I was bald and nineteen years old. I couldn’t find my bra. It was my sophomore year at college. I needed a job. The $20 my mom would give me once a week was just enough to keep me in French cigarettes, croissants, and pretension. Pretension and smoking were much cheaper habits to maintain in the year 2000 than at present writing. I lived at 31 Union Square West, which sounds real fancy, but my roommates and I managed to make a squalor of it. We smoked constantly and threw knives at the walls. When the weather was nice we’d lie out on the antique limestone window ledges, counting on the awning of the restaurant below to act as a net should the trick go sideways.
I was bald because (a) I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco at the time. Like, a lot. Like, enough for it to concern people who cared about me. And (b) my ex had just told me to shut up about shaving my head because I was never going to do it and she hates it when people talk about shit they’re never gonna do. I had no choice, really. The jazz boys upstairs had clippers. It was on. By on, I mean my hair was on the carpeted floor of our kitchenette, later to be collected into a plastic bag and stored in a Smashing Pumpkins CD box-set box. So now you know everything you need to know about me in my youth.
But the baldness makes a special kind of sense to me now. Most religious orders require some sort of tonsorial process for novices. A shaved head is a line in the sand. What came before is gone, and in that moment of separation from the past, the future can begin.
I’d spent most weekends in high school moodily mooning around the East Village, so I’m amazed I had never stumbled upon Enchantments before the day I came through looking for a job. I’d spent the afternoon ducking my bald head into every shop that looked open.
I finally arrived at a grungy little storefront with a dinged-up sheet-metal crescent moon hanging outside like a shingle. I stepped through the door and into a billow of smoke issuing from a little cauldron in the hand of a middle-aged white lady with Peppermint Patty hair and a wolves-howling-at-the-moon sweatshirt over a turtleneck. A classic look. I asked her if they needed any help around the shop, and she said, “Whatever you’re putting out, sister, it’s working! You’re hired!” So mote it be.
For the next few years, I worked behind the counter pouring oils and carving candles at the city’s oldest witchcraft store. Back then, we worked at a pretty leisurely pace. It was a very different neighborhood. Most of the people who came in knew what they were there for. They had a list of herbs or a special item they dutifully picked up every week; these were folks who kept altars vigilantly in dedication to a particular deity, or those who depended on the favor of certain fickle forces for their livelihood, like the sex workers and dancers who made their living off the trusty spells that lured their customers and encouraged them to make it rain.
More than fifteen years later I’m working at Enchantments again, and we’re busier than ever. What the people need now is less often material and less often related to sex work. As you may know, the East Village is now bougie as fuck. As of this writing, the price of a coffee has exceeded the price of a subway ride by more than a dollar. That was never supposed to happen. But what we’re seeing more and more often are young people who are very eager and interested in getting an intention candle but don’t seem to have the first idea of what their intention is. This troubles me. I mean, how do you know you want a candle if you don’t know what you want it for? Enchantments sells candles, oils, herbs, and incense for nearly every purpose, from weight loss to, I dunno, sending a message of love to a departed family pet. The only limits are your own good sense and imagination, two qualities that frequently seem to be lacking.