by Jim Rhodes
A note from the author: To place this story in context, you may find it helpful to read my earlier blog posts, Hair Wars Part 3 (March 2013), Hair Warrior (Sept. 2011) and Heroes of the Purple Prose (Nov. 2010).
So there I was in another crowded airport lounge nursing a beer and doing my best to avoid eye contact with other passengers. Christmas tunes were playing softly through the speakers. I had a disturbing sense that someone was watching me. I drained my beer and took the empty glass to the bar for a refill.
I gave a quick visual scan around the room and spied a guy dressed in rumpled khakis and well-worn jungle boots wearing a bright yellow turban wrapped around his head. A pith helmet sat on the table in front of him next to his beer. He was staring at me intently as though trying to remember my face.
I recognized him instantly although it had been over a year since I last saw him in another airport lounge.
I waved cheerfully, picked up my bags and beer and moved to the empty seat at his table.
I reached out to shake his hand. “Dr. Pompadour, I presume?”
He nodded glumly.
“You still in the hair products marketing biz?”
He dug out a business card from his wallet and silently passed it across the table: Dr. Alfredo J. Pompadour, Field Scientist, Shampoo Herbal Ingredient Technologies (S.H.I.T.).
This was the third time we had bumped into each other. The first time, about three years ago, he was similarly dressed, and was traveling around the world searching for exotic ingredients for his employer, a major hair products brand. At that time he was bubbling with enthusiasm. Our second meeting was about a year ago. He had given up the jungle outfit for a business suit, having been promoted to product manager for an experimental male pattern baldness cure his company had developed. He was clearly enjoying the marketing role.
Looking at the jungle outfit, I ventured, “So I take it you’ve gone back to field work?”
He took a long slug of beer, washed it down with a shot of liquor, cleared his throat and spoke. I leaned across the table to hear him over the buzz of conversation and piped-in Christmas music.
“You remember the TV commercial I showed you?”
“Indeed, very impressive piece of work.”
He nodded. “Yes, it was a big success. Field trials were very positive and initial sales results were through the roof. We were flooded with queries and orders.”
“Great,” I said. “So how’s it going with the product rollout?”
He looked longingly at the empty glasses on the table. I stepped over to the bar and came back with two beers and one shot.
He paused long enough to take a deep drink from the beer mug, then spoke – his voice a bit stronger. “Well everything was going our way, and that was when I had my big marketing brainstorm.”
I waited while he slugged back the shot.
“You remember the Ice Bucket Challenge craze this summer?”
I nodded. “Sure. People filmed themselves dumping ice water over their heads to raise money for ALS, posted it on their Facebook pages and challenged others to do the same.”
“I had this brilliant idea that we could do something similar to raise public awareness for male pattern baldness syndrome. For starters, we would ask our product testers to dump ice water on their heads, then challenge all their friends and contacts to do the same. We figured it would go viral on YouTube, boost brand awareness across the nation and give us an enormous sales promotion opportunity. We branded it as our ‘Cool Heads’ promotion.”
“I thought so too, and convinced the Chief Marketing Officer to endorse it. So we lined them all up in a row wearing their branded ‘Cool Heads’ tee shirts, their hairdos perfectly coifed, turned on the cameras, and on the count of three dumped the ice water. Unfortunately, we had not tested the product under extremely cold conditions, and their new hair fell out. All of it. They were as bald as basketballs.” His head sagged.
“Oh how awful.”
“It got worse. The next day their scalps all turned bright blue and stayed that way. The doctors tell us it’s a permanent condition caused by a chemical reaction. You can imagine the litigation.”
I couldn’t help glancing at the turban on his head.
“You guessed it,” he said and lifted a corner of the turban to reveal the bright turquoise hairless skin beneath.
“So where are you heading now?”
“The usual places.” He slid a piece of notepaper across the table. It was his shopping list.
· Vanilla bean oil – Tahiti
· Silk amino proteins – Okinawa
· Lavender – Provence
· Soymilk proteins – Uzbekistan
· Marigold oil – Amsterdam
· Orange blossoms – South Florida
· Avocado – Mexico
· Olive oil – Tuscany
· Basil – Macedonia
· Sea kelp – Tasmania
· Water lily – Normandy
He rose, shook my hand gravely and perched the pith helmet precariously atop the turban.
“So long,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said, and sat back to finish my beer as he shuffled toward the exit.
I almost got up to follow him. There was a question that has long been troubling me. I made a mental note to ask him next time our paths cross. What, exactly, is a “volumizing shampoo?”
Disclaimer: Dr. Pompadour is a fictional creation. To my knowledge, no such person exists. The only part of this story that is not fiction is the list of ingredients. I found them on the back of various shampoo bottles in the shower. No one could make that up.