It started late last month when Charles "Chuck" Dederich, the feisty head of Synanon, the drug rehabilitation organization, almost walked into a wooden beam. The beam was jutting out in a kitchen under construction at Synanon's Tomales Bay branch in California. "Whoever pulled that boner should shave his head," rasped Dederich.

That day all 10 men in the kitchen construction crew, bowing to the traditional method of discipline at Synanon, scraped themselves bald. "If I'm employing that many idiots," said the 62-year-old Dederich, looking around him, "then I must be an idiot myself." So saying, he shaved his own craggy dome. Getting into the spirit, all 200 men at Synanon followed suit. A few days later, the women at Tomales Bay met to discipline a female member who had broken the tough rules of the half-way house. "If she were a man," said Dederich, "she'd have to shave her head." So the guilty member did.

At this point a strange possession seemed to take hold: All the women, in what they called a gesture of solidarity, began clipping and shaving one another. At Synanons in Oakland, Santa Monica, San Francisco and in the Sierra Nevadas, the membership heard the news and joined in. Within three hours that day, 500 women became skinheads, including Dederich's own wife, Betty. "You gotta let the broads do what they want," grumped Dederich.

"Wonderful and sensual," explained one woman, her pate gleaming. "We have stopped kissing hello. Now we just pat heads."