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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beauty Secrets from New York City

Lots of you don't know me personally, especially now that I have lots and lots of readers worldwide (thanks in part to Google Translate), so I'd like to share a personal story about New York City with you.

Today is a crazy day for natives of the New York City area in particular; I should know because I'm one of them. I grew up a whole three miles from "The NYC" in New Jersey.

 My mom is a Brooklyn native who moved to New Jersey when she and my dad got married, and even though she could see the Manhattan skyline from her living room window, she still proclaimed her new home to be in "Friggin' Mayberry". I laughed when she still told people even after 40 years in NJ that she was from Brooklyn, but now I get it. No matter how long I've lived in California or wherever, I'm still a Jersey girl.

New York City is where every worldwide trend hits the United States first; whether it's music, fashion, food, makeup, fragrance, whatever. When you're a native, you get used to it. You think that way of living is how everyone in the USA lives. You think everyone has friends whose parents are at least semi-famous, everyone goes to a Broadway show at least once a year, everyone has a classmate who was on Sesame Street or Romper Room. However, the New York City I remember was not the Disney theme park type city that it mostly is now. To be honest, it was kind of gross. The area my mom grew up in and my grandmother still lived in when I was a child was riddled with mafia-related crime,  the subways were covered in spray painted tags, and there were areas that you just did not want to be in...some at night, some at any time of the day.

I worked as a tour guide and in the restoration department of a museum for a while where I got to know some of the best people I have ever met. We were our own little gang...I was the token white girl from NJ, then there were three Dominican Girls from Washington Heights, two black girls from Coney Island, one Puerto Rican girl from The Bronx, one Puerto Rican guy from Yonkers, two Polish guys and a Pakistani girl from Brooklyn, two black guys from Harlem, and a Romanian guy from Queens. The neighborhood we worked in wasn't all that great at the time, so on days when we were all just heading home, we would all move down the street to our train or bus stations in a giant multicultural clump. We looked like a Benetton commercial.

Yes, it really does have Garlic in it.
The girls though, we were all about looking good, and every neighborhood had it's virtues. Visiting New Jersey for them meant Italian food and tax free shopping. For me, Washington Heights meant Platanos, putting fries on my McDonald's burger, and getting spoken to in Spanish  (after a few incidents, one of my friends taught me how to say "Entiendo, pero no hablo. Soy Italiana!" which was probably a bad idea since that phrase pretty much invited whoever it was to just keep talking). Plus, it was the only place to buy Dominican garlic nail polish. Yes, it works! Boy does it stink when you first put it on, but the smell fades and boy does it make your nails strong! You can find it online now for about $5 a bottle, or you can make your own my dropping some finely minced fresh garlic into a bottle of clear nail polish and letting it sit for a few days. It is very stinky when you make it yourself though! You've been warned! Another beauty secret those girls taught me was how to do what they called The Face. "When you dance with a guy, you have to look like you could care less about him". It's no wonder that I married a guy who knows how to Bachata!

 Almost all the Romanian and Polish moms and some grandmas were in the beauty business since their culture dictates that things like facials or manicures are not luxuries, but good hygiene. If you showed up in Queens with a zit, it would get a professional popping or spackling in a homemade drying lotion like the one sold by Mario Badescu ($17 USD)  before you left mom's house. For the record, drying lotion is not something you want to leave the house wearing, but you always would thank them for putting it on you and making you look like a goof anyway.
Drying lotion on a whitehead at night will make it disappear by morning!


Visiting Harlem or Coney Island usually meant that any children around were going to tether me in front of the television so that they could touch my very differently textured hair...little girls especially. My friend's daughter once told me that she liked me because I watched cartoons with her and that my hair was like her My Little Pony's hair. Best. Compliment. Ever. One night, I even got my hair wrapped. Suffice to say, it did not look good in the morning, but once I washed it 3 or 4 times, it was very soft!

My Pakistani friend took me to get my eyebrows threaded for the first time. Since she was Muslim, I would review food ingredients and labels for her so she could stay within her diet, and she would share her mom's Biryani with me. Yum! After helping her study for (and pass) her citizenship exam, she treated me to get my brows threaded for the first time. Thank goodness threading salons have picked up in the US because my brows finally look just as good again!

Once a month or so, a gaggle of us would head downtown and hit up all the street vendors, cheap clothing stores, Century 21, Pic 'n Pay Shoes, and Ricky's NYC for crazy makeup colors. In true NYC fashion, most of what we purchased was worn directly out of the store or at the stand...$5 sunglasses, lipstick; old shoes always went in the new shoe box and carried out of the store so we could wear the new shoes. To the untrained eye, it looks very busy, but the natives know that we're just wearing all our new stuff. All at once. Then we'd all go have Chinese food together. I really wish I took more pictures of those days out.

The funny thing is, our little gang wasn't so out of place downtown. The area the towers fell on was a melting pot in the truest. While some of us looked or even felt out of place in each other's neighborhoods, nobody was out of place downtown. It wasn't odd to see the lot of us getting along, making fun of each other, laughing together. Nobody looked at us strangely; it was normal and if anything, the events of September 11th brought NYC natives closer.

Today, thousands of miles away, being from the NYC area is an instant bond. Here in California, we meet, we share what neighborhoods we're from, and then we get down to the important stuff:

"Where do you get your pizza around here?"
"Have you found a decent bagel?"
"I found a Nathan's!"

and of course,
"Where were you that day?"



We never ask if each other saw, felt, or lost because we don't have to. If they saw, felt, or lost, and they want to share it, they'll share it.

Now, no matter what neighborhood, race, religion or how far from home, we're able to bond and share.

We're not all that different...we're New Yorkers. It's a beautiful thing!

We showed them!
Yours truly on the plaza at WTC, September 1980







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