No one who does Japanese hair straightening at Hair Village is Japanese.
You can’t have highlights if you want your hair straightened.
You can’t touch your hair – even put it behind your ears – for three days afterwards.
You can’t wash your hair for three days either.
You should probably wear a shower cap when you are near water. Just in case.
To get my hair the way I always wanted it, which was straight and easy and flat on my head, I had to go to Queens.
The hair had been a problem: I remember when my college boyfriend told me – after 6 months in Spain – that when I ran to him at the airport, the happiest girlfriend in the world, all he could see was my hair.
8 years later and I still see me running: a body with hair for a face.
So, Queens. I had only been there twice: once to go to an anti-semitic beer garden where I avoided being harassed like some of my friends had, even though I still had Jewish hair, and once to eat Indian food. It was not so far, but it felt it, going on the train that went out from underground.
Hair Village is small. Neon lights and a room as big as my studio, filled with girls getting their hair straightened, and the women who straighten them.
Later I would see that everyone left Hair Village beautiful. I went there because it was cheap.
I had learned about Hair Village from an Eastern Bloc bartender in a Mexican restaurant after a few Cadillac margaritas. I asked her for more free olives and told her I liked her hair.
“It’s fake,” she said.
Then she told me about Hair Village.
* * *
When you get to Hair Village, first you go to a Korean women. She is the boss, and everyone directs you to her. She tells you to wash your hair and then blow dry it. Completely dry.
There are seven processes:
1- Wash hair. Dry.
2- Chemicals for up to 2 hours, depending on hair.
3- Wash hair and dry again
4- Some other chemical where they put this thing that goes all the way around your neck that looks like one of those throw-up catchers in hospitals only super-sized.
5- Wash and dry.
6- Have woman take an hour to use a tiny iron to straighten each part of your hair in tiny sections. She blows on your head so it is not too hot.
7- Watch as she cuts your hair and makes you the new you who is a better you and does not have to worry anymore about big hair.
* * *
I am told that in the morning there is a line out the door. I am too late for the line, which is good. A mother who sits next to me tells me that she needs to get the process again. Hers is growing out, but it is her daughter’s first time.
Her daughter is in high school and has long dark hair. I ask her questions, and she tells me she is interested in psychology. She is only in 10th grade, but I ask her about colleges. She tells me Cornell. Her mother checks beneath her shower cap.
While waiting for my hair to cook I watch a little girl, about 4 or 5, lie on the dirty floor and cry for her mother. Her mother is there, getting the process, but the little girl is having a hard time. I wonder about the ventilation in the place, since there does not seem to be much, and the air smells of chemical upon chemical, burnt hair, and something I can’t define.
The little girl’s mother threatens she will leave her with her father, which suddenly seems like the worst thing this little girl has heard. She cries and whines and is tired. Her mother has been there for hours.
While my hair is wrapped up in plastic and there is a string of cotton “protecting” the skin near my hair, I start to fall asleep. I set my watch for the time I get to stop waiting. I doze/jerk myself awake/doze.
Another girl has strawberry blond hair and is with her mother. They look like they are from the suburbs. The mother gives the girl a hard time-about the cost of the process, and later about having friends over that night in their basement. There will be boys and the mother does not want them. She carries a fancy purse and her hair is dyed blond and she has those driving shoes on which always mean something other than that she has a car.
The girl just wants to get her hair done. It is big like mine. There is a lot of room for talking and bonding in this place, but I am watching the girls in the mirror watch themselves as they transform, easily, surprisingly, wonderfully, and finally, into the girl they had dreamed themselves for so long.
The big hair they have left behind is the kind that frizzes in the rain, needs blow drying each morning, makes the shadow of your head a triangle. It is the kind of hair that makes you tie it up and tie it down, twist it into ringlets while it’s wet, use any product that says “de-frizz,” and constantly touch it to check it’s height and width.
With new hair, it is a possibility you will look Japanese from behind. You will wake up and shower and leave your hair down. You will go into stores, to parties, to best friend’s houses who will stand so close in front of you and touch your hair. They will stand so close it will feel like they are going to kiss you, they are so happy, telling you that it is the best thing you ever did You will hope that, at least once, you have done something just as good, or better.
When you walk out from Hair Village, straight haired and new, you will go up in rank from 1-10: those numbers the boys give girls. Some of you will even go up 2 points.
When I leave it is five hours later, and dusk. The air feels good outside in Queens, although I don’t know if I will come back. Except for a re-touch, when my old hair grows in. For now I don’t worry. I am straightened. My hair waves behind me, and I leave for the train.
6302 ROOSEVELT AVE, WOODSIDE, NY 11377
Phone: (718) 507-6244