The reason I love going to dinner parties is because that's where conversations happen. And because said conversations are the essence of my columns, I more or less never get bombed, and I mostly remember what's talked about.
However, the morning after the latest dinner party I didn't recall much except my friend Kookie Maffett, the owner of Kookie Salon, talking about her nail thug. I thought, I must have been tripping, so I headed down to her hipster shop in the Cynergi building, one of those faux loft work/live high-rise buildings in Wynwood.
And there in a gorgeous two-story, floor to celling space overlooking all of Miami sat a 6'3", 210 pound black man, with tattoos for days, giving some really pale white girl a mani/pedi. I could not, for whatever reason, believe my eyes. To the right of me Kookie was giving a really major TV personality hair extensions. With Chaka Kahn in the background and a glass of wine already in my hand, I really thought I was in heaven. This certainly beat lying in bed and watching the Food Network.
It was my turn, not for hair extensions (I wish), but for my manicure with the "nail thug." I had a million questions to ask. In fact, I was squirming in my seat. "Sit still," the "nail thug" said. But I couldn't.
At first I felt awkward, seeing my much smaller white hand being caressed by a very large black man with his cuticle cutter and nail clipper. It wasn't fear -- trust me honey -- this wasn't the first time my hand was in a black man's, just not this way. "Girls must think you're gay, right?" I sheepishly asked. A slight chuckle and he replied, "Well, I just have to prove it to them that I'm not, and I keep doing it till they get it straight."
In fact, it's a girl, a very famous one named Gabrielle Union, who playfully anointed Gerard Pierre, the "nail thug." Union, a Miami regular, had gone to Kookie to get her hair did, and after watching him out of the corner of her eye at the very far end of this very big space, she became, like the rest of us, slightly obsessed with this man.
Again I found myself shamelessly stereotyping "nail thug" and could have sworn he would have been an avid fan of nail art -- you know giving girls those crazy manicures that range from flower designs to glued on studs. "I hate all that crap," says Pierre, who was raised in foster care and passionately hates pink nail polish because that's the color of the house he was raised in.
"The only type of manicure a women should have is French or go natural. Maybe red in the evening. It's all about having good, healthy, clean nails, it's classic."
How Pierre got to this place is not that strange really. He found something he was good at and just continued. Although some of his brothers went off path in life, one went to work in a beauty salon, which is where the idea first came to Pierre to be a manicurist. "Trust me," he says with a warm chuckle. "This is not what I thought I'd be doing, but I happen to give great manicures. I take my time and go finger by finger."
That he does. My manicure, sans color, took about 45 minutes. It also costs me $30 plus tip. Sure, I could have gotten a mani/pedi at any Miami Beach express place for $40, but I have to say my hands did look a bit more special than they have in the past. And so did my hair after a meticulous haircut by Kookie herself, who usually spends hours on a client. But my less than hairy head doesn't need that much work.
"It's different here," says Kookie. Yeah, you can say that again, I was thinking. Though in the end what it is, is just a modern take on something old, but pretty hard to find these days -- personalized attention. "Only one customer at a time," says Kookie. "No one needs to know or see the tricks of your beauty. Just me and you boo." And, of course, the nail thug echoes her sentiments. "What's said in the salon stays in the salon."
That was, until I came through.
Follow Kookie and the Nail Thug on twitter @kookiesalon.