CURLS OF dog hair: black, silver, beige, cocoa, gray. An ocean of dog hair all over the worn linoleum floor.
Standing composedly on the table: a beige miniature poodle. Long-legged barber scissors snip swiftly at the sausage trim of her legs.
Whick-whick-whick. Twelve tiny hair-ends fall away.
Why, she likes it. She's smiling.
"That's everybody's favorite chair you're sitting in," muses Chichie (Lowaunze Koger to the phone company). "People sit there by the hour and talk. One lady, she came in every week and I told her the dog didn't need it but she kept coming in and I realized she was insecure and lonely and so we would talk.'Now, you pray,' I told her. I have so many dog friends, I understand dogs better than people, I must know 5,000 dogs in America. We have one man, he drives down from Canada -- it's true! -- every two months in the summer, Mr. and Mrs. Hart, they drive down with Valentine . . . I used to take everybody, but then I saw I shouldn't throw my pearls before swine, you know, swine, you know, people who come here just because this is the place to come, I don't like that. Roberta Flack, she's a dear friend, she had a totally deaf dog, Missy, and I thought it sign language. And Robert Vaughn, you know, the actor, when he was appearing at the Kennedy Center he'd come in a taxi with his two poodles."
Robert Vaughn, traveling around the country with two poodles . . .? All right, all right. Okay. Robert Vaughn.
". . . Oh, and Martha Mitchell, a real sweet lady, her dog was a terror, a white toy poodle, and Mrs. John Sherman Cooper and Mrs. Abe Fortas and Mrs. Harrison Williams and Mrs. Wayne Morse and Mrs. Robert Low Bacon, she died last summer, she was an old as America, a lovely person, she wouldn't leave her dog but stayed the whole time. Had to be helped up the stairs."
The reception room of Chichie's Canine Design in Georgetown is neat, bright and spare: a white picnic table with magazines on it, potted trees, dog portraits on the wall, a telephone looming huge on a vacant desk. But it is a room without soul. You climb the narrow stairs for the action.
There, in two small ex-bedrooms with butter-yellow walls, is where you find the hair, and the dogs, as many as 20 sometimes, stacked in the triple-layered cages, moored by the window or the big blow-dryer, being stoic in the large bathtub . . . and Chichie herself.
She started in '65, drifted into it because she loved dogs and would cut her own poodle's hair, then her friends' dogs, for nothing. Now she comes in late, has an assistant, her nephew, Michael Parker, 21, who concentrates on bathing, brushing and combing. She still works late. (Parker drifted in the same way she did, says it has changed his life, for he no longer hangs out on the streets, no longer has a chip on his shoulder.)
"I have my own tiny little world here with these dogs," Chichie says. "There's love in this shop. People feel it. In a lot of places, you know, they use tranquilizers, they hold the dog's head up in a noose. We never do that. I just speak to 'em. I'm not afraid of any animal. I'd be happy in the wilderness. I talk to them, I know everything about them, their scars, their teeth, when they cough. I tell the owner when they don't look right. This place is blessed, and the customers know it, the dogs all know it, it's a spiritual thing I have. . . ."
You sense it in the calm of the dogs waiting in their cages, in the trustful look of the beige poodle while her face hair is snipped. Maybe not spiritual. Something.
". . . I know how dogs feel. I led a sheltered life, I was married 25 years until my husband left, and now it's a whole new world. I feel vulnerable, I never had to deal with the material world. Someone gave me a poodle book with 180 different haircut styles, but I don't use it, I taught myself. I might spend 15 minutes, three hours or five hours with a dog. I like to take on problems, combing out knots, whatever."
Sign: "Bath and clip, toy poodle $12 and up, mini poodle $13 and up . . ."
The portable radio plays soft dinner music. Sneakers and jeans lie strewn about the floor. On a table are some baby powder cans, an ashtray, an apple core and a Coke bottle with iridescent blue feathers in it.
Chichie lights yet another Merit, picks up her scissors from a surgeon's array of shears, clippers and combs. She holds the beige poodle's front paw, delicately cutting around its bony little wrist, a few hairs at a time, whick . . . whick . . . while she rambles quietly on. The poodle's eyes never leave her face.