Setting: sidewalk at the corner of Stafford and 7th Los Angeles 90021.
A large man with a forhead flattened like a Rottweiler attacked by a skillet sits overflowing a folding metal chair.
I am standing behind him holding office scissors and chopping away at his long greasy hair with islands of dried scalp sliding down the strands.
Next to us, 4 more victims sit on the stoop, smoking and drinking paper bagged beers and chattering their gossip and opinions on my cosmetology skills – or lack there of.
I had bribed these people.
Tucked under the chair , a pile of zip locking sandwich bags wait to be distribited, their translucent plastic sides bulging with trial sized shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, tooth pastes and other good smelling basic hygiene tools.
Shed hair clippings ringed the chair like a biological moat and I did my best not to step in them.
After each , um, interpretive hair styling session, the victem, um client, was given a bag and expected to go to the showers and use the Contents. There may have been some threats from me about what would happen if I found other people (namely the or dealers, prostitutes, and the like) coming into possession of these bags. They were for the client to use for bathing – not as tender and exchange.
I know. I know. Imagine reaching into your bathtub and grabbing your conditioner bottles and exchanging it at work for lunch or a cigarette. It couldn’t be done. But, in a land where almost no one has cash- other items become money.
I a fan of bathing … In part because it is where I ruin paperback books when I fall asleep in the bubblss, it is where I hide from the family who take every other minute, and it makes me smell nice. I feel great about myself when I am not crusty, dusty, or musky. A clean body inside some clean clothes makes me supercharged and I feel great about myself.
It is really hard for stinky people to feel positive, or to convince others to feel positive about themselves (unless you are a toddler – those easy people are never clean).
When I worked on Skid Row , I had a volunteer hairdresser and between her efforts and my own, we did our best to help my clients feel and look good so they could feel good and be approachable. I was not hosting get your stereotype of bedraggled and smudged homeless adults. I only wanted you to guess these folks were homeless if you tried to follow them home only to realize you both couldn’t get there.
Okay, now I have to get out of the tub….and yes, those twelve toes are mine.