Karen Krolicki and Dawn Jackson are best friends in a way that most people don't experience after, say, the seventh grade. After working together eight hours a day as nail technicians at Lakeview's B. Rose Salon and Spa, they go home and call each other, staying on the phone into the night. "Our boyfriends don't understand," said Krolicki on a recent Saturday morning at the salon. "Matt will be like, 'You just spent the whole day with her. What else do you guys have to talk about?' And I'm like, 'I thought of something else I had to say, OK? God!'"
When Jackson first came to work at the salon a year ago, Krolicki, who'd already been there three months, hated her on sight. It wasn't anything Jackson said or did--it was her hair. "Well, I was trying to grow out my hair," Krolicki said. "It was really short. And she came in with this, like, long, beautiful blond hair. And I just was like, 'Ew.' So I was mean to her because I wanted her hair."
What was the turning point?
"She cut her hair."
Jackson, a pale blond Kirsten Dunst look-alike, works alone at the salon on Mondays. Most weeks it's their only day apart.
"Yeah, I get sad," said Jackson.
"If she doesn't call me for a couple hours, I'll keep looking at my phone," said Krolicki, also blond, but golden brown from the tanning bed. "I'm like, 'I wonder why she's not calling.'" The mere thought of it made her pout. "I don't feel the love, I get all nervous."
They sat in adjacent chairs, painting women's toenails cherry red and bright copper in defiance of the gray sky outside, and carried on a running dialogue. Besides each other ("Well, we mostly talk about Karen," said Jackson) the main topic of conversation was their upcoming vacation in South Beach, the balmy, showy section of Miami Beach renowned for its diet, art deco architecture, and all-night party atmosphere. They never considered going with anyone else. Their boyfriends? Not even contenders. "That wouldn't be fun," said Jackson. "What kind of vacation is that?" She rolled her eyes.
They've planned this trip with an attention to detail more typically associated with space shuttle launches and celebrity weddings. A week before leaving they'd already confirmed and reconfirmed their hotel and dinner reservations several times. Every night at precisely 9:30 for the past two months they've done up to 600 sit-ups together over the phone. Krolicki is usually on speaker phone, doing crunches and barking orders to Jackson's five-year-old son, Serpico--named for the whistle-blowing cop played by Al Pacino, not his real-life counterpart--who holds the receiver and relays instructions to his mom: "Mommy! Karen says right arm to left leg. Sixty of them!" Jackson and Serpico's father split up shortly after she had the baby at the age of 22.
Krolicki, who's 22 and lives near O'Hare with her parents, has drawn up a detailed itinerary of what they'll do from the moment their flight--her first ever--arrives in Florida. First order of business: find a palm tree for Krolicki, who's never seen one, to hug. Second: get to their ocean-side hotel and look at the water. Krolicki's never seen the ocean. "But I think I'm only going to go in knee-deep," she said, "because I'm scared. I don't know what I'm scared of--the water, slimy things touching me, I don't know. So we have a pool at our hotel just in case I don't like the ocean."
"She thinks she might not like the ocean," said Jackson, incredulous.
Saturday night they'll go to the nightclubs Mynt, Mansion, and Crobar; Sunday they'll bask in the sun. Sunday night: more clubs. Monday they'll shop all day. "Monday night before we go to the bars is when we have our fancy dinner together and get dressed up in our black dresses," Jackson said. They're dining at Les Deux Fontaines, a pricey seafood place. "Like a date!" said Jackson. "I hope she buys me a flower."
Krolicki was across the room fetching a bottle of polish for her next client. "Did you just say, 'I hope she buys me flowers'?" she said.
"It's a date!" huffed Jackson.
Krolicki's two-page packing list, written in a careful, loopy hand, includes six pairs of shoes ("new tan stilettos, pink flip-flops, denim flip-flops, white pumps, white flip-flops, black stilettos") and 21 beauty products. The accessories section lists four different devices for holding her hair back or up and specifies two different sizes of claw clip. She's also taking two strapless bras, several bras with straps, three purses, and three different lipsticks ("pink light glitter, gloss, and a beigey light gloss"). She knows exactly when she'll be using each clip, bra, handbag, and watch (one pink, one white) because she's made a chart scheduling each day's outfits. Saturday evening, for example, Krolicki will wear her white capris (purchased for the trip), tan shirt, tan shoes, white thong, silver dangly earrings, silver claw bracelet, and white watch. Her hair will be up in a claw clip (small) and she'll carry a white purse. Sunday night she'll carry Jackson's black Kate Spade purse and switch to the pink watch. At one stage in the planning she meant to wear her hair flipped that evening, but later crossed that out in favor of "hair straight." She'll be wearing a pink tube top, pink belt, pink necklace, pink earrings, black stilettos, and what she calls her "nail-glue jeans."
"I am MacGyver with nail glue, OK?" said Krolicki. "I use nail glue to fix everything: hooks on my wall, shelves, my earpiece for my cell phone, oh my God, anything. So I bought these jeans and they fit perfectly. They had little snap hooks on the front. I brought them home and I sat down with them on, and they unbuttoned. I was like, Oh no, what am I going to do? I mean, I was going out. I needed those jeans. So I got out my nail glue and nail glued them shut. So now I call them my nail glue jeans because they are still nail glued. And I've washed them like five times! I love nail glue."
She's tested every ensemble in front of a mirror. "She's also done a trial packing run," said Jackson, "to make sure everything would fit. Then as she took them out of the luggage, she checked each thing off a list. And then whatever she was using the next day, she took a green marker and circled it so she would remember to put those back in." She shook her head. "I'm not nearly as organized."
For her part, Jackson has visited the gym two or three times a week since February, gone to a tanning salon to build "a base, so-called," and let her eyebrows grow out "for miles on end, so they'll look perfect when I get them done right before the trip." Krolicki compiled her packing list. "She put my outfits together and told me what days I should wear them," said Jackson. "I really don't know where my list is now, but I showed my bag to her and she checked it." Krolicki's advice has saved Jackson from some potential blunders. For example, Jackson had planned to wear her white shorts on Sunday, but Krolicki urged her to save them for Monday when she'll be more tan. "She's set me straight on a lot of things," Jackson said. "The only thing I've had to set her straight on is she was going to bring her rollers. They took up half of her suitcase. I was like, no."
Twenty-two days before takeoff the women started a countdown using numbered Post-it notes, which they arranged around Krolicki's manicure station. The final ten have little messages: "10 more days!" "7 sun shiny days!" "4 days--confirm hotel." The last one says "Oh yeah" over a tiny drawing of a palm tree.
Before she started working with Krolicki, Jackson's life was different, she says, and less happy. As a single mother and a waitress, she spent most of her downtime in jogging pants. "I didn't have any other clothes for after work," she said. "Karen looked me up and down and she's like, 'Yeah, that's not working.' She puts my outfits together for me now because I'm clueless. Karen is the person who keeps me feeling like even though I'm a single mom and life is really hard for me, I can still be in my 20s and have fun." Jackson never used to go shopping or to clubs. "Well, I'd go every once in a while. Rarely. Now it's just like it's a part of me. I get excited now."
"Dawn's the strong one," said Krolicki. "I'm probably the more sensitive one. She's way more stronger than me. Say I need to return a dress or something and I'm afraid to return it at a store, like I don't want them to yell at me. She'll call the store for me. She is the one that'll do that for me. She's a rockaditis."
"Karen's actually stronger than I am, physically," Jackson said. "She has big arm muscles." This seemed unlikely, given that Krolicki's arms are attached to a size-zero body. To prove her point, Jackson challenged Krolicki to an arm-wrestling match. They started with their right arms. Krolicki braced herself against the edge of the manicure table. After a moment of tension, Krolicki's arm went down, big muscles notwithstanding. She cast her eyes down, and then quickly up, through her bangs, at Jackson, and pouted. "Oh, I'm sorry!" said Jackson. "Here, try again." Krolicki won the second bout, but too easily. More pouting. "At least struggle next time," she said. They switched to their left arms, and Jackson beat Krolicki again. "Ew!" said Krolicki. "I don't like you. I don't want to go to South Beach with you."
I asked the women whether they'd prepared themselves for possible disappointments. Like, what if it rains the whole time they're there? "It's not," said Krolicki. "I've been checking the weather for two weeks."
"It can't," Jackson added. "We only have three days."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Paul L. Merideth.