Lou's House of Beauty is no ordinary hairdresser's. True, it blends right in at the corner of Imperial and Main in the Los Angeles ghetto of Watts. Its door is barred by an iron gate, as are many other doors in the neighborhood. The lettering on its sign looks homemade under the lemony California sky, and the walls inside are covered in ``jungle'' wallpaper -- zebra, leopard, tiger, yellow, black, and brown.
But for 18-month-old Crystal Thomas and three-year-old Craig Gray, Lou's House of Beauty is a sanctuary. Crystal's crib-cum-playpen sits on the floor next to a counter equipped with sink, hose, and hair dryer. Scattered around the floor are Craig's toy truck, some tiny cars, a ball, a worn-out teddy bear. This room is the first place in their short and bitter lives where Crystal and Craig have been hugged, rocked, played with -- tenderly talked to and cared for, and where they have had nothing to fear.
Louise Eubanks, hairdresser, licensed nurse, and foster mother, is sitting in one of the barber chairs, holding Crystal in her lap. Craig is playing on the floor at her feet, making truck noises.
``Crystal didn't weigh but 3 pounds 7 ounces at birth,'' says Louise in her quiet, gentle voice. ``They found cocaine in her bloodstream. She was born addicted. Her body was rigid -- stiff as a board. When I first got her she would shake all over and cry all night. She wore me out.''
Louise lays her cheek against the child's. The tiny face is smiling, and the large, dark eyes are bright. ``But now she's so fine!'' says Louise, more to the baby than to anyone else. Crystal looks up at her and giggles -- to all appearances a normal, healthy, happy child.
When Crystal was born, her mother gave a false name and address and disappeared from the hospital, leaving the baby behind. She was later located and is now in a drug rehabilitation program.
``Crystal's mother's never seen her and don't want to see her,'' says Louise. ``The grandparents don't want to see her. Her daddy denies her. But she's gonna to have a good life. She's not gonna suffer nothing. I plan to adopt Crystal myself.''
Page 1 of 6