When I volunteer for the annual school carnival, I usually get to run the bounce house. That’s where the action happens. I wear a black T-shirt and tell parents the bounce house is “for kids only,” although I understand their desire to climb in. Bounce houses are awesome.
That’s the kind of job dads normally do when they volunteer. But sometimes, when you’re a dad named Shannon and the new president of the PTA doesn’t know you yet, you get a job that would normally go to a mom. That’s how I found myself, a bald middle-aged man, running the hair chalk station.
My first customer, the bravest of the pack, is a kindergartner. He has been eyeing the purple hair chalk on my table. Will it work on his black hair? I have no idea, but I’ve got many colors to choose from. I have red, blue and chartreuse. Chartreuse is what a color expert would call the yellow-green chalk. I’m bald, not colorblind.
The boy sits in my chair.
“Um, I would like the purple, please,” he says.
“Of course! Nice choice, my good sir! Purple is the color of emperors and conquerors. And you, my fine boy, look like one that deserves such a color!”
The boy smiles at my over-the-top delivery. His face eases, and the trepidation gives way to a smile. He’s an emperor now.
The greatest showman in hair chalk
I learn as I go; it’s on-the-job training. Purple chalk has to be applied thicker on darker hair to make it really pop. I finish with the boy, explaining I have given him “the purple flames of a god” and now he must go forth and conquer the mortals. He laughs, and I get a high five. This is how bald dads color hair. It’s not about the shade the child chooses. It’s about the show, and I am a great showman.
I start calling out like a beer vendor at the ballpark.
“Hair chalk! I’ve got your hair chalk right here! Only one ticket! Buy a session for that special friend!”
I get more customers.
The girls want the pinks and the reds. Some want their ponytails colored so they can be Rainbow Dash. I tell them that surely Rainbow Dash is the best My Little Pony. Unless they say Twilight Sparkle is better. At this point, of course, I point out that Princess Celestia was a great teacher to Twilight Sparkle. Who is the Princess Celestia of the school? Oh yeah, the bald dad running the hair chalk station can talk My Little Pony. I can give you a treatise on Ponyville, and then switch easily to the values of the different Power Ranger franchises.
It occurs to me, as I color the hair of a 1-year-old, I need more “bizness” at my booth. That’s how you say it in the hair chalk game — bizness. I’m like a carny now. I’ve got this. Do you want ticket sales? I’ll give you ticket sales.
I move the only trash can in the school gym so that it’s next to my booth. Everyone has to come to me to throw away their candy wrappers, wet wipes and empty snack bags. And when they do, I go into straight-up used-car salesman mode.
The Clayton Kershaw of pitchman
“You there. You, my friend, look like a third-grader who wants to impress your principal. How about a Harry Potter lightning bolt for your hair?”
I reel him in, but I don’t stop: “What do you say, mom? Join your son in the world of hair chalk! How about a nice blue streak like Tonks? Don’t be a muggle.” I’m getting the parents and kids.
This is going well, but it needs to get better. All the proceeds go to the PTA fund, and I want to make a case for quality doughnuts at the next parent breakfast.
I up my game.
“Hey, dad! Yeah, you. The fine gentlemen with obvious stoic confidence. Join your little girl and become a pink superhero!”
That’s right — I tap into a market most hair chalk stations will ignore. I look for the guys dressed in slacks and weighed down by overfull backpacks of kids’ gear. Guys with bulging pockets that hold baby bottles. The father who yearns for a hair chalk toupee. Hair or scalp, I can make it work. The dad market is huge in the hair chalk game if you can reach it. And I can.
I know dads. I am dad. We like to get silly and cut loose. We yearn for the moments when we can just get rid of all that heavy baggage from our shoulders and just be a kid, with our kid. Fathers need that opportunity where we don’t have to worry about the future and just live in the moment. I’m not selling hair coloring. I’m selling memories.
The dads start lining up with their babies, their toddlers, their school-aged children. At these things, the school events, sometimes dads can be ignored. I see them standing by the walls, walking around with kids on their shoulders, or changing diapers in the bleachers of the gym. They aren’t going to be invisible tonight, no sir. Tonight you are the special guest star. The dads come in droves.
The night goes well and my wife checks in on me. She says the PTA moms asked if she signed me up to volunteer. She laughs. I signed my own self up. And now I’m rocking the hair chalk station. I may not know hair — the last time I used a brush is when I owned a 1992 Ford Ranger. My hands have scars from slip-ups on the table saw, and my knuckles crack holding a pencil. You would think that maybe a dad such as me wouldn’t be so good at hair chalk. And honestly, I’m not. But I’m great at selling the hair chalk experience. I’ve got one more trick to unleash in the last 15 minutes of the carnival.
I’ve got something the moms don’t. Something that makes me special in a hair chalk station, and perhaps explains the reason why the PTA president put me in charge of this booth.
“Color your hair and color my beard!” I yell.
“Just one ticket! One ticket and you can color my beard!”
That got them. I’ve turned hair chalk into an interactive arts and crafts exhibit. Pretty soon, other dads are getting their beards colored by the kids. By the end of the school carnival, there is a marching band of chartreuse beards headed to the exits.