Locked out

Jay Brown

Photo by Larry Dalton

Jay Brown twisted his client’s cherry-red hair in a glue-like substance. He was in the midst of a two-hour process of creating dreadlocks, ones almost two-feet shorter than the ones twisted in his own hair.

Jay Brown, better know as the King of Curls, has owned this 24-hour salon since 1988. And you can’t miss this place when driving down Freeport Boulevard. The building is boldly painted in red, yellow, green and black—colors that Brown says embrace all cultures and people. The inside is painted bakery-box pink, with rainbows spray painted across the walls. A framed Bob Marley poster overlooks the inside of the shop.

One room is dedicated to braiding and weaving, another area for chemical work, and another portion set aside for African and Muslim attire and dolls. Though 54-year-old Brown is renowned as the King of Curls, his true passion lies in talking with his customers about the truths of life.

How did you get to be the King of Curls? From the beginning, when I opened a salon in the ‘70s, I did a lot of ’em, and did a better job than anyone else, so everyone started calling me that. When I opened the second salon, I was with one of my clients and I asked what I should name the place, and that’s what she told me and so that’s what I called it.

Are you really open 24 hours?
Yes, by appointments only. Usually single parents, people who work late come in later. Seems I’m always here. I’ll stay, then go home, take a shower, then come back.

When do you sleep?
Only when I need rest. I don’t really need a lot of rest. I usually get about three to four hours of rest a day. It’s all I need. Rest and food. Those are the only things you really require. And peace of mind. Most people don’t know that. Most people don’t have their priorities in the right place. They strive for what does not matter most. They strive for things that bring discontentment into their lives. If you look into your own life, you’ll see that there are only a few things you need. Think about it right now. You can change your whole world by just changing your thoughts. A new perspective will change your entire life.

What’s your most popular hairstyle?
Braids and weaving are the most popular. Cornrows are the demand. People who do hair as far as chemical work, like relaxers, should know that the new products that come out in the market are not good products. They were designed to damage your hair so you spend more on conditioners. You can do as good of a job at home as when you go out and pay for it. The chemicals they use in the products dry the hair.

Have you ever styled the hair of anyone famous?
Depends on what you consider famous. Someone from the Kings? I have, but I don’t even know their names. I don’t care about sports; I don’t care about anything like that. If someone came in that was famous, I would never know. It’s not what’s important.

What’s the motor home outside for?
I used to do house calls. I’m going to use that to market clothes. Next year when the weather’s good, I’m going to take it to all the parks and sell clothes in the park, all over the place. One week there, one week here. Basically what it says is that the culture has changed so much here, that people should accept the change. It’s like they try to ignore what is real. We live in a multi-cultural society yet people still see in black and white. And in this city, where we have so many different nationalities, people still think the same way. They should stop looking at doing things for themselves. Then they will make progress. You can’t take anything with you. Some of the happiest people I know are the ones that got their homes, their cars, their jobs taken away from them.

What do you think of the concept of the American dream?
So many people want things that they can’t have. They don’t realize they are not different from anyone else in this world. It’s how they see themselves. They’re on the wrong page in the wrong book. People from other countries, like India, think they want what those have in the Western civilization. They want what you have. Basically in the last 10-20 years, people started wanting what they have. What those in India have is what we need most, and they should realize what we have over here, they don’t need, and we should know that we don’t need it. But we don’t know where to look for what we need. And it’s everywhere. We have not been fortunate enough to look in the right place. Everything you are striving for seems to fit the American dream. But it’s empty. It’s like the American nightmare; you wish you didn’t have it. But you strive everyday to hold on to it. Everything you do is just to hold on to what you don’t need. And people don’t realize that they don’t need these things. They hold on to it because they don’t know what else to do with themselves.

How does one achieve happiness?
You first have to understand what happiness is in order to seek it. Most people think happiness stems from success. How successful you are does not mean how happy you will be.

Do you like what you do?
I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. I think I wound up in this business because it gives me a chance to meet a lot of people. You get to talk to a lot of people who think they matter most and I think I was blessed with a gift to try to enlighten these people. Knowledge is something that everybody needs. Some have been blessed with more than others. In my job, I can share what I have learned.