Nine years after he started painting fingernails, Art Gamboa is still scammin'.
"I've had this shop going on five years now," he said, filing down a customer's acrylic nail. "I started doing it to put myself through college. What a scam, holding chicks' hands all day long. They pay me, I'd meet chicks, I'd take 'em out."
He laughed at the thought. With his own beauty shop, a wife and two children, 27-year-old Gamboa is a happy dude. And part of a rare breed.
One of the few male manicurists around, he is the owner of Work of Art Beauty, a nail and hair salon in Manhattan Beach where customers are sometimes willing to wait for hours just to have him do their nails, and where his surfing buddies pass the time scammin' chicks in between catching waves.
"Yeah," Gamboa said, "they drop by every day, usually. To check out the chicks, of course. I'm sure!"
Gamboa races into the salon in the early afternoon, late from a business meeting. Wearing an uncharacteristic shirt and tie ("So they'll take me seriously") he quickly changes into a tank top and Catchit! sweat shirt over teal cords. He is pleasantly tanned, has light brown hair and a mustache and is usually smiling. His first customer is Grace, a regular who dropped by today for an acrylic nail fill.
The shop includes two "nail bars," which Gamboa designed and built himself with a laminar flow system that filters out the fumes from the manicure products. Two hair stylists take up half the shop, and KROQ comes nonstop from the speakers.
"Before I had this shop, I worked in a couple of malls," he explained, talking quickly and filing one of Grace's nails rapidly. "It was a great deal. I wasn't a starving student. No doubt. A friend of mine's mom wanted him to learn the business, but he was a football guy, that was 10 years ago, you know. But we used to fill nail polish bottles. When we turned 16 we'd run supplies for her in our cars and check out the chicks.
"I also worked in a surf shop, deli, fish market. I've done a few things, that's for sure. I decided to open my own shop when the guy I was working for told me my shirt was improper. It was an Izod shirt. I looked at him, said 'later, man.' Pretty funny stuff."
His masculinity was never at stake, he said. "My buddies figure it's cool. If I'm in here doing it then it's cool. After a while they get the idea. I put 'em to work filling nail polish bottles. They use the tanning bed, go scammin' on the chicks.
"Right now I have a buddy of mine I surf with, Mike Chandler, I conned him into doing this. He's got the right attitude. I told him, 'do exactly what I do and you won't be a starving student. You'll make bank, go for it.'
"My friends thought I went off the deep end--until my partner, Randy, he was, like, one of the only guys who came and hung out at the nail bar," he added. "He'd come in and just smile. He knew what the story was."
Taking what looks like a power drill and shaving down Grace's acrylic nails, he said: "Yeah, my friends, after about a year they figured I was serious. I had dough and I had dates."
He didn't date many of his clients way back when. "It'll ruin your clientele," he said. "After a while you go out of business."
'My Work Was Good'
But being male isn't what got him big tips and a lot of clients, he claimed. "My work was good. Sure, we'd go out and party afterwards. Christy was one of the few girls I got involved with."
Christy is his 25-year-old wife who also does manicures at the shop. She is a punky counterpart to his surf-dude look, with blond hair dyed black with a pomegranate rinse. "We met when I was working at Old Towne Mall," he explains. "Seven years ago, honey? I kept trying to palm her off on my buddy. I'd go, 'Take this chick out, man.' He never did. So finally my girlfriend and I weren't getting along and she left town. I started taking Christy out. Yeah, so I don't think we've spent many days apart."
They bought a house 20 blocks from where Gamboa grew up in Redondo Beach and they have two children, Arthur, 5, and Chantelle, 2 1/2. Besides the nail salon, Gamboa also started a company called California Manicure with 27-year-old Randy Boujikian, his old high-school buddy. They market a version of the popular white-tipped French manicure, as well as regular nail polish.
"Girls would want me to put white on, stark white, on the tips of their fingernails. To me that was a joke. I'm sure, I should've made them thick and ugly and put that white stuff on there. So I came up with colors that were sheer and natural. For that healthy, California look."
He takes a phone order from another manicurist while still working on Grace.
A Happy Philosophy
"As long as you keep laughing you're in good shape," he said, explaining his philosophy on life. "I mean, the name 'Work of Art' made me laugh. I wrote a list down of 10 names and that's the one that made me laugh. I also came up with Art's Nail Salon, Art's Nail Bar, you know, typical hodad names."