Hair color information distills official silliness

May 13, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. During his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column was originally published on Dec. 20, 1976.

It can be infuriating the way minor government officials take their power and flaunt it.

For example, my driver's license expired, so the other day I went to the secretary of state's office on Elston Avenue in Chicago to get it renewed.

A little lady behind the counter was filling out the application form. Height . . . weight . . .

"Color of eyes?" she asked.

"Brown."

"Color of hair?"

She glanced at my head. "Brown?"

"Uh-huh. Brown. I've always had brown hair."

She looked dubious and said: "I'd say it is, uh, gray."

"Well, in this light, I suppose there's a little gray mixed in with the brown."

She squinted her eyes, studied my head more intensely, and said: "No, it's mostly gray."

"On the sides, yes. I'm probably getting a little gray along the sideburns."

"Sir, you don't have much hair anywhere but on the sides."

"Look," I said, "what's the big deal? This is just a form."

"I know, sir, but we're supposed to try to get it right. For identification purposes. So I'll put down . . ."

"What about grayish brown?"

"I'm sorry, we can only use one color."

"That's a ridiculous rule. There are many colors that can't be described in one word."

"I don't make the rules, sir."

"Well, this is silly."

Which it was, of course. All my life, on every piece of identification I have ever had, the color of my hair has been listed as brown. And suddenly this woman, who obviously had weak eyes, the way she squinted, was being arbitrary.

I showed her my company identification card. "See, right there it says brown."

"That's not official, sir."

"Look at my company ID photograph. Does the hair look gray? It's brown. Almost jet black, as a matter of fact."

"Is that you?"

"Of course it's me."

"My, you used to be a nice-looking man."

"Oh, for Pete's sake," I said, which is all a person can say when they are dealing with someone that negative.

A supervisor walked over and said: "Some kind of problem here?"

"Yes," I said. "I don't want my driver's license to contain inaccurate information."

The woman looked indignant and said: "Just a moment, sir!"

The supervisor said: "What kind of inaccurate information?"

"Oh, it's not that important," I said. "Let's get on with it."

"The gentleman says his hair is brown," the woman said.

The supervisor gawked at my hair, shook his head, and said: "It is gray. What there is of it."

"Ha!" I said. "My father always told me that you can't fight City Hall."

"This isn't City Hall," the supervisor said. "This is a state office."

"Look, I don't have all day," I said. "Can't we get this over with?"

"All right," the lady said. "I'll put down gray."

"Oh, go ahead."

And she did. She actually wrote it down. Gray. GRAY! On my driver's license.

Not that I care. Who is ever going to see it, really? Nobody. Except maybe a traffic policeman.

What is the policeman going to think, seeing "gray" on a driver's license that belongs to a guy with all that thick, bushy brown hair?

And what if it is a policewoman?

Later that evening, I was having dinner with some friends and told them about the incredibly color-blind license clerk.

"Don't feel bad," one of my friends said. "Paul Newman is almost entirely gray."

I felt better.

"And Marlon Brando is getting fat," another friend said.

"And Steve McQueen is getting all wrinkled," someone else said.

I really felt good.

"So," one of my friends concluded, "you've got it all -- gray, fat, and wrinkled. You're a superstar."

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