By Jim Rhodes
A note from the author. To set this story in context, I suggest you read my earlier posts, Hair Warrior (Sept. 2011) and Heroes of the Purple Prose (Nov. 2010). The reader may surmise I have an unhealthy fixation on the subject of marketing hair care products.
At first I didn’t recognize him. It had been several years.
When I saw him across the crowded airport lounge waving at me, I googled my brain and came up blank. I retreated into my beer and laptop in hopes he might have been waving at someone else.
No such luck. He carried his beer over to my table and plopped himself into a chair across from me.
“You probably don’t remember me,” he said.
I sipped my beer, avoided eye contact and mumbled without conviction, “Of course I do.”
Realizing that I was not going to escape human interaction, I looked at him more closely. It came back to me in a whoosh. When we had met before in a different airport he was wearing khakis, jungle boots and a pith helmet. He had been on his way to discover exotic ingredients for his employer, a major hair care products brand. Now, two years later, he was wearing a gray business suit with an open collar shirt.
“You’re the shampoo doc,” I said.
“Yep. That’s me. Doctor Fred. The S.H.I.T. specialist. But I gave up field work. Now I’m in the marketing department.”
He passed me a business card: Dr. Alfredo J. Pompadour, Marketing Director, Shampoo Herbal Ingredient Technologies (S.H.I.T.).
“You’re in marketing too, right?”
I sipped my beer and nodded.
“Check this out.” He pulled out his iPad. “It’s our new product. A cure for male-pattern baldness. It’s my finest discovery. The main ingredient is coconut oil from a rare exotic palm I stumbled across on my last trip to Borneo. I blended it in the lab with a certain seaweed I found floating in a tidal pool on the coast of Tasmania and amino extract milked from Japanese silk worms. We’ll eventually make it into an oral pill, but right now it’s only offered in suppository form. Laboratory tests were amazing, and field trials are nearly done.”
I couldn’t help glancing at the top of his head. “You tested it on yourself?”
“You guessed! What do you think?”
“We call it Crinesil,” he said, fiddling with the iPad.
Unable to resist showing off my classical education, I said, “Very clever. Crines is Latin for hair.”
He seemed duly impressed with my learning, and beamed proudly as he switched on the iPad. “Here’s a rough cut for our first TV commercial. We’re going to air it on cable channels. Tell me how you like it.”
I watched the screen.
A beautiful woman is jogging up the beach in slow motion. A guy with great hair jogs toward her. The camera cuts back and forth between the two of them. They get closer and closer. The music swells...Her hair billows in the sea breeze. So does his.
“A shameless rip-off from that movie in the 70s with Bo Derek,” I observed.
He didn’t answer but smiled to himself.
They stroll hand in hand on the beach. She hugs him from behind as they stand on a balcony overlooking the ocean. They laugh as they feed each other cotton candy on the boardwalk. They ride a ferris wheel with the night wind ruffling their hair. They frolic in the surf, and as he rises from the water he shakes his head like a dog coming in out of the rain. They dance in the moonlight.
As the scenes unfold, the narrator speaks rapidly without emotion.
“If you suffer from male-pattern baldness syndrome, ask your doctor if Crinesil is right for you. Under certain conditions, Crinesil can restore your natural hair growth. Common side effects include nausea, migraine headaches, diarrhea, sinusitis, swollen gums, bunions, gallstones, blurred vision and hearing loss. Crinesil should not be taken by children under six. Extended use of Crinesil may contribute to high cholesterol, emphysema, loss of bladder control, blisters under the armpits, swelling of the liver, psychotic episodes, severe nasal congestion, abdominal cramps, kidney dysfunction, heart disease, internal bleeding and gangrenous lesions, resulting in amputation or death. Do not operate heavy machinery when takingCrinesil. If you experience sudden memory loss or thoughts of suicide, stop taking Crinesil and contact your doctor. Men with enlarged prostates should not take Crinesil.”
The narrator’s voice suddenly grows more cheerful as the camera zooms in for a closeup of the dancing couple, their radiant faces bathed by moonbeams. She rubs the top of his head playfully. They smile knowingly.
“If you or a loved one suffers from male pattern balding, ask your doctor about Crinesil. Cure combover forever with Crinesil. To learn more visit NoMoreCombover.com. Isn’t it time for you to try Crenesil?”
He flipped the iPad closed, leaned back, took a big swig of his beer, grinned broadly and waited for me to say something.
“Nice work,” I said.
“I knew you’d love it. The visuals came from the marketing department, and the voice-over came from the legal department.”
Before I could comment, my flight was called. I quickly drained my beer, stood up, shook his hand and gathered my belongings.
“I’m glad you like it,” he said.
“I’ll watch for it on TV.”
As I left the lounge, I turned and briefly looked back at him. He was sitting and smiling silently into his beer glass, unconsciously stroking the iPad with his fingers.
As I hastened away toward my gate, I had a gnawing sense that there was something I had wanted to ask him, but I couldn’t remember.
It came to me after I boarded my flight, but it was too late. I pulled his business card from my shirt pocket. Maybe I could call him later and ask him the question that has troubled me all these many years.
What, exactly, is a volumizing shampoo?
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. To my knowledge, Dr. Pompadour does not exist. The only part I did not make up was the script for the TV spot. It’s a composite of other medical product commercials I’ve seen on TV recently.