Profiles

Nail Tech Braves the Elements for Work

Judy Michaels loves doing nails in Malibu, even if it means weathering fires and floods.

Judy Michaels loves doing nails in Malibu, even if it means weathering fires and floods.

Malibu, California, conjures up images of breathtaking ocean views, celebrity homes, upscale restaurants — and fires and floods and landslides?

Though there is a price to pay to live in this trendy seaside community, nail technician Judy Michaels stays because “the money is here, my clients are here.”

A 10-year nail veteran, Michaels, who works at Sea Chele’s Salon in Point Dume Plaza in Malibu, has seen her share of disasters. Her most recent encounter with Mother Nature was the floods that took place last January.

“The flooding made it difficult for staff and clients to get to the salon,” says Michaels. Luckily, though, the salon itself was not in the hardest hit area, which was about 12 miles south. “Because of the salon’s location, it gave us a primo chance to attract new clients because they couldn’t get to their regular salons,” she says.

But by far, the most chilling experience for Michaels was during the horrendous fires that engulfed Malibu and other areas in October and November 1993. At the time, Michaels was working at a salon that was going out of business. Though she still had a loyal clientele, the last thing her clients were thinking about was getting their nails done when houses were burning to the ground, she says.

“It was very traumatic. I was stuck in my house for three weeks because if I left, there was no guarantee that I would get back in because of the roadblocks. I didn’t feel as if I was in imminent danger, though there was a lot of soot and ash falling from the sky and I was breathing through a bandanna for days,” she explains.

The authorities were telling residents to leave, but they didn’t force us, says Michaels, who was prepared to leave if she had to. What was essential to Michaels if she had to flee was her ability to generate income, so she put her manicuring table, nail supplies, and license, a cat carrier for her cat, and some clothes in her car.

Says Michaels, “For about three days, the situation was very intense and I only slept about an hour at a time. Then one morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and, unbeknownst to me, firemen had set a backfire behind my apartment building. I looked out my bedroom window and the whole hillside was orange.”

Finally, the fires ended and Michaels was able to return to work. Though she came out of it unscathed, Michaels will never forget those frightening weeks.

Michaels, who went to beauty school at the suggestion of a nail technician friend, says she had no burning desire to do nails back then, but thought it would be a lucrative profession. She thought right. Today, Michaels has a full clientele and she loves doing nails.

As an independent contractor, what she likes best about her job is her flexible schedule. “I don’t do corporate America too well — I’m too flamboyant,” she jokingly admits.

When she’s not busily at work, Michaels moonlights as an artist. Recently, she painted a sky scene using a glazing technique with sponges, cheesecloth, and a roller on a 20 by 10-foot wall in a nearby gift store. She also does freelance artwork for a souvenir T-shirt company.

Music is also a favorite pastime of Michaels, who enjoys listening to everything under the sun.

As for her future in nails, Michaels has a blazing idea about starting up a temp agency or a central network for job placement in salons. “Salons would be able to get qualified people to fill in for absences or vacations or work on an as-needed basis,” she says. There are a lot of people who want to keep up their skills, yet they only want to work part-time, she continues.

But for now, Michaels is content doing nails and, for the time being, all is well in magnificent Malibu.

Keywords:   artist profiles  



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