Most people are surprised by the smell of a beauty shop. The hair products, the nail polish, it all joins together to form a noxious fog. I don’t mind it anymore of course, and maybe I never did. To me it is a comfortable smell. It is familiar. It is where I work.
I have been painting nails for nearly twenty years now. A lot of people make fun of it as though the only women who paint nails dropped out of school or something. While that is often true, I myself finished high school but just barely, it isn’t fair to all of us. We really are artists. I don’t say that to mean that we are all Picassos or something, but we do paint in creative and beautiful ways. Our canvas is much smaller, but that might make it more challenging. No matter what people think, I take pride in what I do.
There are things I don’t like about painting nails for sure. I don’t like hunching over my table while I work. I don’t like the way my hands hurt after working all day. And sometimes I don’t like the other women I work with, but there are a lot of good things too.
I can make my own hours mostly because I schedule my own clients. I set my own prices based on what I think my clients will pay. I have a loyal group of clients that I have built up over the years, so that I don’t worry much any more whether I am going to have work.
The thing I like the best though is talking to clients while I work. They have no where to go while I paint their nails so most of the time they talk to me. Of course I would rather some of them never open their mouths, but there is nothing I can do about that other than work faster.
You see I am much more than a nail artist. I don’t just mechanically paint flowers or happy faces on women’s nails. I talk to them. I am like a counselor, priest, sister, mother, and daughter. I have to be very skilled at relating to people because this job is all about people.
You would be amazed at what people will tell me. I have clients from all walks of life; Nurses, teachers, students, secretaries, housewives, dancers, and even a politician. They all have very different lives and for many the only thing they have in common is me. I am a stitch that hold all of these different threads together, and it is a very interesting tapestry.
One client of mine, “Deja,” had been dancing (stripping) for three years. When I first started painting her nails it sounded a bit glamorous. I used to ask her about it every time she came in; which was frequently. She was beautiful of course, and I thought that it must be fun to dance and have the attention of everyone in the club. “I could never do that in front of everyone,” I confessed. At that she just laughed and puffed up a bit as though she possessed a courage not found in most women.
For the longest time I thought she was really brave and confident until one day she admitted that she always got high before she danced. I was shocked and asked why. She fought off tears as she explained that she doesn’t want to dance, but only does it because the money is so good. “I feel ashamed that I am a dancer and I wouldn’t normally do the things I do on stage, so I have to get high first or I can’t perform,” she explained. Of course her confession changed our relationship. I never again asked her about work, and instead we pretended that she wasn’t a dancer at all.
Finally one day she missed an appointment. I called her to see if she wanted to reschedule but her phone was disconnected. I never saw her again. I often wonder what happened to her. When I want to believe it was something good I imagine that she found a man who really cared about her and she ran away with him leaving the club and the pole behind. What I worry about though is the possibility that she was arrested for hooking or drug possession or worse was murdered by some crazy guy. Since I don’t know the real answer I choose to believe the fairytale ending.
Another client of mine was having an affair and told me all about it every time I did her nails. It started off with her complaining about her husband. For a year or so she complained that he didn’t please her and he would rather golf than make love with her. She suspected that he was sleeping with a woman he worked with but never had any proof. Her complaints were minor really: he snores, he is getting fat, he watches too much football, he doesn’t understand her, he isn’t romantic. Those are the usual suspects and I hear them all the time. Still he made good money and she was a bit spoiled by him, but managed to complain anyways. In a lot of ways I thought she was being needy and did not appreciate what her husband provided for her, but I did not want to offend her so I kept my mouth shut.
Then one day she came in grinning from ear to ear like a kid in a candy store. She couldn’t wait to tell me that she met someone. When I asked who it was she explained that there was a guy at the gym she had been flirting with over a couple of weeks. She was giddy over it because he was in his late twenties—she is in her thirties—and was in great shape. “He makes me feel like a woman,” she explained. I told her to be careful, but she dismissed my advice by saying, “right now I don’t care what happens, I just need some excitement.”
The next time I saw her she was overflowing with excitement. Without me asking she sat down and blurted, “I’ve done it. I slept with him.” She told me that they continued flirting at the gym until she couldn’t bare it any longer and told him that she wanted to meet him for a little, “extra work out” as she put it. He met her and they met three more times after that. She was on cloud nine as she spilled the details of their encounter all while I painted her nails. I warned her again that she was risking a lot, but she responded by saying, “I have never felt like this about my husband. I didn’t know I could feel like this.”
Finally she came in over a month later. She looked awful. Her roots were long, she had on no make-up, and she was wearing sweat pants. She had apparently broken a nail or two and then had torn the rest of her acrylics off. He nails needed a lot of work so I got started. I didn’t even want to ask her what was wrong, but I figured I couldn’t sit there for thirty to forty minutes without talking so I asked. She broke down.
“I screwed up,” she sobbed burying her face in the crook of one arm while holding her other hand out so that I could continue working. “Mark was married.” Mark was the name of her boyfriend I guessed though she had not told me. I didn’t understand what the issue was exactly because she was married also but I didn’t want to seem insensitive so I waited for her to continue. “His wife found out about us. She followed him one day and then showed up at my house and confronted me in front of my family. I felt like such a whore.” I wanted to confirm that she was a whore, but again kept quiet.
“Now everything is ruined. My husband is divorcing me. My kids don’t understand. They think I am a bad person. I moved out and I don’t know what I am going to do. I haven’t seen or heard from Mark in two weeks. I left him messages and texts but he won’t talk to me. I lost everything.”
She continued sobbing and telling me all of the things that changed since she was caught cheating. I felt sorry for her because she lost so much, but deep inside I felt like she had made her bed and now had to sleep in it—excuse the pun. But I know better than to tell my clients what I really think. I listen and comfort them. Rarely do I give advice. Mostly they don’t want any. Most of the time they just want someone they can talk to. I am that person.
Such is the human drama that takes place at my work station in the fog of nail polish, surrounded by the hum of hair dryers. You see I am so much more than a nail artists. I am a friend, a counselor, and a confidant. Women need me more for the companionship and consolation than for the fills or designs I paint on their nails. Sure I don’t have a degree on the wall from a university, and I don’t get to add letters in front or behind my name because of some education, but I have women who depend on me to be there for them. It is just part of my job.