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  • I tried to catch the attention of the unfriendly receptionist. She was busy giving out towels and a tiny amount of shampoo. She placed them on the desk for the beauty students to pick up.

    “You filled out the slip?” she asked, and I realized I had been wasting time waiting for being prompted to do the obvious. There was a disclaimer to be signed. ‘In consideration of the fact, blah blah blah, I hereby release the Austin Beauty School blah blah blah, resulting from negligence, blah blah blah.’ I had to sign in pencil -- that was easy; there would be now a legal way out if someone poured boiling water on my head, or drop a mannequin on my foot, the two most egregious mishaps I could imagine.

    Soon afterwards, after I had paid two dollars for the privilege of being relieved of my right to sue, and comfortably seated behind a 1973 issue of the Lady’s Home Journal, I heard a great commotion and a hissing noise. All eyes were directed at a place outside, at a spray bottle that someone had managed to rush outside. Someone screamed “It is still going.“ Others cried “Ozone layer!” and “Grenade!”

    This taught me to add exploding spray cans to the list of harmful events, with the specter of shards of mirrors flying, and of having to dive with shrieking beauty students under dressers – only a minute later I would find out my preference for a student to seek shelter with.

    Because at this moment She stepped forth, making herself known, and called out “Peter.” She was a beauty, of Mediterranean breed, with dark brown hair and a serene faultless face.

    “Peter,” I heard her voice through the fog. I’m no Peter and I’m no Wolf. But if she is alluding to Peter Fischbach, alias Boembes, who is 30 years and 2000 miles away, my playmate in Germany’s postwar rubble, then the joke goes too far – his right eye was lost by a grenade splinter when he was little.

    “Are you Peter?” the girl asked me, and at once I become aware that I’m one of the only two men here; we are surrounded by women customers. The other man must be in his sixties, face and habits those of a farmer; he is the real Peter sitting with his wife in the corner. Real Peter’s hair was honest white and straight.

    “I wish I were,” almost slipped from my lips, but out came a flat “no,” just as the True Peter stood up, following a gentle push by his wife.

    So I had lost her just on account of that arbitrary decision of my parents, made forty-one years before, that had proved both unfortunate and exhilarating on many occasions: to call me Joachim and not Peter, a name everybody all over the world can pronounce, a name that would have been handy to have at this moment, and no gentle push would I need!

    I saw her guide him to her work area, a chair and a tiny dressing table with a mirror and a little bag containing all the stainless steel hairstyling tools she was supposed to own. For a moment I thought she looked over to me with a twitch of resignation around her mouth. Yes, her face seemed to say, here I am in my blue nylon dress, trembling, ready for you, but it is always going to be the Old Peter, who is supposed to report back to his wife if he survives my treatment.

    [from my notebook entry "Austin Beauty School, Albany", 1982]
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