I was just finishing up my lat pull-down exercise when I heard it, but I was too busy thinking about how sore I’d be tomorrow to fully register the sound. Out of the gym all summer and good to be back, but now I would have to pay. Maybe I would get in the hot tub after…
I looked in the general direction of the “pssst,” and saw my wife over on the glut/hamstring machine. She raised an eyebrow and gave her head a little jerk, motioning me over.
“How’s the workout?” she said, but before I could answer, she lowered her voice, adding, “You see that guy over there, the guy getting off the calf machine?”
I looked, saw him, handsome fellow with a summer tan and salt and pepper hair, neatly cropped.
“That’s a good-looking guy, right?” she said. “Don’t you think he’s probably about 50? Imagine how young he would look if his hair wasn’t turning gray. Forty, 35 maybe?”
I understood right away that we weren’t really talking about the distinguished guy getting off the calf machine at all, because I’m sharp, you see. I should be, since I’m nearly 50.
Also, we’d been down that road before. The topic had been broached in the car on a trip, when we’d already worked the crossword puzzle already and had time to kill. I had argued for aging gracefully. She had argued for taking advantage of existing technology to “look your best.” I accused her of ageism or some other “ism,” and she said she had nothing at all against aging in general or gray hair in particular, just that it would not look very good on my particular head.
I then did something that I can now see as a poor strategic maneuver in the subtle art of domestic negotiation. I horselaughed.
“What?” she said, quite visibly taken aback.
“Well, honey, don’t you think it’s a bit late to be worrying over what color my hair is, since I have so little of it left? Too late to buy new locks when the house has already been robbed, you know.”
It wasn’t a perfect analogy, but I did make a note to self about a great idea for a new fairy tale for young boys about a hair thief who sneaks a sleeping potion into the Chinese buffet, then takes your hair a little at a time every night for 12 years until you finally shave your head or just start wearing a lot of hats.
“What are you talking about?” she said, with convincing incredulousness. “You have plenty of hair.”
“Compared to what? An onion?” I said, equally incredulous. “You see, we have this mirror at home … plus, I don’t want to be accused of being vain.”
Now it was her turn to horselaugh.
“Accused of being vain?” she snorted. “Is this the same man who has spent 12, 485 hours in the gym since we met? Is this the same guy who buys protein powder online? The same guy who wears his World Gym tank top to Ingles to buy groceries?”
“Well, excuse me,” I said, not that far off from a Steve Martin impression. “I thought we were trying to stay healthy.”
“Healthy shmealthy,” she said. “Do you need to bench press 350 pounds to be healthy? Do you need to spend an hour doing curls three days a week to make your biceps bigger to live longer? What about the treadmill or the stairmaster? What about the stationary bike?”
It was true. I did tend to avoid the cardiovascular area of the gym … wait, weren’t we talking about hair?
“You’re right, honey,” I said. “I need to do more cardio and less macho. I get that. But I don’t get the hair-coloring thing. Isn’t coloring what little hair I have left like buying a new set of tires today for a car I totalled yesterday? Won’t I look a little ridiculous?”
As I said, we’ve been down that road — 200 miles of it, more or less. In spite of my wounded vanity, I’m pretty sure the issue isn’t about hair as much as it’s about mortality, “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” I am a good bit older than my wife, but it’s not something either of us thinks much about … unless a few gray insurgent whiskers appear to remind us. One thing we can agree on: she doesn’t want me to “leave the buffet” too early, if you know what I mean, and I don’t want to leave it. Why shouldn’t we be able to hammer out a truce on that sturdy foundation?
I may color my hair. Don’t bet against it. Maybe there is some kind of syllogism that can be worked out between looking young, acting young and living longer. But just in case, I’m definitely getting on that damned treadmill.