Friday, January 29, 2010

Hair Unnatural

I've noticed a lot of Atomic Pink hair lately. Brighter than bright hair colors are today's fashion choice: Limelight, Blue Mayhem, Napalm Orange, Pimpin Purple. But I've noticed Atomic Pink hair the most.

The other day I was standing in line at a fast food burger place with my octogenarian friend Gordon. It was a busy lunch hour, the lines stacked four and five deep. Gordon surveyed the room, his eyes finally coming to rest on one of the workers behind the counter.

"Look at that girl with the pink hair!" he said, laughing. "Looks unnatural, if you ask me."

Unnatural. Remember the Highlights magazine: "What's Wrong With This Picture"? Under the fluorescent lighting, the girl's long atomic pink hair appeared alien. It definitely caught my eye, kind of like a sewing basket tucked under the seat of a van, or a raccoon in broad daylight, cruising down a crowded sidewalk. For some, the color is the ultimate in pretty. For others, it's exacerbating.

Gordon's discomfort reminded me of 1986, when some friends and I visited the University of Washington. It was summer, and on the lawn outside the Henry Art Gallery something unusual was going on. Several students had carefully arranged themselves as a tableau, and completely coated themselves in the color blue. Any one stopping to check them out was free to wander among them. In low voices the blue people were uttering words that expressed blue thoughts: "sky" "sadness" "ink" "jeans". A handout described the installation, a series of different colors on different days.

We responded on such a visceral level that we returned the next day for the event listed on the flyer. Same experience--those real people completely coated in an unnatural color, only this time in gut punch green. One tourist, a retired gentleman in white shorts and white socks (and yes, sandals) really got in the face of one of the artists.

"What are you, some kind of communist?" he bellowed at the guy.

"Broccoli grass splitpea soup moss"

"Cut it out! Now!" the retiree said.

"Pine tree Washington State flag four-leaf clover"

The wife pulled the tourist away before he could do the kid physical harm. The man's distress was palpable; I worried he was going to suffer some kind of stroke.

Unnatural colors can elicit visceral reactions, like suspicion and apoplexy. Then again, they can be just plain kewl.