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By Robert Rave
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Robert Rave
All rights reserved.
bikini boot camp
The Tuesday before Memorial Day at Impresarios Salon is the beauty equivalent of going to the mall the day after Thanksgiving — sheer insanity. This particular hysteria is thanks in part to the coming Great Exodus of Manhattanites to Suffolk County, New York, or, as it's more commonly known: the Hamptons. Before packing their Mercedes or Range Rovers with weekend bags and sandwiches from Dean & Deluca, New York's elite clamor for a place in the schedule at the city's hottest salon — of a different sort — before the official kickoff of the summer social season. Impresarios' estheticians tend to the unwanted hair of everyone: society women who prefer full bikini waxes; young heiresses and future socialites who like to leave the initials of boyfriends (and sometimes girlfriends) in the most intimate of areas; and celebrities who are scheduled to shoot the cover of Maxim magazine in three days. The steady stream of black town cars on the brick-lined street evokes the feverishness of a movie premiere rather than the lackadaisical vibe of a salon. Tourists staying at the nearby Gansevoort Hotel and a few stray paparazzi circle the block on foot in hopes of spotting one of their favorite stars in front of the meatpacking district's beauty mainstay. It is a cyclone of frantic energy. And unfortunately for Anna Ligano, it's also her first day of work.
"Hello, Ms. Thang? Anna! Pay attention! Hello?" The girl curls her lip, showing off her ultrabright white teeth. She reminds Anna of a young Rosie Perez, about twenty-one, she guesses, with her curly brown hair highlighted blond, and green eyes. She is a loud and proud Puerto Rican, and she would tell anyone who asked. And many who don't.
Anna is visibly overwhelmed. Her inner mind is a reflection of the salon's frenetic pace. She searches her brain for the attractive Latina's name. Though she's spent the last two hours shadowing her, she still keeps forgetting.
"Sorry." Anna winces, and then exclaims, "Kiki!" as she suddenly remembers the fiery Boricua's name. "Sorry, Kiki!" she repeats. Judging by the dark circles under Kiki's eyes, she was out last night and is in no mood to train someone new. If there were a minute to spare, Kiki would have scowled at Anna's paralyzed stupor, but — fortunately for Anna — there are no spare minutes.
Kiki has worked at the salon for only a year, but her arrogance makes it seem like she's been working here since the salon opened its industrial-design doors. For the previous three months Anna's been taking classes part-time and studying for multiple exams to prepare for this day. That she had prior experience and already held her cosmetology license wasn't good enough; she was still required to spend a certain amount of time shadowing another Impresarios employee, per Carolina's strict instructions. Anna had worked hard, and she felt prepared until the cocky twenty-one-year-old standing in front of her made her feel every last minute of her thirty-five years.
"I need you to run to the supply closet and grab more strips, sticks, and toners and meet me back in my room in exactly four minutes."
Anna hears, but she is frozen. The constant ringing of BlackBerries and iPhones, the continuous flow of hip, soothing spa background music — was that Enya or Dido? — drowned out by the sounds of miniature Yorkshire terriers yapping as their owners went to and from the reception area, constitutes a sensory overload. Especially for a woman whose daily stimulation up until now had consisted of watching Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends with her six-year-old. "Oiteh?" the girl asks.
"Oh, yes, I heard you," Anna answers politely. Anna's Queens upbringing made her fairly fluent in Spanish, and that nearly always caught people off guard. Anna wishes she could pull the family card so she wouldn't have to go through this training, but the reality was that Sofia had to practically beg Carolina to hire their middle sister.
Carolina and Anna's relationship had soured when Anna chose the domestic life over launching their childhood dream of owning their own business. Anna had always been known as the creative one, Carolina the entrepreneur. Anna had dreamed big, too — of working at the salons on Madison Avenue, of everyone wanting an "Anna do." While the pair attended beauty school, Anna got a really sweet college-student model who wanted highlights. Carolina got a really awful middle-aged wannabe society woman who took herself way too seriously, despite going to the beauty school for a freebie cut. Anna's client left the salon with burns on her scalp. Carolina's client, on the other hand, got a gorgeous cut. But she was painfully unhappy with it. When Carolina's client complained to the teacher — "I came in wanting to look like the model in the picture! "— Carolina shot back, "It's a comb, lady, not a magic wand."
Needless to say, their dreams of doing hair were quashed with their grades.
So Anna set her sights a little lower: mani/pedis, and facials sometimes. These she did until she got married. Now her sights were set even lower: she was going to be doing "bikini-cials," as her fifteen-year-old daughter Fabiana called them. Anna looked confused, until Fabiana explained: "Mom, it's a facial for the whoha."
Back at the salon, Anna was getting a makeover of her own — a "make-under" to be precise.
"Oh, and fix your smock," Kiki says in a condescending tone. Anna looks down at her bland robe and tugs at the sides in an attempt to make it lie flat against her body. Unfortunately, medium was the only size left in the stockroom and Anna teetered on the line between large and extra large. In her beige robe, Anna looked like a giant hamburger stuffed between two miniature buns. And she felt like one, too. The clientele at Impresarios are fast, fashionable, and fierce. Anna had not had these adjectives attached to her — ever.
Kiki quickly disappears into one of the salon's many cavernous hallways while Anna stands in the center of reception, her head spinning.
Anna takes a deep breath, and speaks her new mantra, "Each breath I inhale fills my body with strength and power." She learned it in therapy and was trying it on for size. She pokes a passing Impresarios employee and asks where the supply room is located.
"Down the hall, first door on the left," Renata, a fiftyish Hungarian woman responds in a loud, curt voice before disappearing into a treatment room. Anna quickly moves to the cramped supply room and swings open the door. She grabs a few toners, a couple of cans of wax, waxing strips, and a bundle of stirrers off the methodically organized shelf and throws them in a small pushcart, a jolly trolley, as the staff calls it. In this makeshift trolley rest the essential ingredients for providing the best bikini wax humanly possible, which results in merriment for all: the client, the esthetician, and the client's potential sexual partner. Anna's got just enough time to make it to Kiki's room before the client arrives. She begins to push the trolley out as Tiffany, a blond-haired, green-eyed Midwestern transplant sporting bright MAC Twink Pink nail polish, enters the tiny room. Anna vaguely remembers meeting her earlier that morning, and knows she's some sort of assistant manager. Something with a title. She doesn't have the time now to figure it out, so she smiles politely and attempts to squeeze by.
"Where are you going?" Tiffany asks, her tone terse.
"Hi. I'm running these to Kiki before her next appointment arrives."
"No. You're picking up this mess you made. Carolina values order and uniformity in every area of the salon, including the closet. I'm sure you wouldn't want to give off the impression that you're above the rules, you know, since you're family," Tiffany says with a patronizing smile.
Anna, rarely violent, suddenly feels like smacking the smile right off Tiffany's face. "Of course not." She rushes to the shelf and straightens the boxes of eliminating peel pads so that they are perfectly centered. Then she picks up three boxes of toners and places them on the shelf.
"That's not how you do it," Tiffany chirps from behind Anna.
"I'm sorry, what?" Anna says, nearly in a panic because she's going to be late to Kiki's appointment. Tiffany reaches for the four containers of ingrown-hair-eliminating gel from a larger box that rests on the floor and stacks them neatly on the shelf. She makes certain that the packages are aligned just right; labels facing out and no more than four boxes in a single row.
"That is how you do it," Tiffany says. "Carolina hates odd numbers!" she continues in a Joan Crawford, no-more-wire-hangers kind of way.
"I really have to go, but I sincerely appreciate all of your help," Anna says, returning the condescension.
Wheeling the jolly trolley like Speed Racer back into the crowded reception area, she's met with several stares. The eyes are staring just above her forehead.
Damn! The hair!
The humidity from being trapped in the hot supply closet has caused Anna's hair to frizz immensely. She looks like a contestant on Rock of Love or Joan Cusack's double in Working Girl. She places one hand up to feel how far she's expanded, and her fingertips touch frizz a good ten inches from her head. She doesn't have the time to care, and moreover, there is something subversive about it: Her bridge-and-tunnel appearance could be her way of protesting the fact that at thirty-five she's a newbie again. Why did her sister have to be the type that was above nepotism? she thought. Before being stoned to death for the ultimate salon faux pas, Anna wheels the trolley down a hallway, and opens a frosted-glass door, revealing a whole new dilemma: a row of twelve nondescript, identical doors.
"Oh, Jesus!" In her frenzied morning, Anna has forgotten which door leads to Kiki's treatment room. She can't go back to the receptionist — it will be too embarrassing, and she feels stupid enough as it is. She stares long and hard at each of the doors, hoping something will jog her memory. Nothing. Blankness. Each door looks exactly like the one beside it and the one beside that. A thing of absurd beauty, actually, but there's no time to appreciate the kind of obsession that would make for such uniformity.
Suddenly she thinks of the number three. She doesn't know why, but she can't ask questions. Follow your gut.
Anna pushes the cart down the long, low-lit hallway. She takes several deep breaths, soaking in various smells: rubbing alcohol, Cedarwood Candles, hot wax. She stops and says a little prayer to herself, begging the fates of follicles that she has picked the right room. As she quickly opens the bleached wooden door to room three, she offers a polite "Sorry, I'm late."
The jolly trolley barely makes it inside before she spots a man in his early fifties applying wax to a woman's extremely pale, borderline-translucent, rotund body. Anna's eyes widen as she notices the woman writhing in what could only be a mixture of pleasure and pain. Her stomach begins to churn. Oh my fucking God! Holy Shit! What is going on in here?
"I see some stray hairs, would you like the tweezers, Gary?" Anna suddenly hears Cynthia, the esthetician. She must have been standing behind the man with middle-aged hands. Cynthia immediately spots Anna, frozen, mouth open, cart wobbling.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" Cynthia asks. Surprisingly, neither the ghostlike woman nor the older man bats an eye.
"I'm so sorry! I'm looking for Kiki!"
"Well, she's not here!" Cynthia screams. Anna quickly gets behind the cart and starts to shove it through the door, but the quick rattle of the cart bumps loose a bottle of toner that tumbles to the treatment-room floor. "Get out!" Cynthia says in a Russian accent.
"Sorry!" Anna hurriedly picks up the bottle of toner, her eyes not leaving the ground, and quickly backs out of the treatment room. She shuts the door, utterly shell-shocked. She leans against the wall and breathes heavily, contemplating calling it a day and stopping by Starbucks for a job application. It may have only been a husband waxing his wife in that room, but it just felt ... dirty. Her thoughts quickly shift to her three kids, to the intermittent, unhelpful check from their father, to the bit of sick on her lapel.
"I accept abundance and prosperity into my life," she says aloud, breathing deeply and moving the jolly trolley to the next room. She knocks softly on the door.
"Kiki?" she whispers loudly.
The door opens a fraction and Michelle's face appears in the crack. Michelle is tall and Brazilian — a lethal combination in Manhattan. Her hair is slicked back into a ponytail and despite her understated appearance, her natural beauty beams. Clients book eight months in advance to spend a mere eleven minutes with her — especially after Allure named her the waxing wunderkind of New York.
"She's in the room across from me," Michelle says with a smile. Finally, a friendly face.
"Thank you so much. I'm so sorry to disturb you."
"No problem, honey!" Michelle looks down at Anna's cart. "Do you mind if I nab one of those Tend Skins, a lemon verbena toner, and a baby powder," she says in a hushed Carioca accent.
"Everything okay?" a very recognizable voice from behind the door calls out.
Anna catches a glimpse of a quarter of a woman's thigh through the doorway as Michelle takes the supplies. She wonders which celebrity could possibly be draped across Michelle's table. Scarlett? Jennifer? Kate? Anna momentarily gets lost in the excitement.
"Thanks!" Michelle smiles at Anna.
"Sure. Have a good day," Anna says, snapping out of her momentary excitement. Michelle closes the door, and Anna crosses the hallway, finally reaching Kiki's room.
Anna quietly lets herself into Kiki's station, and sees Kiki extremely focused. Jemma Young, the granddaughter of the CEO of one of the biggest cable channels, relaxes on the cushioned table. And though the summer season hasn't officially started, her toned body is already a golden brown, courtesy of Portofino tanning salon at East Seventy-fifth and Third Avenue. She was, as they said at Impresarios, on the circuit.
For many of the Impresarios clientele there exists a kind of beauty glamour tour: Portofino for tanning, Jean at Frédéric Fekkai for a haircut, Tomas at Oscar Blandi for color, Artisan Spa for manicure and pedicures, Eliza's Eyes for the perfect eyebrow shaping, and, finally, Impresarios for the final magic.
Anna whispers, "Sorry."
"Anna, if you're going to be helping me, it means you actually have to help," Kiki snaps. Anna doesn't respond. Perhaps because she doesn't feel like sharing her sad adventure with some kid who would dish out the details of her ineptitude to the staff in the break room. Or maybe because she wants to save her energy to scream at Carolina for putting her through hell day. Or maybe because, in this moment, Anna's simply too emotionally spent to talk. She merely nods.
Anna hears muffled music and looks at Kiki curiously. Kiki nods at the iPod lying next to Jemma's naked body. "She didn't want to hear anything. The anticipation and the ripping sound freaks her out." Kiki continues, "I'm not sure why. The girl is hopped up on Vicodin, so it's not like she's feeling anything."
"What in God's name? Lemon juice?" Anna gasps seeing the bottle on the table.
Kiki shrugs. "I know. It stings like a mutha, but these women who are into their natural, organic, holistic shit like to use it as a toner for ingrowns. It doesn't do shit, but they like to think it does."
"Jesus!" Anna says, putting her hand over her groin. "I don't think I'll ever look at lemon juice the same way." She quickly puts the rest of the bottles on the shelf.
Kiki laughs. "God, you're green. And I don't mean eco-shit. You're cringing now, how are you going to look at some of the stuff we see here on a daily basis? And trust me, we see A LOT."
Anna feels her palms begin to sweat. "Spare me the nauseating details."
"Okay, go on. Get it out."
She's at a loss. "Get what out?"
"You just need to get it out and deal with it. I'm not sure if you're aware, Anna, but we look at coochie all day long."
"I'm aware. And do you have to speak about it like that?"
"Like what? Coochie? Honey, you need to just say every bad slang word you can think of because it's going to be sitting in your mind every day you come to work until you do. You need to purge it — desensitize. Like a kid with a video game."
Anna wipes her hands on her smock and pretends to be observing Kiki's work. "That's an interesting request," Anna says, looking at Jemma's vagina.
"Junk, Pussy, Twat, Bearded-Clam, Peekachu ..." Kiki bursts out like someone who has a very particular kind of Tourette's. Jemma drifts in and out of consciousness, in a daze only possible after a marriage of Vicodin and Coldplay, blissfully unaware of what the two women are talking about or even that a second person has entered the room.
"STOP! I already know the various monikers, thanks." Anna bristles at the sudden change in direction the conversation has taken. It's clear that Kiki is taking a certain pleasure in embarrassing her.
Excerpted from Waxed by Robert Rave. Copyright © 2010 Robert Rave. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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