The young woman at the nail salon looked like a pregnant Olive Oyl, as thin as sticks with a close to full term baby belly. Olive wore a surgical mask which seemed to me to be overdressing for the task at hand. What was it she could catch from my feet or my feet from her? I was baffled. Still, I was happy that I got Olive. She seemed bashful and probably wouldn’t want to chat. I hate chatting.
She turned on the little hot tub for my pedicure, motioned for me to climb into the chair and put my feet in to soak, and walked off to get supplies. I got settled with two issues of People and my trusty phone looking like every other woman there. That was my goal – to look like I’ve done this for years. It’s part of my overall mission to do more things that other women seemed to do all the time – like manicures and pedicures, wearing dresses (both just conquered), and having facials and massages (still mysteries to me).
Olive came back with a fistful of tools and sat at a manicure table across the way. She’s going to work on someone else, I thought! What about me?
Just then, a young man, maybe 24-25, slid over on a little rolling stool. Handsome guy in a black T-shirt, the front of his brown hair slicked up and tinted gold, this guy, T-Man let’s call him, was going to do my nails. No, wait, this man was going to fiddle with my feet, trim my toenails, push my cuticles around, and hunch over with his face just inches away from my feet and paint my toes a dark orange-y red. I felt like I was meeting up with somebody who answered my ad in Craigslist. Older woman seeking young man to play in hot water with her feet.”
T-Man took one of my feet out of the water and started looking it over. Immediately, a war set off between my sexist and feminist selves. “Damn, I don’t want some guy messing with my feet,” Sexist Self said. “Stop gender-stereotyping! Be a cool person.” Feminist Self answered. They went off into a back alley of my brain to duke it out. I tried to look mellow, unsurprised, decided that this was part of my bigger vision of becoming more sophisticated. Sophisticated women don’t yell “Ick” if a male manicurist touches their feet. Right? Right.
I texted my daughter in California. “A man is doing my pedicure.”
“Weird,” she texted back. No kidding. But I endured. I endured when he wrapped my legs in hot towels, took the towels off and started punching and massaging my calves even though having him leave the feet and travel up my legs seemed like, what?, a lot. It seemed like a lot to have going on just to walk out with red toes. I could have given myself a pedicure, I thought, even though the contortion that’s required to paint one’s own toenails is really extreme depending, of course, on your body type, composition, you know.
I kept my head stuck in my People magazine and read about how Michael Douglas’ marriage started to tank after he told the world about how he ‘caught’ his throat cancer. I don’t blame Catherine Zeta-Jones. I mean, really, was that necessary? Meanwhile, I turned a blind eye to T-Man. I gave my legs and feet over to him to put in and out of the water, buff, scrape, soak, file, and paint. I became a human rag doll, there to be gussied up.
Proud of myself for my forbearance and extreme calm, I shuffled in my flip flops to join T-Man at the manicure table. With both hands either soaking or being worked on, my strategy of hiding behind People wouldn’t work anymore. While he sat hunched over my hands, I stared first at the bad art on the walls and then at his shirt, his black shirt, his black shirt with “I’m Happy Today” written below what first looked like a crown but, as I stared and absorbed and finally discerned, turned out to be an M formed by the spread legs of a woman on her back wearing stiletto heels.
Sexist Self came running out of breath from the alley in my brain where she’d been wrestling with Feminist Self for the past half hour. Feminist Self pulled up right behind her. Both of them were sweaty and wanting to know what was up. “See what happens when you have a guy do your nails?” said Sexist Self. “Yeah, see what happens? said Feminist Self. They started a chorus….”This shirt insults women. This shirt insults you. Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.” The chanting in my head was deafening.
T-Man asked if I wanted to pay before he painted my hails. I said yes and he ran my credit card. He painted my nails a beautiful, very pale pink, a perfect job. Then he parked me under the nail dryer and went to work on someone else. I sat, hands and feet under blowers, no way to read, only bad art to look at and the chanting ebbing and flowing in my brain. “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.” It made me crazy so I decided to get up and leave. Time to get out of there, get in my car and go someplace less confusing, less political.
But before I did, I picked my way through my messy purse, opened my wallet and pulled out a tip. I folded the bills and put them on the tiny table where T-Man was doing another woman’s nails. “Thank you,” I said. “Oh, thank you,” said T-Man.
I sat in my car. I just gave a tip to a man wearing a t-shirt with an M formed by the spread legs of a woman on her back wearing stiletto heels.