By Tiffany RazzanoMy suit was brand new — I’d just torn off the tags that morning before rushing out the door and hopping on the subway.
Now less than two hours later, there I was at the Harvard Club of New York City, waiting for Madeleine Albright to take the stage and rubbing elbows with Manhattan’s business and real estate elite.
That stout, sweaty man getting another drink — he’s the president of the Real Estate Board of New York. That silver-haired senior walking through the door with an entourage that would rival any Hollywood celeb owns the World Trade Center. Just the week before I heard him speak about his plans to rebuild the Twin Towers bigger and better than they were before. And the man seated next to me is the vice president of something or other at The Corcoran Group. I forget; he was boring; real estate is boring. But he made a point to give me his card when he found out I wrote for one of the city’s biggest real estate publications.
Despite my new suit, I stood out, like I did at most of these events. My baby face and short stature gave me the appearance of a freshman in high school though I was actually 23. And no matter how business appropriate my attire was, I carried my old Dickies messenger bag and wore scuffed Doc Martens.
Then there was my hair. Chin-length and messy, it certainly didn’t scream 9 to 5. And mere months earlier, upon graduating from college and entering the professional workforce for the first time, I dyed my blue hair – it had been blue for four-and-a-half years — back to brown. The cover-up job was fairly obvious, as every once in a while you’d glance at me and be able to catch a patch of green. My Mom liked to say I looked moldy.
The first time I dyed my hair blue was the very night I moved out of my parents’ Long Island home and into the dorms of a local college less than an hour away. Earlier that summer I purchased a bottle of Manic Panic “After Midnight,” a deep blue, and counted down to that very moment.
That first time I didn’t bleach my hair beforehand, which resulted in a cool, shimmery look. In certain lighting, my hair appeared black; and at other times, it had a navy blue tint when the light caught it the right way.
Inadvertently, I dyed my hands blue as well. The running joke was that I always looked as though I had just given a Smurf a handjob. And the tub and sink in my suite’s bathroom were permanently tinged blue. No amount of bleach did the trick, and we never passed room check once that year. My suitemates requested a new room the following year.
And I made my first friend in college because of my blue hair. Part punk, part goth, Jane hailed from Seattle and asked to borrow some hair dye when she saw me walking to the cafeteria one morning. She liked to call me a wimpy hippie because I listened to Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead. She told me I was too nice and too cute to date, but she’d get drunk and make out with me. One night I blacked out and asked her to cut my hair at 2 a.m. I let myself into her room the next morning, and found blue tufts covering her sink and a man in her bed.
“Honey, what in the world did you do to yourself?” asked the hair dresser I ran to for damage control later that day. “Please tell me you’re never going to drink again.”
I didn’t know if he was more offended by the drunken ‘do, or the home dye job and choice of color.
But blue hair was just the start for me.
I pierced things. Became vegan. Listened to obscure indie rock. Slept with a multitude of women. Drank too much and missed too many classes.
My parents liked to call it youthful rebellion and the primary source of their anxiety. I liked to call it my natural evolution.
Fast forward four years. I was out of college and job hunting. I couldn’t work at Borders for the rest of my life, I decided (I was never welcome at Barnes and Noble, which to this day has a strict dress code.) So I went back to plain, old brown hair.
I got a temp job as a proofreader at an employment reference checking company. By proofreading I mean formatting data and ensuring that the information prospective employees provided on their applications matched their references’ responses.
My blue hair was gone. So were the septum and lip rings. But I was still vegan, still slept with too many women, and still drank too much.
One morning I woke up and had a beer before work, then another. It was a beautiful sunny day, the first one that spring. I called out sick and joined my public school teacher roommate on his field trip to visit famous beat-era haunts in the Village.
Buzzed, I sat in Washington Square Park watching him handle his students and chatted with a homeless man named Ezekiel with long gray dreads. He read my palm and told me my fortune.
“You need to take a look at the path you’re on,” he said. “Figure out what you want out of life.”
Before I left, he handed me his business card and directed me to his blog.
I never went back to that mindless proofreading job again. A few weeks later, just when it seemed like I would have to return to Borders, I convinced the managing editor of Real Estate Weekly to hire me as a reporter. My only experience came in the form of a shitty college newspaper and an internship at a music magazine. But the brassy, Scottish editor said she liked my moxy.
Thinking I’d be going back to the bookstore, I’d already purchased a new bottle of blue hair dye. And I almost turned down that reporter job.
But I thought about what Ezekiel said and asked myself: what do I want for myself – an extended adolescence or a long-term, fulfilling career?
So I ditched the dye for good, even though it meant going outside my comfort zone.