Today at the Nail Salon I found myself more attuned to my surroundings and the people than I had been in the past. I noticed the almost guilty looks on customers faces as Asian women scrubbed and rubbed their feet and hands. I too became a little embarrassed as I took off my shoes, laid down my belongings and climbed into the massage chair above the woman who was to do my pedicure.
I had on a dress, but I wore spandex shorts underneath so that I would not “flash” my pedicurist. Still I felt uncomfortable as she kneeled below me and washed my feet. Who was I Jesus? Jesus, it was strange. It felt very homoerotic. We did not talk other than her occasional directions to put my feet here and there. I was not even speaking to the lady that was washing my ugly feet! What a bitch I felt like. At that moment I felt obliged to at least say SOMETHING to her. My conscience was giving me hell. I told her I was ticklish as she scrubbed my feet with a pumice stone. She smiled and continued. I would hardly call that a successful conversation. I asked her if I could get a manicure as well, she said sure.
I’ve always wondered why the pedicurists put so much damn lotion on my legs when they do the massage. It takes forever to rub in. And it makes me uncomfortable. This woman massaging my naked legs, sometimes well past my knees. Her tiny hands. It felt good. I wondered what she was thinking. Did it feel homoerotic to her also? Did she hate doing it? Did she like it? She added a hot stone to the mix which felt amazing. I really shouldn’t be enjoying it this much I told myself. I felt like Queen Sheba looking below at the pedicurist, observing and qualifying her work. She wasn’t the best, but she was good. I surely have the right to be critical when I’m paying for a pedicure, but I still felt guilty for being that way.
When the pedicurist transformed into manicurist and began doing my nails I sporadically glanced at her from across the table. She was young, unmarried, pretty, and seemed to be doing her job out of obligation instead of enjoyment. I wanted to ask her if she went to school here or if she was related to any of the other workers, but I was fearful of coming off as condescending or presumptuous. I didn’t want her to think that I was really interested in whether she was an immigrant or whether she spoke fluent English, which I have heard others shamelessly ask nail salon employees. I was curious about her and I wanted to talk to her, but I just didn’t know what to say. I wondered her story. I wondered whether she had children. I wondered if she was happy. All very personal things that were not really any of my business, but I wanted to know more about this person who had been touching my feet and legs for about half and hour. She wasn’t a cashier at a restaurant or a retail store in which I would have casual, brief, scripted exchanges. Our interaction was more personal. Hell, it was physical. I felt I should know something about her.
She broke the silence by asking me if I was off of work today (it was before 11am). I told her I was on summer break and only teaching online classes this summer. She seemed briefly interested in the fact that I taught at a college. As she painted my nails, a few of my fingers would instinctively touch her hand. She had soft skin. Her nails were unpolished, but manicured. She would occasionally glance at me to make sure that I was approving of the job she was doing. She was better at the pedicure than the manicure. I wondered if she was going to ask for my payment or make me pay before she had finished as others had done at other salons. She didn’t. She escorted me over to the area where I would sit and let my nails dry, smiled and walked away.
I had been in the salon for about an hour. My nails had been cleaned, clipped, and polished. A woman spent an hour doing these things just for me, just as I wanted them. I did not know her and she did not know me. I left the salon satisfied and introspective. I hadn’t even asked her name.