My grandmother has electric purple toenails.
She is 93 years old and donning the sort of painted nails you would expect to see on Lindsay Lohan. She is proud of her audaciously painted nails, smug about them even. If you turned up to her bridge game and questioned the veracity of her toe color, she would peel off her TED hose and wiggle those lacquered digits under your nose. After confirming the hue myself in this very way, she slapped a piece of paper in my hand and barked, “Go get yourself one. I can’t remember the name of the color, but you’ll know it when you see it.”
In my hand was a gift certificate to the nail salon.
Approximately seven minutes later, I lost it.
Accustomed to losing documents of far greater import, like Social Security cards and car titles, I was unfazed and entirely self-assured the nail salon would have record of the transaction. No misplaced piece of flimsy paper would stand in my way of the first pedicure I would have in months. I’ve forfeited countless indulgences in the way of my personal grooming since having children. The pedicure, above all else, is something I lustfully miss given my predisposition to heel cracking and sub-nail bruising. If my grandmother’s toes looked like they belonged to a Reno hooker, mine looked as though they should be attached to a shoeless Mexico City boy hypnotically dribbling a soccer ball around tourists.
Dressed in the attire of savvy salon-goers, I arrived in flip flops and pants seen on ladies who also wear visors and stroll the beach for sea glass. I crossed over the threshold, took a cursory glance at my environment, and immediately understood this was not one of those salons for upper-crust women and their Caramel Macchiato-addicted tweens. This was the neon lotus flower blinking in the window while images of Vietnamese children dancing to pop remixes jerk across hanging televisions kind of place.
Having cut my teeth at Asian salons in New York City, this setup is my comfort food, my mac ’n’ cheese with a side of acetone. I don’t balk at the pixie-sized nail technicians straining to up-sell services. I don’t care that four out of five of the massage chairs have malfunctioning compression, rolling and kneading modes because I’m just happy to sit my butt down even if the only working mechanized option could best be described as Buffalo Resuscitation. I turn a blind eye to the unsanitary regimen of cleaning a pumice stone by dipping it in the trough of feet water. I like the perfunctory attitudes, the array of neglected bottles holding polish separated into solids and oils, the “Best of Mariah Carey” album set to repeat. No pomp. No circumstance. No bull about razors causing bodily infections.
As I sashayed to the display tower in pursuit of Prostitution Purple, the realization that I had to articulate more than “just regular manicure and pedicure” washed over me like icy water tossed from a bucket. I turned to the first of the tertiary technicians to explain my gift certificate predicament. Her eyes glazed over with disinterest and she waved me away as she was suddenly busy devising a Dewey Decimal System for the bottles of polish. I was handed off, down the line, in a series of dramatic turns and evasive maneuvers as if we were all a part of a synchronized swimming routine. I looked up, dizzied from the sequence, to see I had been deposited before the nail salon fixture more dreaded than a foot fungus.
The male owner.
I approached carefully, and with a pious bow, as if I were a plebeian granted counsel with the emperor. Steady. Despite near constant exposure to isopropyl alcohol, he can still smell fear.
I began my appeal.
“My grandmother bought me a gift certificate after she had her toes done in this wacky purple that she wants me to have done, too, because it would make me feel better if my feet looked more tended to. See, I have three children who keep me in a vertical position way more than I’d like, and I’m always running around and losing my mind. And since we’re talking about losing things, that brings me to my point, which is that I lost that gift certificate that she gave me. I just can’t find it within my home, like it’s not where it should be, kind of like that bottle of purple polish that I can’t find here …”
A moment later I was — miraculously — seated in a chair.
I dunked my pitiable feet into the lukewarm pool and tucked into one of the waterlogged Star Magazines from 2008. Still breathing haggardly, I focused my concentration on a browning Bonsai tree and eased into the scraping pressure of the pumice pad. All serenity was shattered when my nail technician began conversing riotously with the employee crouched beside her. All I could think about was how they were probably wishing they had a cane machete to tackle my callouses and were likely comparing my legs to two pieces of seared tuna.
I stumbled out of the halogen-lit pagoda into the street and took stock of my toenails. They were far less striking than my grandmother’s, since I had abandoned my pursuit of her color, out of stress and fatigue, and instead nodded without looking toward the neighboring patron and muttered, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Never realizing until the paint had dried that my neighbor was having a color called Pink-A-Doodle applied to her toes.
Because she was six.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast, where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.