By Jim Rhodes
So there I was in the crowded airport cocktail lounge. I plopped down in one of the few empty chairs, glanced at emails in Mr. BlackBerry and settled down to nurse a glass of beer.
That was when I noticed the man sitting next to me. He was wearing khaki shorts, a rumpled khaki shirt, white socks and jungle boots. A pith helmet sat on the table next to him. He was watching me.
“You in marketing?” he asked suddenly. I nodded in a way that I hoped would discourage conversation. He was not deterred.
“I thought so,” he said.
He leaned back, took a deep draught from his beer, and said, “I am an S.H.I.T. specialist.”
My first instinct was to observe that we were in the same line of work, since I am in the PR business, but I thought better of it. “A what?”
He slid a business card across the table. “Dr. Alfredo J. Pompadour, Shampoo Herbal Ingredients Technologist.” The address was “Shampoo Herbal Ingredients Technology Testing, Investigation and Evaluation (S.H.I.T.T.I.E.) Laboratory with the name of a well-known company which I will not reveal.
“Call me Fred. My job is to seek out and study ingredients for hair products,” he said.
He was just returning from Tahiti, he said, and was flying on to Stockholm then to Paris, Istanbul and Tokyo.
“You’ve noticed all the exotic ingredients on the labels of shampoo bottles, I presume?”
“Well I’m the guy that goes out and gets them.”
We both took a swig of beer.
“I’ve just finished up a little R&D program with oil extracts from Tahitian vanilla beans – excellent potential there. And I’m looking to create a mixture with extracts of Juniper from a forest near the Arctic Circle, sea kelp from the Black Sea and French lavender fresh from the fields of Provence. And for extra measure, a dollop of silk amino proteins from a plantation on one of the out islands of Japan.”
“So let me guess, you’re looking for something that’s silky, smooth, gentle and will make one’s hair more interesting to the opposite sex. Right?”
“I knew you were in marketing,” he said. “I work closely with the marketing department, of course. They tell me they want a new product with a little more silkiness, more smoothness, softer, less splitting, fewer tangles, gentler waves and a scent of orange blossoms, so I hit the road to gather samples and bring them back to the lab.”
“For testing?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Not to worry. We do our testing in environmentally acceptable ways without using any live animals.” He sighed and sipped at his beer. “In the good old days, we could just round up some stray cats and lather them up with this stuff, measure hair growth, splitting, curliness and other factors, then run metrics for the marketing department before moving into production.”
“So what do you use now?”
“Human hair wigs.”
“Isn’t that expensive?”
“No, we buy them in bulk. And I get a special discount, since I’m a member of the club.”
“The hair club? You mean that’s a wig on the top of your head? Looks natural.”
“Yes, my own hair all fell out years ago when I came down with Denge Fever in the rainforests of Malaya searching for a rare bamboo oil extract.”
We paused to finish our beers.
I broke the silence. “So, Fred, I have a question. I’ve always wanted to know just exactly what is shea butter? I see it on the labels of all my wife’s shampoo containers in the shower.”
“Shea butter. Ah yes, you mean Butyrspermum Parkil. Wonderful stuff. It’s a chemical we mixed up in the lab. We called it B.P. for short, but the marketing guys objected. Said it would remind consumers of leaking oil wells. I was the one who came up with the name. Sounds like an Irish condiment. Butter connotes smoothness. You think I might have a career in marketing?”
I was on the verge of asking another question that I’ve wondered about for years, but at that moment his flight to Stockholm was called, and he shuffled off with his duffle bag and pith helmet, leaving my curiosity unhappily unfulfilled. I suppose I’ll never know what a volumizing shampoo is.
I had another beer.
Disclaimer: The author wishes to state that this is a work of fiction, which came to him in a dream, induced no doubt by an overindulgence in a medicinal substance bearing an uncommon resemblance to a single malt whiskey. To the author’s knowledge, Dr. Pompadour does not exist, and any resemblance to a real person, however improbable, is totally accidental. One thing is true. The names of the ingredients actually came from shampoo bottles collected in hotel bathrooms. Nobody could make that up.