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
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
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
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."
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
"What does that mean?"
"Wet we shampoo, dry we do
Donatello’s relative looks to
the row of washbowls on the other side of the room.
The stylist shampoos the woman
and leads her back to his station, begins cutting.
"So, do you have any plans
for the holiday?"
Donatello’s relative looks up at the stylist.
"Mother’s Day—do you
have any plans?"
"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
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
After several minutes the
stylist tries another line of conversation. "Have you lived
around here long?"
"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
His question elicits no
"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
"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 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
"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
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
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
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
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