In the Chair

Tony Nelson

On a sticky Friday in north Minneapolis, the mercury rises in tandem with stylist Miranda Sweezy's towering hair creations. Sweezy, the proprietor of Miranda's Hair Salon on Penn Avenue, is accustomed to a healthy pre-weekend buzz. The reception area percolates with noise from clients and children as most of them cool off on the gracious leather furniture that flanks the big-screen TV. A Sit n' Spin toy lies unoccupied beneath a varnished end table, a fitting summation of the unpretentious "Miranda vibe." Outside, pink-and-white signage reads, "It's All About You!"--a motto echoed on Sweezy's business cards.

A perfectly coiffed little girl rises from the waiting-area couch and announces to no one in particular, "I'll be back." She sashays with admirable impudence into the back quarters of the salon.

Sweezy, a bright-eyed native Chicagoan, seems to feed off the energy in the hive. "It's a little crazy today," she laughs, gesturing to the throng of customers and people just passing time. "But you know, that's okay." In a Pucci-print blouse beneath her beautician's cape, Sweezy projects control and whimsy in equal measure. Nearby, her adult son surveys the crowd protectively. "Do you write for Essence?" he asks me, posing a challenge rather than a query.

A longtime stylist and salon owner--Miranda's has been around since 2002--Sweezy harbors ambitions more grand than fixing hair. She envisions her shop providing opportunities for multicultural education and socialization in north Minneapolis, citing in-house massage therapist Ted Tolzman as a prime example. "Ted, who happens to be Caucasian, is doing massage here," Sweezy says. "A lot of blacks in the community, you know, they're not familiar with [massage]. So this is a good chance for people to learn more about different massage techniques, and at the same time, it may bring people of other ethnicities in here to inquire about hair. I'm trying to bring people of all colors together."

"I plan to put a lot of things in here that the community can utilize," Sweezy continues, barely pausing to put down her shears as she finishes a client's pixie cut. "I want to have something for battered women, because I have a whole downstairs that's full of rooms. I just want to be able to put something back into the community. This urban area, you know, it's a lot of chaos, it's a lot of tension. People have a lot of stress, and I want them to come here and relax and relieve that stress. Regardless of the mess you're involved with in everyday life, you can come here and be comfortable. That's what I want."

Life looks comfortable indeed from one of Sweezy's chairs. Past a bay of hooded drying stations lies a network of private rooms where clients can be attended to without distraction. Decorative plaques on the walls pay homage to both Jamaica and God, and a feeling of goodwill and weekend anticipation prevails. As Tolzman preps his pleasingly monastic massage room, a stylist named Kita sews rippling wefts of blond hair onto the scalp of a tranquil client. In another area, a stylist creates a gravity-defying ponytail that blurs the distinction between coiffure and sculpture. Gesturing to Kita's deft needlework, Sweezy explains the difference between a labor-intensive sew-in weave and a quick weave, which involves simply braiding a client's hair into cornrows and crocheting tracks of synthetic or human hair onto the braids.

Whatever the technique, Miranda's weaves result in headfuls of seamless fantasy locks in every conceivable hue. "You can have any color with a weave. You can be a blonde or a brunette, or even have green hair!" Sweezy says, noting that weaves are her salon's most popular offering. "Weave is the big trend."

Overall, Sweezy is optimistic about the prospect of harmony in a neighborhood that has seen more than its share of trouble. And she's confident that Miranda's can play at least a small role. "A lot of the time [people] stereotype others because of a lack of knowledge about how they live," she says. "Here, we can see how we all interact. We're learning more about each other."

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