By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
MiAsia sat in a barber's chair in a little shop in central Los Angeles. It was May 1983, and MiAsia, a Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman, was looking for a dramatic change.
The barber dyed MiAsia's short, dark Afro auburn, but that wasn't enough. She came back a week later, asking for a shorter haircut. "There's nothing there now," the barber protested, then started clipping.
MiAsia wasn't satisfied. "I could still see hair up there," she recalls, so she returned for another session the next day. "Everybody in the barbershop was in shock when they saw my bald head," she says.
²After that, MiAsia's barber refused to cut her hair again. "Don't people laugh at you and point at you and look at you strangely?" he asked MiAsia. "I said, `Yes. What does that have to do with it?'"
For eight years, MiAsia, now a Phoenix resident, has garnered attention with her striking hair style- or lack of one. "Girl, I got three marriage proposals right after I shaved my head," she says, laughing.
Her shaved head and the inch-long fingernails-nails painted with 18-karat gold polish-were MiAsia's trademarks during the seven years she sold her own blends of exotic perfume oils. "She is one of the master fragrance creators, I would say, and I've worn fragrances from all over the world," says Fatimah Halim, a Phoenix city employee and former customer.
Dramatic changes are nothing new for MiAsia, whose friends call her "flamboyant" and "metamorphic." On several occasions, she has reinvented her life, and now she's done it again.
Even her name is an invention. "MiAsia" was bestowed by her second husband, a Muslim man she married the same year she changed her looks. The marriage didn't stick, lasting just four months, but the new name did.
It means "my paradise, in Swahili," she says. She won't reveal her given name. "Unh-uh," she says. "I don't ever utter it anymore. My parents aren't even allowed to call me that."
MiAsia's life changed when she moved to Arizona last May to be closer to her two daughters, who live with their father, her first husband.
It was a change for the worse. She was disillusioned after three divorces, she says, and distraught about the prospect of turning 40 alone. Within months, she suffered what she calls a "nervous breakdown." She stopped working. She turned to cocaine and became estranged from her family.
She hit bottom when two men, armed with beer bottles, beat and mugged her on the streets of west Phoenix one night last September. She received emergency treatment for a slashed face and broken jaw at the Maricopa County Hospital. She was too embarrassed to call her family. "They were so used to me being the strength of the family," she says. "I didn't have the strength anymore."
Police dropped her off at Central Arizona Shelter Services, the downtown Phoenix homeless shelter.
Friends, even those accustomed to the unexpected from MiAsia, weren't expecting this. "I never would have thought someone like MiAsia would be homeless," says Juanita Johnson, a friend since schooldays back in Flint, Michigan. "Really, I was shocked when I found out she was staying at the shelter. That's the last place I would have expected to find her."
Now, four months later, MiAsia is back on her feet, reinventing her life all over again. She's applied for employment at the shelter, as well as a position on CASS' board. She's met with Phoenix City Councilmember Calvin Goode to talk about problems at the shelter, and set up a panel for residents, which she calls the "Resident Arbitration and Advisory Board." Two days a week she volunteers for "Clergy Against Drugs," a program designed to offer drug counseling with a religious message.
And last November, she met a man.
Fred Gatlin was known at the shelter by the nickname "The Rev." "They thought when I told them I was a man of God that I was crazy. From my understanding, she was trying to get away from me, too," Fred says, nodding his head at MiAsia. "But I seen that bald head of hers, and I knew she was the one for me."
Fred, 37, is an ex-convict and former drug addict. He gave up drugs, he says, about ten years ago when God first called him to the ministry. Now he works as a taxicab driver while he is training for the pulpit.
On their first date, Fred took MiAsia to lunch at the Matador Restaurant. "After shelter food," she says, "I just sat there looking at the cheese and I thought, `It's been so long.' He didn't even eat. He was fasting." Afterward, they went to Woodland Park, where Fred preached from the Bible.
They began to date regularly. "About the third time we went out is when he said he wanted me to be his woman," she says, rolling her eyes. "I just told her, `You know, we have to get married,'" is how Fred tells it.
Although Fred had never married, MiAsia wasn't the first woman he had proposed to. "For three years," he admits, "I would go up to women and say, `I'm looking for a wife.'"