Beach Hairdo Artists Claim It's a Bad 'Wrap' : * Law enforcement: Under pressure from merchants, police crack down on itinerant boardwalk hair-weavers.

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Twigger was arrested Tuesday, and the battle of the hair-wrappers has resumed with a vengeance.

For those who are not up-to-date with its snarled history, hair-wrapping is the weaving of string and beads around hair. Twigger is a barefoot hippie who claims to have borrowed the so-called art from the Egyptian pharaohs--and turned it into one of the hottest trends on Venice Beach.

The fad peaked last summer, when fascinated tourists from around the world flocked to Venice and as many as 100 young vagabonds and old hippies plied their trade on blankets along the west side of the boardwalk, generally requesting a "donation" of about $7.

Glaring at them from the other side of the boardwalk were residents and a few merchants who complained that the hair-wrappers stole their business, gave clients lice and contributed to a wackiness on the boardwalk that has simply gotten out of hand.

Police officers looked the other way until just recently, when critics dusted off a potent weapon: Section 7321 of the Business and Professions Code. The state law requires anybody who arranges hair to have a cosmetology license.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's office has arranged for a mediator to meet with both sides on Nov. 19, but already police are cracking down.

In the past two weeks, officers on foot, bike and even Jeep have tracked down hair-wrappers and issued warnings to about 50 of them that they are violating the law and will be arrested if they persist. Early this week, several wrappers, including Twigger, were actually arrested.

"It's ridiculous," Twigger said. "The police are looking for us in the sand, in the bushes and on the roads--and all we're doing is tying ribbons around hair."

"It's fascist. They just don't like our vibrations," said Larry Smith, a self-proclaimed gypsy who, when he isn't wrapping hair, follows the Grateful Dead band.

"Yuppies and developers are trying to make (the boardwalk) into the Third Street Promenade, but they are taking away the character that makes Venice Venice."

Smith has received five warnings so far, but said he plans to continue wrapping. Some wrappers smuggle clients into vans and nearby homes. Others sneak onto the sands, although they grumble that police in Jeeps have started to chase them down there, too.

Police admit that they have more important things to do, but say that public pressure has forced the crackdown.

"To be honest with you, I wish we didn't have to deal with it," said Sgt. Mike O'Donnell, head of the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific Division's beach patrol. Tina Hess, deputy city attorney, said her office has not even decided yet whether it has the resources to prosecute cases referred by police. Conviction on the misdemeanor charge could carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

O'Donnell said officers will go only so far. "We're not going to do a stakeout on hair-wrappers," he said. "We have much better things to do."

One of the critics applying the most pressure is Geno Vent, the owner of the Muscle Beach Hair Salon. As he was interviewed recently in his shop, two customers were receiving hair wraps.

"They got rid of the hair-wrappers, honey, because they don't have this to wash their hands," he said, walking to a sink and thumping it with his hand. He then showed a reporter a black chair with a magnifying glass attached to it and claimed that with the magnifying glass he found lice on the scalps of two hair-wrappers.

Hair-wrappers deny they spread disease. They say Vent's real motive is to run the competition out of town. "Geno wants to get rid of us so he can make megabucks on an idea he stole from me," Twigger said.

But Vent says he has been giving wraps in his salon for two years--and that he fathered the trend, not Twigger.

About all that is clear is that the trend has come a long way from the blankets of hippies on Venice Beach. Vent proudly showed a reporter a spread in December's Playboy magazine in which the model was wearing a hair wrap--a miniature bunny on its tip--and little else. The wrap, Vent said, was done by his salon.

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