For the original photos and stories on my ongoing hair saga, read my Black Hair Mommy blog posts.
So, I’ve lived here for two years now. Have had two years with my wonderful Black Hair Mommies, who go by Leona and Cynthia at Joseph Tyler Salon in Brooklyn. If you remember reading the blog posts I linked to above, you’ll know my efforts to grow out my hair have not been without humor or tribulation.
I was one of the salon’s first customers when they opened in 2007. I had just moved to the neighborhood and asked around to see where I could find people who would know how to cut my hair, and who could help me grow it out.
That was before I knew that Brooklyn is just chock full of places that love and nurture the African American community, and where salons of all types and stripes hide in just about every intersection.
It’s not like New Hampshire, where you have to go to the one hairdresser in the state who specialized in black hair (big ups, Cassie!), go to a family member, or go to Massachusetts.
I would have liked to have posted a hair update at the one-year mark, in March 2008. Joseph Tyler had a little one-year anniversary reception for friends and family. I received an invite in the mail and it was really so special not just to celebrate the success of a local business that I helped to support, but also to take some time again to thank my stylists for teaching me what none of my white relatives had been able to. Unfortunately, the digital files of the photos I took with Leona and Cynthia at the reception got corrupted, so I don’t have a way to visually mark the one-year mark with you.
That’s neither here nor there, though. When I first sat in Leona’s chair and told her what I wanted to do, she told me it would take a year and a half to two years to get my hair to approach the length I want.
Lo and behold, here we are, January 2009, and I feel like I actually kind of have long hair. For a black girl. In another two years, I’ll be able to say I have long hair, period.
Something funny has happened. I have gotten to know the rhythm of the city through my daily and weekly rituals. I do things and have experiences now as a city dweller that my friends and family don’t experience. I am a different person now for having lived here for two years.
At first, it was making the transition from being able to call a friend or listen to music in the privacy of my car. Now, if I want to tell a friend about my weekend, everyone on the street in the grocery store or in my apartment is going to hear the conversation because I am constantly surrounded by people. Hello, unlimited texting.
Also, now that I don’t have laundry on-site, you can find me lugging a 20 lb. bag of dirty clothes down the block to the laundromat. I don’t have four hours to sit and wait with my laundry every week. Hello, drop off laundry service. I’ve done all of my own laundry since the 4th grade. No one else has ever washed and folded my clothes for me during my adult life. Not gonna lie, I love it.
This brings me back to my hair, and to the ritual I most associate with my urban lifestyle. When I was visiting the Black Hair Mommies, I was trying to figure out how they got my hair so shiny and blew it out so straight. I even bought a professional blow dryer and all sorts of weird hairbrushes to try and do it myself.
The most self-indulgent, spoiled city girl ritual that I now engage in, one that I know I wouldn’t indulge in if I lived nearly anywhere else, is my weekly trip to the Dominicans.
When I asked Leona how I could manage to keep my hair healthy and gorgeous between bimonthly cuts, she said I should visit the Dominicans. The Dominicans have a hair salon on almost every other city block in most parts of Brooklyn and lower-to-mid Manhattan. Getting a blowout with Leona costs $40-$50 bucks. I might be crazy about my hair, but not crazy enough to drop $50 a week on it. But she said a wash and set from the Dominicans ranges from $15-$30.
At first, it was difficult to reconcile the idea of a $30 a week habit with my still-meager budget. I was scraping by, and rarely spent more than $30 on groceries every other week during my first months here.
But after my first few visits to Stephanie’s Salon, leaving with my hair soft and glossy, I realized that I always felt happier and more attractive after gettin’ my hair did. The wait was long every time. Even if you rolled up first thing at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, there are two or three women ahead of you. So, I learned to bring my blackberry along and respond to emails. It was my weekly time to write to Grandma and Grampa, catch up on my reading and chill out. The process of washing, sitting under the dryer and then getting my hair blown out took 2, maybe 3 hours.
[Edit, to clarify after a comment below - I get a wash and set, which is sometimes called a "roller set," - they wash my hair, put it on big rollers, then I sit under a dryer for about an hour. This low heat is much gentler on my hair than getting a blowout. After I'm done under the dryer, the stylist does finish it off by blowing out the roots and flipping the ends.]
Then I progressed from having a salon near home to visit on the weekends, to finding one near the office so I could pop in after work to take care of it during the week. When I moved to a new apartment, I was lucky enough to find yet another Dominican salon down the street.
So, why would I go through this hassle when I can’t even make time to wash my own clothes anymore?
It goes beyond the convenience of having healthy, pretty hair, but that is certainly the main perk of my weekly habit.
Here are some photos of my hair from today to mark the two-year anniversary of moving here:
The Black Hair Saga continues with a story on the Dominican Hair Mommies. I had a jarring experience today after visiting one of my favorite Dominican stylists at her new salon that illuminated what my weekly habit means to me.
To be continued…