Elder Hostel

by Katherine Gleason

I returned to New York and was sent to jail for four weeks. My hair, its natural silver cascading down my back, attracted attention, and unbeknownst to me, the new regime had outlawed menopause, wrinkles, signs of age. So, I was stopped, taken into custody, and booked. 

“Haven't you heard of dye?” the jail matron said and shoved me into a cell. 

“I was going to my studio,” I said, “to paint.” The cell was not what I expected. No cold concrete, no cinderblocks, no bunk bed. No, this cell looked like a dressing room at Bloomingdale's. Soon I realized that I was in Bloomingdale's and would be required to serve my sentence inside.

My hair was dyed a light chestnut. Facial unguents, balms, and salves were applied. My laugh lines, crows feet, marionette furrows, and forehead creases faded into a smooth mask. I struggled to hold on to myself, my flaws, my character, my memories. The night before my release, I was waxed, bathed, plucked, perfumed, and dressed in new clothes. A group of us, prisoners about to be sprung, huddled together, whispering through the night. Others had been treated more harshly—electrolysis, exfoliation, poisonous injections, dermabrasion. In the morning, when I hit the street, I was unrecognizable and ready to start my life of crime. I went underground, shaved off my chestnut tresses, obtained wigs—a youthful shag and a cute bob. Wearing the bob, I masquerade as a Bloomingdale's employee, the extra wig stashed in my shiny nylon bag. One by one, I smuggle prisoners out of the store, into the subway, and down, down to where we can be our gray and wrinkled selves.