The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor: Laura Puemo

There are a purported 50 hair salons from Church to Empire, Ocean to New York, so I finally got up the gumption and went to hang out at one! I found myself in a very cozy den of female beauty tonight - "Laura's African," just off Flatbush on Woodruff. It's small, but the warm vibe makes you feel like you're in a family TV or living room. Laura opened the joint last June, and I pass it nearly every day, so I can see that business is pretty decent. She always has at least two customers getting their hair did. So she draws on lots of her African friends to help out - that's how I met her, through one of her faithful fellow African braiders. I've learned that in Africa, braiding and hair styling is generally a community activity - you braid mine, I'll braid yours. Many girls, therefore, learn the skill from a young age. With the popularity of "weaves" and "perms," even Africans are starting salon businesses over there, since you need more materials and equipment than are found in the typical African home. Laura had a successful business back home, but the real money is here. So she came to the U.S. in 2007, rented a "booth" for a bit, saved up, and opened right here in Caledonian Flatbush. Her rent is modest (barely over a grand a month), so she stands a real good chance of making a nice living for herself.

Laura's from Cameroon, a nation sometimes called Africa's Microcosm, since it's got all the geographical and cultural diversity one associates with the Dark Continent. 20 million people call it home, many of them native French speakers, but with plenty of folk speaking English and (of course) the local Camaroonian. All the Africans I've met speak multiple languages, and what's so impressive is that some of these languages have completely different origins and grammars. I can only imagine what this does to one's dreamlife. Verbs and nouns going every which way!

Anyhow, Laura's good. Really good, according to the two clients I met tonight. She's been doing hair her whole life, and knows all the styles, new and old, traditional and trendy. She charges less than her competitors for her various African braiding styles - box braids and classic or ornate cornrows (or "crows") and extension weaves like the ol' Brazillian Knot. If you're unfamiliar with the black hair industry and its terminology, you should march out and get the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair. It's a great primer for those of us who didn't grow up around this multi-billion dollar industry. (In my case, that place was the largely homogeneously pale population of central Iowa). While talking to the ladies at Laura's, however, I was reminded that Rock's is but one perspective. It might be easy to crack wise about the money African-American women spend on hair enhancements; but worldwide, fashion fells plenty of victims of all races and genders. For some of us it's hair; for others boob jobs and facelifts, for others it's driving the right car or wearing the right shoes or going to the right schools or having the right gadgets. We all get sucked dry in the name of perfection, so who's to fault a lady for trying to look a little more Beyonce? I found it interesting though that by bringing up the Chris Rock movie, the ladies launched into a discussion of whether society thinks black hair is beautiful and whether there's discrimination based on whether a woman wears her hair natty. Bottom line, said Simba Yangala, who was busy helping with a weave: "If you want a proper job, you have to show up with a weave. Black hair freaks a lot of people out. One time I was wearing my 'fro and I couldn't even catch a cab." Food for thought. Seems odd that people would be scared of a woman with an afro. What, they think she's hiding a gun in there??

Me, I just didn't understand what was going on with all these hair salons until relatively recently. I mean, the barber for me has always been a nuisance to endure - all 20 minutes or so. But here in Flatbush, folks take a LONG, LONG time getting their hair weaved or braided or permed. Oh, and by the way, a perm around here is getting your hair "straightened," not curled. When a girl from my high school got their hair permed before the big dance, you knew she was going to smell funny and that she'd probably look a tad like Lil' Orphan Annie. (By the way, just because you're white doesn't mean you can't get in on the action. Heck, Mrs. Q, an attractive white lady herself, got a full-on "crow" happening for a show she was in. It looked real sexy, but taking it out was a disaster. Make sure to get professional help when you unbraid it!)
Around Flatbush, though, a perm means hair straighter than a Chinese rock star. By the way, if you ever wondered what they mean by "Dominican" hair salons vs. more traditional African or African-American, you can read about it in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal.

Back to Laura. She's very cool, very smart, and really proud to own her own business. She works ALL the time, so don't consider this line of work unless you want to LIVE in your salon. She likes our neighborhood a lot, and wouldn't mind living here, closer to work (she's in East New York for the time being). For 10 to 12 hours every day she's our neighbor, and if you need a new do, you know what to do!

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