14 May In My ‘Hood: The Beauty Supply Store
I chopped all my hair off last week. Love the new cut. But it takes upkeep. I don’t have a perm. I get it blown out. Which means if someone spits in my direction, I have an Afro. And it also means that in between appointments, I can’t rock a ponytail. I’ll have to curl it. With a curling iron. Ugh.
So off I go to a place I haven’t been in many years: the beauty supply store.
Do these places actually have real names? Or are they just called beauty supply store.
No one ever refers to them by name. Perhaps because they’re so plentiful and they all carry the exact same stuff.
Here’s what I see…
I got a headache just looking at the overstuffed store. I’m feeling like I could dress myself for a week on just stuff in this store. It also brought back not-good memories. When I was much younger, going to the beauty supply store was drama. The shopkeepers sat high up, damn near the ceiling somehow. And they would shout down to you if you had a question.
There was this one joint, right behind East Orange High School, on the corner. The woman would use a stick of some sort and just point in the general direction of what you were asking about.
I wanted to climb up to her lofty perch and slap her silly.
I’m a customer. You should have your ass down here helping me.
It never happened. And I had similar experiences in other spots over the years.
When I stopped perming my hair and grew locks, I only stopped in occasionally for stuff to twist my locks.
Once I started getting my hair done professionally on a regular basis, I stopped going up in those spots.
But alas, it’s a recession. I’m gonna have to try to bump my ends in between visits to the lovely Lynn at Shades Hair Studio in Livingston, New Jersey. (not-so-shameless plug. She’s dope. Whether your hair is natural or straight, permed or weaved…)
About this curling iron…
I got totally distracted by these. God, I want a pair of these. I know, I know. The whole faux-retro thing is past corny at this point. But I still want a pair! Me and my girl Maya bought matching joints like this, (mine with an A in the middle, hers with an M), on Bloomfield Avenue in 1988. They were five dollars. And they turned our ears green within a week.
As would these joints above. Sigh.
I stared at this wall for a long minute. Wow.
Now, I ain’t no stranger to weave. (Right Lynn?!) But this is mesmerizing. I’m not one-on-one with weave like that. I don’t, you know, go buy it. That’s Lynn’s job. I don’t even look at it. It just miraculously appears on my head and I go out the door with my head swinging.
Except times like now, when I’m rocking my first short hairstyle in years.
Anyway. I used to hear the young girls come in to places like this and say things like, “gimme a number two Hawaiian Silky.” That was years ago. Is Hawaiian Silky still popular? Lynn gets her hair from a place called Lugo’s in Manhattan. (There’s a great story on Lugo’s from 199o in the New York Times. Check it out. You might need a free online subscription. If you don’t have one, get one. What’s wrong with you?)
Anyway. Is this quality hair up in the beauty supply store? Or just stuff you use to braid hair. I have no idea. I just know I often see people with weaves that look ultra-shiny and unrealistically jet-black. What kind of hair is that?
Here’s the woman who waited on me. She was Latina. And there was a Nigerian man stocking the shelves. (I know he was Nigerian because he was a dead ringer for my BFF Ukachi who moved to China and whom I miss very very much.)
I’m digressing like a mo’fo, huh?
Anyway. All the beauty supply owners I encountered were Korean Asian. (My first instinct was to say Korean. But how do I know that? Why is that drilled into my head? That shop owners in the ‘hood are Korean?)
It looked like the Nigerian dude was running things. But he was missing something:
A set of keys hanging off his belt loop.
My grandmother always told me that if I need to ask for management in the store, don’t stop til you’re talking to someone with a bunch of keys hanging from their belt loop.
One time, I went to Sizzlers with her and my family. There was a ceiling fan above our table and we were all freezing.
“Somebody get the manager,” my grandmother said.
The waiter brought back a middle-aged Black woman with a short natural.
“Can I help you ma’am,” the woman said.
“No you can’t help me,” my grandmother said. “I want to see a manager.”
The woman smiled. With her mouth closed. And her teeth clenched.
“I am the manager.”
My grandmother looked her up and down.
“Well let me see your manager…”
The woman shook her head and walked away.
My Aunt Janna tried to talk some sense into my grandmother while the rest of us squirmed in our seats, embarrassed.
“Couldn’t be no manager,” my grandmother sniffed. “She ain’t even have no keys.”
So, I bought my curling iron. (Um, Lynn? It heats up to 400 degrees. And it only has an on/off switch.)
And then I hung around for a while, looking to see if anyone else was working in the store.
Looked like Nigerian dude was really running the show. Times done changed in the beauty supply game.
And then, in comes an Asian man talking on his cell phone. He signs for a package. And then he distributes take-out orders to the Latina cashier and the Nigerian dude. The Latina woman make some kind of inside joke and they all laugh. Each of them have thick accents.
Wasn’t 100% sure the Asian guy was in charge, though. He seemed so convivial with the employees. Like they were all on the same level.
I started maneuvering Tog’s stroller out the door and turned back for one more look at the guy. Sure enough….
dear readers: does the beauty supply store ’round your way look just like this? Why do I equate the Korean ethnicity with shopkeepers in the ‘hood? Is this a stereotype or something based in fact? Do you know your Hawaiian Silky from your Lugo hair? Isn’t that picture of my BFF Ukachi a great photo?
I’d love to hear from you…
P.S. Wanna tell me about your ‘hood? Hit me up at [email protected] Shoot the flicks, throw some captions on ’em. And you’re done! I’d love to see your ‘hood!