Nancy Reagan and I Get Our Nails Done

What was the former First Lady like?

Each week, a subtle but armored, black luxury car left Bel Air and made the winding drive down to Sunset Blvd and turned east. Just before Sunset Plaza Drive, the driver turned into the back lot behind a Nicole Miller store at the base of the Hollywood Hills.

The car stopped and a hulking secret-service officer got out. He went around to open up the back door and offer his hand to a petite older woman and led her Ferragamo loafers up the stairs into the salon.

I lived in the Sunset Plaza Apartments just behind this nail salon. From my balcony I saw all of the fancy cars and the older, well-heeled women clientele. The technicians appear to be of European descent and wear all white clothing and serious looks on their faces. The salon closes at 5 p.m. and is not open on Sundays. I figured it must be outside of my price range. 

Nancy Reagan had a standing appointment at Jessica’s Nail Salon in West Hollywood for over 20 years. Mrs. Reagan used the same manicurist the entire time she went to Jessica’s Nail Salon. I will call the manicurist Y.

Y is eastern European, in her late-fifties and has Ivory soap commercial skin. She also does my manicures when I feel like splurging. She is kind, gentle and looks into your eyes when you speak. The grapefruit she uses to rub on her clients’ cuticles come from her own backyard tree. She told me this (about the grapefruit) when I last got a manicure from her in February.

Over the course of so many years, Y and the former First Lady got to know one another and became close. Y always speaks with reverence of Mrs Reagan and was very protective of her in a motherly-like way.

The former First Lady always arrived early and stuck around a bit longer than was necessary to dry her polish. Mrs Reagan loved sitting in the lounge where there were the latest glossy tabloids, tiny tea cups and conversation amongst the women.

Mrs Reagan always defended Lindsay Lohan whenever someone held up the latest cover with news of Lindsay’s drug exploits and bad behavior. She believed in Lindsay and thought there was hope for the talented young actress.

That window above the black awning is where Mrs. Reagan sat each Tuesday. It is funny to think of the constant flow of people on foot and tour buses that drive by this window everyday.

None of them would have known that just inside that window, Nancy Reagan was getting her top coat applied.

Mrs Reagan became older and too frail to get in the car and come to the salon and then climb up all the stairs. Her visits decreased and she slowly stopped coming to the salon.

Y missed her and her client and she missed her friend. 

I asked Y how did Mrs Reagan get her manicures if she weren’t able to leave the house. With a sad and distant look in her eyes Y slumped her shoulders and said that the woman who the house in Bel Air to do the former First Lady’s hair was also doing her nails.

A couple of years ago, I sat down for a manicure. Y pulled out a laminated sheet of ivory colored paper that she kept in her station at the salon. She had laminated it. On the top were the words something like “FROM THE DESK OF FIRST LADY MRS NANCY REAGAN.”

The letter from Mrs Reagan expressed how sorry she was that she could no longer come to spend time with the women at the salon because she enjoyed it so much. She wrote of her appreciation of and friendship with Y. The letter closed with a sweet story of her enviable manicures over the years. The letter while official looking was also very personal.

The building faces a very public section of Sunset Blvd. in Sunset Plaza. The tony area of the strip has shops that sell $400 tee shirts and $15 smoothies. Intimidating. But the manicures are $32 and worth every penny.

This is not a story about AIDS or the Just Say No campaign I learned about from watching Punky Brewster. This is a story about a manicurist and a woman who enjoyed her manicures up until the end.

Allyson Marino