacks of my urban jungle, to comprehend the signals that the fair sex is sending my way. When I encounter a blonde of any sort, whether she be covered with tattoos and piercings or wearing heavy makeup over her wrinkles, I know for certain – these women are not trying to impress or engage the likes of me.

Instead I find myself drawn to the stylish new silver goddesses, looking as natural and carefree as when they were teenagers, except for the limps. Their snow-white locks speak of innocence, mixed with the kind of experience that can only come from having lived with seven different guys. Unlike their light-haired, ditzy counterparts, I find them to be knowledgeable, wise, thoughtful, and, best of all, willing to laugh at the same jokes I’ve been telling for 25 years.

I know we all like to play the game called “looking good,” although everyone has their own interpretation of the rules. Some of us think we look our best in perfectly tailored Italian suits, while others want skintight pre-ripped jeans. Fashion and beauty are a shallow business, but we live in a shallow culture, and anyway, as someone once said, “If truth is beauty, how come nobody has their hair done in a library?”

Still, if the current beauty trend is that you look your best when you look like yourself, then I’m going to try to enjoy being in style for as long as I can.

The Gates

By Ray Lesser

Christo’s Central Park art installation The Gates was a tremendous success, particularly in the way it united art critics with critics of art: They all hated it. As one New Yorker critic shrilly stated, “The work’s charm-free, synthetic orange hue – saffron? no way – is something you would wear only in the woods during deer season, in order to avoid being shot.” Meanwhile other self-appointed guardians of our culture had the opportunity to point out why all modern art is bad. “Instead of spending $20 million dollars to ruin the Park with curtains that no one in their right mind would even hang in the shower, maybe we should send Christo to a school that could teach him how to draw,” said one smug letter writer. And of course comedians like David Letterman piled on: “When I get mugged by a guy hiding behind a giant curtained arch, which city agency should I sue?” But the more the critics sputtered, hissed and smirked, the more the throngs, numbering in the millions, came to witness this remarkable 16 day, 23 mile pageant of pomp creating its own circumstance.

What is there about art that draws us in, or repels us, as the case may be? Art is not what we want, or expect, or are used to, yet somehow it creates for us a meaning that never before existed. Even if that meaning happens to be, “Isn’t this the silliest thing you ever saw?”

When my wife, Sue, saw a photo of The Gates in the newspaper, she immediately began making plans for us to take a trip to New York to see it. “I can’t believe it’s happening now!” she said enthusiastically. “I thought this project happened years ago and I missed it.”

In fact, Christo worked for 26 years to convince New York City officials to allow him to create The Gates in Central Park. But the original proposal of miles of park pathways lined with 15,000 fabric-draped steel gates, also called for digging 30,000 postholes. “Back then,” says Doug Blonsky, president of Central Park Conservancy, “the question for the park was: How do we restore the crown jewel of New York City? Not: How do we come in and dig up 30,000 holes.” A N.Y. city commissioner recalled, “Damaging tree roots, digging through rock, it was like a parody of the Beatles lyric: How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?”

But Christo, who has lived in Manhattan with his wife and partner Jean-Claude since 1964, refused to give up on the project. When more advanced technology allowed him to construct The Gates safely, without the necessity of holes to anchor them, the project came back to life, particularly since, like all his projects, he was willing to pay the entire cost out of his own pocket.

Like many artists through the ages, Christo and his art are considered by many people to be absurd, useless, and even dangerous (during the installation of his work, The Umbrellas, consisting of 3,100 umbrellas planted across 30 miles of countryside in California and Japan, one umbrella, unmoored by a sudden gust of wind, killed a spectator). Members of the New York art scene also have had a love/hate relationship with the couple, dating back to their early attempts to insinuate themselves into the top echelon by inviting all the most famous local artists to their infamously bad dinner parties. Art critic David Bourdon recalled, “People were contemptuous of them. They were perceived as being very pushy. And then they served these god-awful meals. A lot of the unpopularity they met with in the early days was directed against Christo’s art; the rest was directed against Jeanne-Claude and her flank steak.”

Personally, I have never taken much interest in Christo’s work, other than the sheer scope and audacity of it, but I’m always happy for an excuse to visit New York. Sue was particularly thrilled by this project, because whenever we go to the city she’s always trying to drag me into Central Park. My opinion has been, “You can see trees and grass anywhere. Let’s do the other million things that you can only do in New York, and then if there’s any time left, we can sit in the park and decide where to go out for dinner.”

But on this trip, The Gates transformed the Park into an art Mecca. No need to pay to go into crowded, hushed museums when thousands of acres in the center of Manhattan had become a free exhibition filled with throngs of giddy aficionados snapping each other’s photos, while chattering away about high culture in German, French, and Italian. We walked the miles of icy paths until our legs ached, and our hands and faces were numb from the cold, then went off to enjoy the rest of the ever-present carnival of New York.

One art collector offered the artists $10 million for 50 of the 7,500 fabric-festooned gates, which Christo quickly turned down, saying that he intends for all the material in The Gates to be recycled into such products as gutters, PVC pipe, and carpet padding. The collector then gamely doubled his offer to $20 million. “Nobody can buy this project,” the artist defiantly declared. “Nobody can charge tickets for this project, nobody can own this project – because freedom is an enemy of possession and possession is the equal of permanence.”

So, after only 16 days, it was time for The Gates to come down. “When you are in the presence of the gates you are already feeling the absence,” said Jeanne-Claude, adding to her reputation as the Yoko Ono of the modern art world. Or as one street critic said, “I think whoever came up with this idea must be missing something upstairs. But it don’t really matter because all the people who came here to see it are having a blast.”