Lee Stress-On Nails

My grandmother has electric purple toenails.

She is 93 years old and donning the sort of painted nails you would expect to see on Linsday Lohan in a courtroom. 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 claim – because she’s not wearing gladiator sandals to really put them on display – she would peel off her TED hose and wiggle those laquered 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 color name, 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 the way of the first pedicure I’ve had in months. I’ve forfeited countless indulgences in the way of my personal grooming since having children and closing out my career, but the pedicure, above all other treatments, is something I lustfully miss given my masterful competence at stationary activities and 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 one of those shoeless Mexico City boys hypnotically dribbling a soccer ball around tourists while he lifts their wallets. Alas, I have mostly given them up as the nail salon is the one place I have trouble confidently swiping our joint debit card since my husband can never be duped into believing it’s a medical emergency, like getting my roots colored.

Dressed in the attire of savvy salon-goers, I arrive in flip flops and pants seen on ladies who also wear visors and stroll the beach for sea glass. I cross over the threshold, take a cursory glance at my environment, and immediately understand that this is not one of those salons for upper crust white women and their Caramel Macchiato-addicted tweens. This is the neon Lotus flower blinking in the window while images of happy Vietnamese children dancing to pop song remixes jerk across hanging televisions kind of places.

Having cut my teeth at exclusively 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 4 out of 5 of the massage chairs have malfunctioning Compression, Rolling, and Kneading modes because I’m just happy to sit my ass down even if the only working mechanized massage option could best be described as Buffalo Resuscitation. I turn a blind eye to the unsanitary regiment 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 bullshit about razors causing bodily infections.

As I sashay to the display tower in pursuit of Prostitution Purple, the realization that I must articulate more than ‘just regular manicure and pedicure’ washes over me like icy water tossed from a bucket. I turn to the first of the tertiary technicians to explain my gift certificate predicament. Her eyes glaze over with disinterest and she waves me away dismissively as she is suddenly and inordinately busy devising a Dewey Decimal System for the bottles of polish. I am handed off, down the line, in a series of dramatic turns and evasive maneuvers as if we are all a part of a synchronized swimming routine. I look up, dizzied from the sequence, to see I have been deposited before the nail salon fixture more dreaded than a foot fungus.

The male owner.

I approach carefully, possibly with a pious bow, as if I am a plebeian granted counsel with the Emperor. I start to perspire in between my legs, an orifice I only sweat from under extreme duress. Steady. Despite near constant exposure to isopropyl alcohol, he can still smell fear.

I begin my appeal.

My grandmother bought me a gift certificate while she was here having her nails done in this wacky purple that she wants me to have done, too, because it would make me feel better if I 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 mean, I didn’t lose it, like in the street where some depraved person who cant afford food but now has a valuable nail salon gift certificate that they’re going use as collateral for needles and bottles of Jack Daniels within a network of vagrants. 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…

The circuitous and ambling treatise is met with a shrug and an expression seen only on Terri Schiavo. I needed an ace. Some ninja smoke.

Isn’t Mariah Carey just the best?

A minute later I was 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 mini Bonsai tree and relaxed 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.

Now, my Mandarin isn’t what it should be, but I’m pretty sure I heard the following:

She looks like one of those ‘didn’t realize I couldn’t tip on the card’ types

Her legs look like two pieces of seared tuna

The village elder who walked the length of the Yangtze River had smoother heels than this lady

20 bucks this one smears her top coat before sliding on her flip flops

Forget a razor, I need a cane machete for these callouses

I stumble out of the halogen-lit pagoda into the streets as my phone rings from my pocket. It’s my husband. His salon sonar must have sounded. Too jittery to talk, I ignore the call and take stock of my toenails. They are far less striking than my grandmother’s since I 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 Pink-A-Doodle applied to her toes.

Because she was six.