Sunday, April 26th 2020 marked six weeks since I’ve seen my nail-tech, Nana. It’s been six freggin weeks, and I don’t want to be dramatic, but that’s a long freggin time, especially with no end in sight. Normally I’d have a standing three-week appointment with Nana and today is the second “cancelled” appointment due to the COVID-19 quarantine. While that may not seem like a big deal to most, it is a big freggin deal to me. To imply that I’ve never gone six weeks in my lifetime without getting my nails done would be ridiculous. But this forced separation feels different. It’s got me reminiscing about my nail ordeals of yore, and I am reminded that as with previous hardships, I will endure, and… this too shall pass.
You see, I am a part of the first surge of women to make getting their nails done an institution. Before us, women got basic manicures and pedicures, there were Lee Press-on nails, and Sally Hansen nail products were about the most advanced nail technology one could find before beauty supply stores were officially a thing. Beauty supply stores being a thing is another story. It was during this time, perhaps due to BAPS and Legally Blonde, that nail salons popped up around the country like wildfire, and women began taking care of their nails with the same care, commitment, and dedication devoted to their hair. Basically, nail care was given time in a woman’s weekend schedule and it became so popular that men even began to get in on the craze. A craze that has quickly become a way of life. Millions of women across the country, and maybe billions around the world, include nail care as a part of their basic grooming routines. Including me… I have been getting my nails done professionally, consistently since 1996.
As a child my mom would take me for a mani-pedi every once in a while, but it was during my sophomore year of college that I began getting my nails done with some degree of regularity and paying for it with my own money. Over the next three years I travelled back and forth between my school in Hoboken and Newark for nail appointments. I frequented the same nail shop and developed a relationship with Peter, my very first nail sensei, and more than 20 years ago using acrylic, basic polish, and a few fans we grew my nails into talons, about 2 – 3 inches long. If one broke Peter knew exactly how to repair it, no matter the severity or location of the break. To this day none of my nail techs since have repaired a nail with such skill and deft as Peter (no offense). During my five years with Peter we never soaked off or had an infection. And during my senior year, year three of our time together, Peter and I went through perhaps one of the most traumatic experiences of my life… we cut my nails.
Because in a college student’s life, senior year is job search time and there was no way I could go on job interviews in 1998 – 1999 with talons at the end of my fingers. Nobody cared if I grew them myself. And I especially couldn’t go on interviews with talons at the ends of my fingers as a black woman, it’s a double negative that certainly could have cost me a job, but that whole thing is again another story. As I sat in the chair and explained to Peter what was happening in my life and why I needed to do this, he listened intently yet expressed no concern. He simply pulled out the nail clippers, for the first time in three years, and proceeded to cut my nails off! I am still horrified and traumatized by the experience right now as I write this in 2020. I was with Peter for another 2 years when I connected with another college hire at my job, so I guess cutting the nails worked, who told me that her nail place takes appointments. At this point in my life the nail business was booming and even though I had a relationship with my nail tech, the wait for service was ridiculous. So, way back in 2001, at only two years out of college, I realized how valuable my time was and I jumped ship. I left my nail salon on Halsey Street in Newark, a comfy 5-minute ride from home, to make the 20-minute trek to Evey’s Nails in Cranford for the no wait experience. At Evey’s not only did they take appointments, but the nail techs spoke English, which in itself sold me right away. At first my appointments were sporadic based on when I called until I was convinced to upgrade my nail care to a bi-weekly experience. Once that decision was made, I spent the next 15 years with Tammy who did my nails every two weeks on Saturday mornings at 7:45am, and somewhere around year 8 we switched to every three-weeks with the introduction of gel polish. At this point, getting my nails done had become a majorly important part of my life. There was nothing that would make me miss a nail appointment, and I mean nothing, except… home ownership.
Up to this point I was busy enjoying life as the first in my family to graduate college, no kids, working, driving, travelling, and chilling. No doubt life was good, but living with my mother while trying to find my own way in the world was getting to be too much. I had always known that I needed to own a home because there was no way I was paying rent. I even knew the exact type of house I wanted and where I wanted to live. So around years 3 – 4 out of college I started getting serious about the home ownership process. I started paying my student loans, but only after the federal government garnished my pay checks for their money. No worries, Sallie Mae and AES have made sure I still have, to this day, student loan payments. I paid off all of those credit cards they threw at college students back then, which I sincerely hope it’s now illegal to lure college students into such debt. I took home ownership classes, eventually got prequalified, and surprisingly, I stopped getting my nails done. The story is a little blurry here since this period of my life was possibly more traumatic than cutting my nails. I’m not quite sure how long this life trauma lasted, and I honestly don’t remember if I stopped as I was looking for a home or after closing, it seems the trauma was so severe that I have blocked it out. What I do recall is that my mind couldn’t reconcile paying for nails and a mortgage simultaneously. It was an awkward time that I am grateful is over. For however long my nail hiatus lasted, I know that I was with Tammy for at least another solid 5 years successfully paying a mortgage and getting my nails done every three weeks. Successfully that is… until she quit me.
And my world was rocked to the core. This by far had to be my most devastating blow to date. My nail girl of 15 years just stopped calling me one day. I’m sure she had her reasons, as a matter of fact I know she had her reasons. Again another story. What is relevant to this story is that she left me out in the cold to walk the streets with the mere nail commoners in search of a new place. I gave her 6-weeks to call me before I actually ventured out in search of someplace new. They felt like the longest 6-weeks ever and I dreaded getting back out there. Starting with that first Saturday on my own, every three weeks I tried a new place. I started with places close to home, because even though I had been schlepping to Cranford, I wanted to give my immediate area a chance. When the local establishments didn’t work out, I ventured to NYC in search of my new nail home. I tried downtown Manhattan where I used to work, midtown because several places looked clean enough, uptown because I know my sistas were up there getting their nails done, and even the village, because since high school the village has never let me down. Unfortunately, each place was more disappointing than the previous one. If I found a place that was pretty good on some front and I thought I could go back, that second visit would only prove the first was a fluke. Either the wait was too long, they didn’t speak English, they didn’t use electric files, the other patrons were just too much, there were ridiculous added fees, they hadn’t mastered basic techniques, they were rude, or what bothered me the most, I often felt like they were just trying to rush me out of there. There was no way I could establish a long-term relationship with these places because these experiences were horrible. I googled ‘best Nail Salons in Newark’ and wrote off the results without a try because I was thinking long term and there was no way I was dealing with downtown Newark parking on an ongoing basis. But every time I searched, one nail place always appeared in the results… Vivi Nails.
After seeing their name in the search results a few times and trying at least 10 other places, all ending in disappointment, I finally decided to try Vivi. I simply had nothing to lose at this point. I went on a Sunday morning because parking is free and I figured an early Sunday would be less crowded. After having been without consistency for over a year, I had no idea what was on my nails, what I needed the nail tech to do, how much it should cost, or even what I wanted. All I knew is that my nails were growing and I needed someone to do something about that empty space on my nails in dire need of polish. I remember walking in to Vivi’s as green as a Plebe on their first day when the woman up front, who I now know as Kathy, asked me how she could help. To be honest, I have no idea what I told her, but I believe the words fill, gel, and manicure were included, to which she walked me to a nail tech who was free in the back and asked that I have a seat while conveying to the tech what I wanted. In my mind I’m thinking so far so good, I didn’t pay for parking, I didn’t have to wait long, and that lady was pretty nice… this is great.
I sat down, the tech got started and yes, everything was great. Until she burned my skin off with that wretched electric nail file. Now any woman who has ever had her nails done knows that things can go awry quickly with that nail file. Typically, it’s no big deal and I can assure you in this case, it really was NOT a big deal. Unfortunately, my lack of consistency only gave me the perspective of: mountain or molehill. And, for as much as I tried to sit there and let it go, my state of mind from wandering from salon to salon would only let me choose mountain. All I could think was, oh no she didn’t burn my skin off. So I stand, quietly, and slowly but deliberately walk to the front, excuse me miss nice lady, I can’t do this, that lady just burned my skin off, no seriously, look right here, my skin is off, I don’t want any trouble and I really just want to get my nails done. (I think a tear came out here.) But I went to a place for 15 years and I’m just really trying to find a new place, but burning my skin off is not gonna work, so is there anybody else who can do my nails… please?
And that miss nice lady, Kathy, stood up and walked me over to another nail station. With the patience of Job she informed me, that this girl is busy right now and it is going to be a while before she gets to you, but I can assure you that she is patient, she takes her time, and she knows what she is doing, just sit right here and wait for her, and she will take care of you. So, I sat there patiently and waited until a young woman sat before me. She assessed the situation on my hands and feet, asked me a few questions to which I replied, I dunno, and had a few words with miss nice lady. They decided on something called SNS and that young nail tech proceeded to spend the next three hours making my hands and feet look and feel amazing. And when she was done, I felt it deep in my soul, this is the experience I have been seeking and I’ll be back. And since that Sunday, June 26, 2016, that young woman has been an every three-week constant in my life. Since that day, this is the longest I have gone without seeing Nana. But yet again… that is another story.
Fortunately that story has already been told… http://rashiamason.com/my-sunday-at-the-nail-salon-62616/