My beautician pounced on me as soon as I sat down in her chair.

"I see they got another one," she cried. She is a small woman with a voice that echoed around the little shop.

"What are you talking about now?" I asked with resignation.

"Congressman Stokes!

"The papers said he flunked those antidrunk tests they give you on the side of the road, and claimed diplomatic immunity."

"Constitutional immunity," I said correcting her. "But that was changed the next day when the police department said an officer had made a mistake at the scene, and the congressman said he did not claim immunity from arrest. But are you saying there's something fishy about the chairman of the ethics committee being stopped by police and failing three sobriety tests?"

"Whether he was drinking or not isn't the point. It's just that black politicians are getting a bad name. That's the fourth time in the last month that some black politician has been charged or arrested or accused publicly of something."

"Well, it is true that there've been a lot of charges and alleged indiscretions recently." I counted them off on my fingers as she furiously sudsed my hair. "Maryland State Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr. was arrested and charged with food stamp fraud. The House ethics committee voted to open a preliminary inquiry into allegations that Rep. Ronald Dellums bought and used drugs. Both have denied the charges."

"But Mayor Barry admitted going to This Is It, a nightclub in the red-light district in 1981, which Police Chief Maurice Turner said showed 'bad judgment.' "

"That's a crime?" she asked. "I think Mayor Barry was right when he said there was a national plot to 'character assassinate' black leaders."

"Listen," I said, "There were four different people . . . from four different parts of government, with four different kinds of alleged offenses or mistakes. Don't you think this is just an unfortunate series of coincidences that involved some people in high places? Isn't it unlikely that 'the powerful white folks' got together and decided that black politicians are getting too powerful?" She looked menacing. "Don't talk silly! Would those kinds of things have leaked to the papers if the men involved were white Republicans?"

"In the post-Watergate morality, it might have," I said. "Remember Abscam? What about Fred Richmond, Jim Hinson and Robert Bauman? Both Hinson and Bauman were white Republicans."

"You're not thinking," she retorted with exasperation, yanking a piece of my hair. "All this is because black clout is the new political force. Black mayors have become the fastest-growing power bloc in American politics--223 black mayors including several in major cities. Look at Chicago--all that dirty stuff when they usually give a Democrat 85 percent of the vote. You don't think those big national guys are running to Chicago for their health, do you? They're trying to keep their hold on black voters 'cause they need Illinois in l984."

"Well, you've become quite the political analyst," I said. "What do you think of the talk of launching a black presidential candidacy?"

"That, Miss Smarty, is part of the point! Neither party has delivered for black people. Black voters are getting smart and figuring that out. Black politicians are under fire. All this stuff doesn't happen by accident. I tell you it's just open season on us!"

But I sensed something more. My hairdresser was scared by all of this. I said as much.

"Of course I'm scared," she answered. "Has America ever lived up to its promise to us--from not getting 40 acres and a mule after slavery?

"All we've got is the vote, and if the strength of that is reduced just when we're getting some clout . . . . see why I'm afraid?"

"Don't be paranoid," I said.

"I'm supposed to be paranoid--the way people standin' on my neck," she said excitedly.

As I left, I told her stay calm.

"You stay calm," she said, putting her hand on her hip. "I'll stay tuned."