Bearded, burly and groomed, 37-year-old Tim Palmer is a former Marine Corps drill instructor who shed his machismo to hold women's hands for a living. The former high school football star works in nails--the sculptured acrylic variety that women spend $17 to maintain biweekly at his manicurist table in Vista. His clients drive as far as 30 miles to the salon--as much for his sympathetic ear as his skill with an emery board. Palmer left the service when a motorcycle accident left him temporarily paralyzed, and bought a rock 'n' roll nightclub in South Carolina before he returned to his native Southern California. He was tending bar in a Simi Valley tavern when he dropped the bar towel to go to beauty college. The whiskey-voiced manicurist who lives with his 16-year-old daughter, Angela, in a Carlsbad apartment hopes to someday revive the Nails by Tim shop he once owned in Los Angeles. Times staff writer Nancy Reed interviewed Palmer at Panache Hair Salon in Vista, and David Gatley photographed him there.
I didn't think I would pass drill instructor school--I wasn't real motivated for that sort of thing. But I really liked it. It was an ego trip--total control of 80 people. So it was fun. And I ended up No. 1 in the class.
There are a lot of rewarding parts of it. Mostly, it is that you get these kids from all different walks of life. You have to make them all the same instantly.
You can make them do things that, left to themselves, they wouldn't do. . . . At graduation, a lot of parents come up and tell you that you could do something in 77 days that they couldn't do in 18 or 19 years.
The nightclub was fun--the bands, the people and the constant party atmosphere. But I realized I needed out of that. I was 31, and was going through the thing of being over 30--being married young at 18 and having kids right away and being in a regimented job. I felt like I was robbed of a lot of things that I didn't get to do.
I went to Simi Valley and got a job bartending. The lady who owned the nail salon next door used to come into the bar. She suggested that there are no men doing nails and that it would be a good job for me because I like to talk.
I was going into a woman's world. I literally changed places, I guess. It is the same job as a bartender, you just sit down instead of stand up and the majority of the people are sober. And they are all women, and I like women a lot.
I like the aspect of doing sculptured nails. It's like putting together a model when you are a kid.
When I go into a bar now, and somebody asks me what I do for a living--if I am talking to a guy--it is instant end of conversation. My mother didn't believe it for 2 1/2 years.
My personality has changed 180 degrees since I've done nails. I had to have a different attitude toward women. I see the other side. I'm not as domineering and macho anymore.
People unhappy in their situation come here to use me as a listening post. One woman quit going to her therapist because I was cheaper.
It is a lot of fun. There is no stress. I love the conversations. The money is excellent. I make more money doing nails than I have made doing anything else.
Personality is 60% of it. You have to communicate on your customer's level--whatever that is--from teen-agers to senior citizens. That's what makes the job interesting. I mean, I hear things that husbands and boyfriends don't hear.
When you sit down with someone face to face for a minimum of an hour, you get comfortable, hopefully.
I knew a lady one time who had a disease where she shakes a lot, constantly. When she would get her nails done, when I started to take her hand, she would stop shaking. It was the only time that she didn't shake. Every two weeks, she didn't have this disease anymore.
When I left bartending, men were being phased out a lot. Women with six days' experience were getting hired; they got all the good jobs. I was sort of upset about that whole fact. And when it was suggested to me that I could get into their world and be the unique one, I kind of jumped on it.
And it has worked out exactly that way. I have never had trouble getting a job in a salon and I have never had trouble building up a clientele.
This is the best thing I have ever done.