My grandmother, who is 93 years old, believes in living a little dangerously, which is why she does things such as have her toenails painted electric purple.
She is proud of her audaciously painted nails, smug about them even. I’m certain she has peeled off her pantyhose to show the rest of the gals in her bridge club exactly what color she chose. After confirming the hue myself in this very way, she slapped a piece of paper in my hand and barked, “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.
About 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 my first pedicure 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, and if my grandmother was still doting on her feet, I figured I too should be regarding mine more.
I arrived to the salon 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 teenagers. This was the sort of place in which a neon lotus flower blinks in the window.
Having cut my teeth at these sort of 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 nail techs 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 and the “Best of Mariah Carey” album set to repeat. No pomp. No circumstance. No excuses about razors causing bodily infections.
As I sashayed to the display tower in pursuit of my grandmother’s 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 king. 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 machete to tackle my callouses and were likely comparing my legs to two pieces of seared tuna.
I stumbled out of the halogen-lit palace 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 anxiety and fatigue, and instead nodded without looking toward the neighboring patron and muttered, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
I didn’t realize until the paint had dried on my toes that my neighbor was having a color called Pink-A-Doodle applied to her toes.
Because she was 6.