Maurice Cohen Puts Hair in the Air

updated 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

San Francisco hairdresser Maurice Cohen knows how to get a rise out of his customers. Always on top of things, Cohen, 40, has been zapping up to 50 people a week this summer with enough static electricity to make their hair stand on end. Talk about rising to the occasion.

After an old-fashioned wash and 10 minutes or so under the dryer, the customer (the charge for the charge is $15, excluding cut) stands on a rubber stool, placing both hands on a steel globe that is actually a Van de Graaff generator. Then Cohen throws a switch and the sphere begins to hum, sending a harmless surge of static electricity through the customer's tingling arms and chest, into her scalp. Within a minute her hair—75 percent of Cohen's customers are women—is dutifully standing up and saluting. To keep everything on the up-and-up, Cohen adds a heavy dose of hair spray.

You may think those crazy Californians are at it again. You may be right. "I don't think this idea would have made it in Washington, D.C.," concedes Cohen. "San Franciscans are mostly bons vivants. The more wild and daring you are, the better."

The charge lasts only until the next shampoo, which is just fine for clients who are looking for a one-night stand. "You can be a punk for a night without having to stay that way," raves Jan Zemanek, 26, a women's tennis promoter. "Believe me, I get a lot of reaction," says Victoria Mayer, 23, a Sausalito bartender. "Every time I go into the bar with my hair up, my tips get better." Middle-aged women also get a charge out of Cohen. "It made me feel more glamorous and sophisticated," says Carole Breen, 48. Much to her surprise, her stockbroker husband unabashedly approved. "He doesn't even like to see me in a jumpsuit, but he liked this," she says.

It was Cohen's children, Danielle, 10, and David, 9, who gave their father the idea when they told him of a machine at school that made their hair stand on end. After assurances from scientists at the University of California at Berkeley that the generator was safe, Cohen moved the $275 machine into his salon, St. Tropez. (The electrical charge is about equal to that of static cling. However, experts advise people with heart conditions to stay away because of the fluke chance that a small shock could upset the heart rhythm. Cohen makes himself shockproof by connecting a steel chain wrist-to-wrist with his customer.)

He bristles at suggestions that his technique is merely a gimmick. "When Eiffel wanted to build the tower, everyone thought he was crazy too," muses Cohen, who was born in Casablanca and lived in Paris for eight years before moving to the U.S. in 1968. At least his clients aren't handing him any static, and that's fine with him. He believes it is better to give than receive.

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