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Going for the look of the head of state

November 05, 2006|Steve Lopez

I called Arnold Schwarzenegger's Beverly Hills hairdresser the other day to book an appointment for a make-over.

"When can you come in?" asked the receptionist.

I was a little surprised the maestro was so available, but two hours later I parked on Canon Drive and walked to the Giuseppe Franco Salon. Schwarzenegger and I have had our differences, but there's one thing I can't deny as we close in on Tuesday's election:

He's got the look of a winner.

The man has survived monumental flip-flops, blatant contradictions and scandalous accusations. Every time you think he's finally been knocked off the horse, he flashes that golden smile and comes back more invincible, high in the saddle and looking good.

I wanted some of that magic that comes with knowing you look your best, and I had reason to believe Mr. Franco could handle the job.

"For more than two decades," says the salon's website, "only one man's scissors have touched the hair of the most powerful man in the state of California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and those scissors belong to Giuseppe Franco."

Franco's shop has a big Schwarzenegger poster in the window -- Arnold on the cover of Vanity Fair. There's another Vanity Fair cover of him inside, larger than life. Right off the bat, I began to suspect that a salon is very different from a barbershop. A receptionist named Anita, a blond Hungarian in a leopard-pattern cowboy hat, told me Mr. Franco was in a meeting and would be with me shortly. A meeting?

While waiting, I wondered if I really wanted to go through with this. Glancing in the mirror, though, I had to admit the S. Lo look was in need of some attention. The hair on top was going Joe Biden and the rest was way down the road from gray to white. Before I could decide, I heard someone calling my name.

"Steve Lopez," said the skinny, rock star-looking guy who came my way with his jet black hair sticking straight up. "Stevie!"

That's Giuseppe Franco?

I was expecting someone from Italy. Franco is from Hoboken.

He's got the accent and attitude to prove it too. Al Pacino is a mummy compared to this guy.

I told Franco I wanted to leave the shop looking as good as the governor, to the extent possible, even if it meant Arnold-style red highlights.

"I'm gonna make you look BETTER than the governor!" he guaranteed.

Franco recommended that we start with a major trim job on my goatee.

"You never, EVER, let your beard go ZZ Top on you," he said, referring to the blues-rock band whose members look like they've got beehives hanging off their chins.

He also recommended some color. I've always prided myself on going natural, but hey, it wasn't subtlety that made Arnold a winner.

Red wouldn't work on me, said Franco. I'd look like a redhead in a black and white film. But he doesn't do the color himself. He called out to Bryan Howe, one of his color guys, and Howe, with a tie he borrowed from Yogi Bear and tattoos quilted over his arms, looked me over, along with his boss.

"You walked in here salt and pepper, and you're going to walk out with a little more pepper," Franco said after their confab. "You're gonna look like a sex pistol when I'm done with you, Steve-O."

I was beginning to see why the governor likes Franco, who stepped outside into a breezeway and pried the hard-pack of Marlboro Lights out of his front pocket and lighted up while contemplating the project ahead. Inside, a stunning young blond was having her hair done and the place was a parade of eye candy and young guys in torn jeans, T-shirts and tattoos, who turned out to be hairdressers on break. Actor Gary Busey lolled about smoking a big cigar. "La Bamba" played on the sound system.

This was Arnold's World, with Caffe Roma in the same cluster of breezeway shops, along with Nazareth's Fine Cigars, where the governor has his nameplate on a humidor in the smoking lounge. I'd already been transformed from S. Lo to Steve-O, man about Beverly Hills, and Franco hadn't even reached for his scissors yet.

When he returned, though, he'd had some second thoughts. If my intention was to make him or the governor look bad, he said, the deal was off. He and the governor are such pals, Franco is planning to spend election day with Schwarzenegger, knocking on doors, touching him up, whatever the governor needs.

Nothing to worry about, I told him. I was there because I wanted be more like Arnold. I wanted to be able to have a bad day now and then, but still keep up appearances.

His wife called and I could hear Franco's conversation with her.

"He's the one that called Arnold Woody Woodpecker," he said to her. That's the trouble with writing a column: People have long memories. "OK, I love you, pumpkin."

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