Five Points, Vol. 4 No. 1

Fall 2000

From Ha Jin, “I only write about failure. I never write about success. I never write about important people. I never write about the brighter side.”

Sample Content

Kate Daniels
Shampoo Girl

The war was on. Linda Oglethorpe’s stepbrother had died
there—wherever it was—and she, our school’s one and only
hippie, had sat through three periods weeping behind her silky
swath of ironed hair until someone drove her home to cry.
In Washington, Abby Hoffman levitated the Pentagon
and Allen Ginsberg, on the other coast, read a poem
in full lotus position, naked. A man walked on the moon
and said something memorable. At Woodstock, teens
made love in mud. All of this must have been pretty abstract
to me, hardly more than magazine covers or a quick story
on the black and white while I ate my dinner on a TV tray
and then rushed back to the privacy of my bedroom
to scrutinize emergent acne or calculate how to get so-and-so
to invite me to the junior prom…. Otherwise,
how could I have spent each Saturday of 1968 and ‘69
in Wingo’s House of Beauty untangling the back-combed
overteased heads of lower middle class housewives
who hadn’t been informed of women’s liberation and still tortured
their hair into pageboys and bubble ’dos with wire rollers
and hair spray? And then came, each Saturday,
to submit themselves to me, conversing grimly
about husbands and varicose veins while, gently,
I combed them out and then lowered their heads,
large and heavy as spoiled cabbages,
into green ceramic basins. I fastened warm white towels
around their shoulders and tested the water on my wrist
as if bathing an infant. And then dispersed the shampoo’s
fragrant mucous into their hair, directed hot needles of water
towards their scalps, drenched them, and scrubbed. They purred like cats
beneath my hands. I liked it there—the sharp fragrances
of peroxide and nail polish, the dull whine of the old fashioned
chrome-hooded dryers. The way it took your mind off
everything troublesome and fastened it to a rat’s nest
in a bleached blond pageboy, or a crochet hook used
to fish up strands of auburn hair through a punctured rubber cap
that covered a head being prepped for platinum streaking.
If I’d really understood what was happening in the world
I couldn’t have gone on, could I? Week after week, year after year,
cocooned in that place, washing heads for $1.50 an hour,
oblivious to napalm-covered little girls and whole villages
wiped out by nineteen year old American boys in helicopters
my parents paid taxes to reproduce as soon as they had crashed and burned.
I don’t know what it means now, that I wasted my time that way
helping someone acquire the hairstyle she wanted,
as if nothing was more important than vanquishing
split ends and instructing someone in the fine art
of wrapping toilet paper, turban style,
around her head and spraying heavily, to keep it all
in place a week. Now I wonder how it was possible
to walk out at the end of the day, feeling as if
something worthwhile had been done, and to observe
the sun drown in the smoke-stained sky
and experience no sense of interconnectedness
and not think of burning villages and shattered countries,
while the war raged, the president lied, and 55,000 lay down
beneath the black wall and never rose to chastise me.