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"I Can Do Anything"

Meet Alfonso Segovia, the Manicurist Who Would Be Famous

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It's only a single xeroxed page containing a few poems, a photo, and a biographical sketch. Before he hands it to me, he signs it: "To Florence Levinsohn, with love, Alfonso Segovia."

The little biography ends with a section in italic type that's called "Themes." It says: "With my writing I make people laugh and cry, I make them young and old, I give them light and shadows, I turn them into insects and beast without noticing their own appearance. I convert your nature into a flower garden from your hidden world, I make you rise to heaven and fall in hell, I make you feel like a child and sometimes like a man. At times like a girl and at times like a woman insideƉdeep inside you. I make you good and I make you bad, letting God be the judge. I write simple without complications such is life, although, sometimes we do not appreciate it. I provoke deep sighs letting you know your hunger for love. I bring you memories and feelings of your past and a future to come. I make you live and I make you die in each of my writings. I never use periods at the end of my poems, because they never have an ending."

Segovia's poems, about 2,000 of them, which he's collected in a spiral-bound book he calls "Rainbow for Life," and also his short stories were all written in Spanish and are mostly unpublished, although he says that a couple of poems appeared in a 1989 anthology and that he was named poet of merit in 1989 at a San Francisco public reading.

Since coming here from Colombia in 1983, Segovia hasn't learned much about the American poetry scene, but he is certain that once he has translated all 2,000 poems he'll find a publisher for "Rainbow for Life." At this point, he has translated about half of them, using a dictionary. It's a task he won't trust to anyone but himself. "They are my private feelings, no one else can capture them," he says. I warn him against counting on a book and suggest he try to publish a few poems at a time in little magazines. But Segovia doesn't succumb to reality easily. "I can do anything," he says. "Give me a plane and I'll fly to the moon."

When Segovia bounced forward to receive me at Chicago Hair Design salon at Lincoln and Fullerton, I knew at once that he was no ordinary manicurist. Displayed in the shop's front window beside his manicure table are plaster hands that show off his "fantasy" nails--five-inch-long fake nails rising eight or nine inches high and telling elaborate stories in paint, feathers, gems, glitter, and hair. When they're on display in competitions, he told me, the model's hands are also painted.

His nails have triumphed in a number of competitions. Wearing safari clothes himself, he introduced a jungle theme at last spring's world championships in New York and won the Open Nail Art Fantasy title. He added running water and moving animals for last fall's west-coast competition in Anaheim, California, which he also won. (His music's a 50s tune, "Stranded in the Jungle," by the Cadets.) Now he is expecting to win first prize at the Midwest Beauty Show this March in Chicago. "I have no competition at the contests," says Segovia. "They are not artists. They have no imagination. I will teach them how to do it."

At the New York show, his nails were valued at $300 to $500 apiece.

In the window of the salon, Segovia also displays jewelry he has made from ceramics, silver, and plastic that is just as extravagant as his nails. "I am an artist," he says. "I can do anything."

In his native Barranquilla, Segovia worked his way through college writing "social" news for a local newspaper and then working for the college television station. When he graduated in '83, he decided to visit the U.S. He first called on relatives in Florida and then came to Chicago, where he met Lucy Solis, who owns Chicago Hair Design, and courted and married her a few days before his visa expired.

"But I didn't want to work for Lucy because then my family would say I was an American gigolo." He tried to find a job in Spanish-language broadcasting. "It is all cliques," he says.

He got a job moving coats in the Hart Schaffner & Marx plant on the near west side. One Sunday afternoon, when he was helping Lucy clean up and decorate the shop, he took a call from someone asking for a manicurist who could do extensions-- that is, fake nails. Lucy couldn't help. On the spot, Segovia decided to learn that art. He found a manicurist downtown who'd teach him, and six months later he quit his job to become Lucy's manicurist. But simple manicures soon bored him; he started offering designer paint jobs and worked up a flourishing business in special designs and fake nails. He painted a flower and an initial on this timid reporter's pinkie.

Stylishly dressed, well built, and very handsome, his hair curly and longish and a silver ring gleaming on one ear, 31-year-old Alfonso Segovia looks more like an actor than a manicurist and he is certainly a performer. He doesn't walk, he bounces; he doesn't talk, he emotes; he doesn't smile, he beams; he doesn't sit, he perches like a bird. "If you use this color you will meet the man of your dreams," he tells his clients. When they return unfulfilled, as one woman did, laughing, he is reassuring: "We just try this color this time. It's sure to work."

Segovia has his own wild dreams. Last spring he answered an audition call from theater producer Venice Johnson, who was looking for actors representing various races. Segovia's accent is too strong for the stage, Johnson decided, but he captivated her with his stories of himself and his poems. Johnson has taken up his cause. She will introduce him to the poetry-reading circuit; she will make a video of him reading his poems; and this spring, she says, she will mount a show that presents what she calls "staged interpretations of his poems" in both English and Spanish with the hope of attracting a Hispanic audience.

Johnson rhapsodizes over Segovia. "He's got the personality, the talent, and the discipline. He's a real producer and that makes him marketable. A person who can get himself and his work together and be a real professional, like Alfonso, can make it."

"I want to see my stories on Broadway," says Segovia. He will write a play based on one of his nine short stories, "The Ghost of the Night of the Party," he says, and then he will write a screenplay based on another story, "Red," about "a boy who is so impressive that he never has to fight." Has he ever written a play or a film script? No, but he can do it, he insists. Has he any idea how rough it is to get a play or a movie produced? No, but he will do it, he's sure.

He has already won an Open Nail Art Fantasy award. Why not a Tony? Why not an Oscar? Alfonso Segovia is sure of himself.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Al Kawano.

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