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S. Graber

The Law of Probability

A direct descendant of the most important sculptor of the Florentine Quattrocento, Donatello, walks into a "No Appointment Necessary" hair salon in Phoenix, Arizona.

Only one individual could personally validate this genetic claim, and she is dead. She was a prostitute that modeled for Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1405. She knew Donatello during his apprenticeship with Ghiberti, cajoled him to sleep with her, despite his preference for men, and bore a son as a result. This had been her intention, to become pregnant. She recognized Donatello’s promise early on and wanted to preserve a piece of his genius for generations to come. This was during the lifetime of Cosimo de’ Medici, the great autodidact and patron of the arts, and all of Florence shared his love of beauty.

This woman, the one that bore Donatello’s child, instructed her son of his birthright and he did the same when he had a child, and so on down the line until the DNA trail led to the door of a "No Appointment Necessary" hair salon in Phoenix, Arizona.

This woman, Donatello’s relative, sits on a hard, wooden bench beside a wire rack stocked with bottles of hair gels and conditioners. An advertisement posted directly above her reads: "Two Heads For the Price of One!" She has a book with her and she begins reading. She refuses to acknowledge a little girl who is standing almost directly before her. The little girl is playing to her own image in a mirror behind the hair-care product display case. The little girl says, "I see myself, I see myself, I can see myself, and I am seeing myself . . . I am looking at me seeing myself, I am myself looking, I look like myself . . ." The little girl chants on like Gertrude Stein hoping to disturb the reading of Donatello’s relative who intentionally does not look up from her book though she has read the same sentence six times. She dislikes children.

The little girl is waiting for her brother who sits in a stylist’s chair closest to the lobby. The two children are attended by an obese woman, their mother. This woman holds an infant. She looks tired. She dislikes children.

At the register, two stylists debate over who will cut the hair of the most recent walk-in, Donatello’s relative. Both stylists desire the opportunity to cut her hair. She has the rich, bountiful hair of the Florentines. The two stylists flip a coin to determine who will cut the walk-in’s hair. With a toss of tails the matter is decided.

The winner escorts Donatello’s relative to his station. His mirror is decorated with photos that form a familiar but no less inane shrine to sentimentality. The stylist asks the woman to sit in his chair and inquires as to what she would like to do with her hair.

"I just want the ends cut. I’m trying to encourage growth."

"Actually," the stylist responds, "cutting hair doesn’t make it grow faster. That’s a common fallacy. What frequent trims will do is keep the hair healthy." He runs his hand through her hair. "Unhealthy hair breaks. Would you like it cut wet or dry?"

"What does that mean?"

"Wet we shampoo, dry we do right away."

Donatello’s relative looks to the row of washbowls on the other side of the room.

"Wet."

The stylist shampoos the woman and leads her back to his station, begins cutting.

"So, do you have any plans for the holiday?"

"What holiday?" Donatello’s relative looks up at the stylist.

"Mother’s Day—do you have any plans?"

"No."

"I’m taking my mother out for brunch," the stylist says, measuring several hairs between his index and middle fingers. "The thing about that is, you’ve got to determine just the right time to go, I mean, the time just exactly before the lines get too long and the churchgoers get out of church. I hate waiting in line. Last year we had to wait in line for nearly an hour."

"You could make a picnic lunch. Then you wouldn’t have to wait in any lines," Donatello’s relative suggests.

"God no—I mean, not my family. I love my sister, don’t get me wrong, but she is an absolute princess. No. My family doesn’t do picnics."

"Even the Medici occasionally took a meal out of doors."

"Who? Who are they?"

"Just a family."

"Well, anyway, not my family, they don’t do picnics. And, besides, I like to be served. Don’t you like to be served? Oh, I know—you must be a waitress."

"No," Donatello’s relative lies, "I’m a mathematician."

The stylist ceases to cut her hair and withdraws his scissors and comb dramatically. "Not a math teacher—I did just horrible in math in school. I mean, I can add and subtract, but that’s about it."

The woman in the chair nods and remains silent.

After several minutes the stylist tries another line of conversation. "Have you lived around here long?"

"No," Donatello’s relative lies.

"I moved here six years ago, from Michigan—can you tell? The reason I ask is, I have a friend who says that he can still detect my accent. Did you know that people from Michigan speak with an accent? It’s a kind of nasally thing. Like, take the word accent—even the way I say that is different, more nasal: ‘Aaaehc-sent.’ Do you hear what I mean?"

His question elicits no response.

"I remember my first apartment, the first place I lived when I arrived here. It was this little carriage house, behind a larger house. A one-bedroom apartment. Anyway, the landlord lived in the larger house and she had this daughter that used to come over to my place quite often. I remember the daughter especially admired these two houseplants I had, and my tape deck. Anyway, one day I was robbed while away at work—and what do you suppose I found missing?"

The stylist stands before the client, scissors inactive, doggedly committed to the course of the narrative.

"I don’t know," the hostage wearing a plastic smock admits.

"The two houseplants and the tape deck, of course. And let me tell you something—I had one hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of change in a jar on the kitchen table and that wasn’t stolen. Now, you tell me who did the thieving."

The stylist pauses for a moment as if mentally revisiting the scene of the crime. "Of course, the landlord’s daughter," he whispers.

"Did you call the police?"

"No. No police. I went right over to the landlord’s house and accused her daughter of stealing—a truth that she vehemently denied. I moved shortly thereafter."

The stylist unfastens the smock from around the customer’s neck. Donatello’s relative notes the asymmetry of the job in the mirror yet does not complain. Instead, she remarks on the stylist’s story, "That’s too bad."

The stylist, still charged with the potency of the memory, draws in closer to the face of the woman such that she exhales his own sour breath and he tells her, "No. It’s not too bad. It’s not too bad at all, and I’ll tell you why. I would have been absolutely destroyed by that event if I did not believe this in my heart: What goes around, comes around."

Donatello’s relative takes a step back from the near-embrace with the stylist, considers his remark and nods. "Could be," she says. "It could be that what goes around comes around. . . . That is to say, some people might agree. . . . And yet, it isn’t mathematically precise. For example, consider the theory of independent events. This means that probabilities are all unrelated which would mean that ‘you did it to me’ has nothing whatever to do with ‘it happening to you.’ The probability of something occurring doesn’t change with independent events. Another example, suppose your chances are one in a thousand that you’re going to be the victim of a hit-and-run. Now, even if you cause a hit-and-run, your chances are still one in a thousand. It’s just as likely to happen to you as anybody else, but not more likely to happen to you. Another example, independent events means, when I flip a coin, what happens does not in any way affect what happens the next time I flip a coin. So, if I get a head and then another head and then another head—if these were truly independent events—when I flip the next coin, the fact that I got three heads in a row previously doesn’t affect what’s going to happen next. Now, in the case of ‘what goes around comes around,’ you’re obviously recognizing something beyond pure mathematics. You’re talking about a spiritual influence, I’d say. Something along the lines of ‘If you do evil, evil will return to you,’ or vice versa; or, ‘If you assist someone then someone will assist you.’ The mathematician says that these events are unrelated, whereas the philosopher or theologian says they are not. And, though the philosopher’s and the theologian’s arguments may be compelling in terms of establishing a connection between events, the mathematician proves that there is no mathematical probability to that statement. It isn’t clean like, say, election theory, wherein the variables are all clearly defined. What exactly does go around and what exactly does come around? You see, it’s too ambiguous. Plus, if you have a one-percent chance of getting what goes around, do you necessarily have a one-percent chance of getting that something back? And this is to say nothing of the absurdity of the proposition in broad scope. Do you have any idea of the sheer volume of retribution that would have to be exacted in order to meet all the number of wrongs done to single individuals in their respective lifetimes?"

The stylist glares at Donatello’s relative, burning with the hatred of the deconstructed. He engages her no further in discourse. He storms to the register at the front of the salon and bangs the keys until the digital display reads $9.95, holds out his hand for the money, and says nothing.

Donatello’s relative takes a ten and two ones from her handbag, deposits them into the palm of the stylist, turns toward the door, and exits into the severe sunlight.

 

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