Monday, December 26, 2005

At The Quik-E-Nail

There are these chains of manicure-pedicure places that are springing up like Starbucks all over the city. They're usually run by Korean or Russian immigrant women. I was in need of a manicure today; I'm going to wear the "good" pantsuit tomorrow and it looks wrong without a faceful of make-up and painted fingernails.

Usually, I go to a small, boutique-y salon near my office for this kind of stuff, but I swore to myself and the co-workers who insisted I take those use-'em-or-lose-'em vacation days that I would go nowhere near the office until I return to work on Wednesday. So I walked up to the reception desk of a nail place in the neighborhood and asked if I needed an appointment.

"No, I take you," said a young woman in a Bloomie Nails apron, sotto voce. "Come quickly." She led me to a seat in a barracks of manicure stations which faced a barracks of nail-drying stations. I picked a color from a phalanx of bottles and followed hastily, since she seemed to be in possession of the knowledge of some secret plan.

At my usual salon, the esthetician is Mickey, a woman about my age who emigrated from South Korea when she was in her 20's, and who keeps up a steady patter while she's working. She'll regale me with tales about her family, her other customers, and where she got the designer suit she's wearing for $1.98. By contrast, my manicurist at today's place, whose name tag identified her as Linda, sawed silently away at my fingertips with an alacrity that strongly suggested that she was getting paid per customer. It was kinda like the difference between having a mistress and going to a $20 'ho.

She even asked for the money up front, or at any rate, before she put on the polish. The price I'd been quoted at the desk did not include the special quick-drying topcoat or the manicure tools; I'd brought a few of my own but for some reason, lacked a buffer.

After the polish was applied, I sat at a nail drying machine and watched a flat screen TV with the sound off and the closed captioning on. It was showing "The Gauntlet," an MTV reality show where groups of well-oiled youngsters competed and partied on a beach in the Caribbean. About fifteen minutes later, as the contestants ran with coconuts on bamboo poles, Linda was standing next to me holding out my jacket.


Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. She clenched her hands to indicate to me that I should do the same in order to keep my surface-dried nails from touching anything as I put my arms through the sleeves. I had the tip handy without having to dig into anything snaggy, thanked her and left.

A leisurely walk around the neighborhood without using my nails, and they were indeed dry all the way through. Although probably not "hold a steaming pot of mashed potatoes" dry as I reheat last night's leftovers.

So here I am at my keyboard getting ready to visit my mother tomorrow at the convalescent home and wear the "good" pantsuit. And reflect that at this time when old acquaintances are so important, they extend to something as seemingly trivial as finger- and toenail maintenance. Having stable relationships is important, although a quickie can sometimes be a satisfying, albeit empty experience.

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