There’s a place I go, ducking in while others work or tend their children. I have mixed emotions about this pastime, this guilty pleasure fast becoming a habit. Even a few months ago, I shunned it as unnecessary and frivolous. Now I can’t seem to stay away. Just the other day I entered and asked for my usual.
“Manicure and pedicure?”
A woman nods, indicating one of the high chairs lining the walls. I climb up into this large comfortable perch as a young girl fills the basin with warm, scented water. Across the way on a flat screen TV, Rachael Ray makes pizza. Three chairs down is the only other pedicure customer, an older lady reading a magazine. Two teenage girls are having manicures, giggling as pink polish goes on. The air has a clean, feminine smell.
The attendant lowers my feet into sudsy water and that’s when the guilt begins. This kind of indulgence isn’t something I grew up with. My mother was a painter, more concerned with oils and watercolors than the state of her nails. My grandmother was a business woman, more attentive to her seaside motel than her cuticles. I shamefully realize I like this more than expected.
Sometimes while the attendant preps my nails I read, although I find it hard to be blasé when someone’s touching my feet. Sometimes I watch the silly chatter on TV. Sometimes I sit and think, although I must be careful where my thoughts go. My oldest son’s in college.
The other day he sounded down on the phone. My youngest just received his Learner’s Permit. I push back visions of crushed bumpers and bent metal. My husband works too hard, travels too much, and has too little fun. There goes the guilt again. I’m a housewife with time for a pedicure.
As I’ve come to learn, every treatment in this salon involves massage. My feet are ticklish and at first the thought of someone, especially a stranger, touching them seemed foreign. And yet like all the staff here, this pedicurist is gentle but firm, flicking her eyes on mine from time to time to check my reaction. When she kneads my instep, tension dissolves like butter in a pan.
After applying polish to my toes (the only place I wear bright red), she helps me down and carries my purse while I waddle with cotton-wrapped feet to the manicure table.
There Jenny, a pretty Korean woman waits and smiles. Jenny soaks my fingers and after poking, prodding and oiling my cuticles, takes a hot towel from a nearby heater. I put my hands in a prayer position as she wraps the fragrant cloth around.
Jenny also gives a massage, pulling each finger, making swirling motions in my palm. All this touch makes me wonder if other cultures respect the body more than we do. From watching my husband, I know corporate America thinks nothing of late night meetings followed by early morning conference calls.
The body seems incidental, a thing to be used up, it’s needs ignored. When I was in advertising, it was nothing to leave at 7:00 p.m. with someone asking, only half-kidding, “Working half a day?” I felt weak and ashamed for needing rest, being tired.
Exercise classes here are exhausting and grueling. And yet here in this salon, the body’s treated gently.
Two coats of pale pink later, Jenny guides me to a series of dryers along the front window. I slide my hands and feet under the fans. She presses two silver buttons. Warm air blows on my hands and feet as I glance out the window at the little Connecticut strip mall. Its late afternoon and I wonder what to make for dinner.
“You want massage?” asked one of the pedicure ladies. “Yes,” I reply. Again, I submit to the stranger’s touch, the most intimate. She squeezes my shoulders, neck, arms, and sides. I bow my head as she works on my upper back and realize its taken time to yield like this, to relinquish control.
The sensation is tender, almost maternal. It’s funny how the first time I came here it was only for nail treatments. Massages were secondary, something to be endured while I got the real work done.
Now the opposite has happened. I’ve grown to love these interludes and realize they soothe me in ways nail polish never could.
Ten minutes later, the dryers stop. The masseuse slips away. I carefully pick up my purse and turn to say goodbye but the women are busy, bent over hands and feet of other customers. I find myself almost looking forward to the polish chipping and cracking again.
Then I can return once more to this place of renewal and restoration, to this place I go.
(Published in “Connecticut Muse Magazine,” Autumn 2011).
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