A small Asian woman greeted us. Her skin had a honey tinted hue and her face was heavily wrinkled. “Hello. Would would you like today?” she asked with an accent. Right from the beginning, they never showed any mercy. She threw out a bunch of bizarre sounding terms that Erika and I have never heard of. I reached for a menu describing all of their services and the woman seemed to frown disapprovingly. Holy crap, getting your nails done is expensive. I chose the most basic service at $12 and Erika chose one step up at $25. “This way, this way,” the woman beckoned. Erika was seated first and I was sent to the opposite side of the room. Regulars filed in after us, many of them in their teens.
On my right was a grizzly black man. Are manicures that great? I thought. The manicurist said something to him and he grunted in acknowledgement, then left. She turned to me. “What would you like today? Gel? Style nails?”
I found myself battling sale offers for the rest of the session. This will last 2-3 weeks, this will not last that long… look at your friend, she’s getting that… most people do this, yiddayadaya. I felt like we were bartering at a black market. “How about this service? It will include hand massage, make your hand feel really good and very soft, only twenty dollars.”
“Sure,” I said, defeated. My hands could use a massage.
She brightened up and repeated, “Your hands will be very soft, very soft.” After she finished scraping and plucking the dead skin off my nails and cuticles (it was like snake skin), she scrubbed my entire hand with an orange exfoliator. “Where are you from?”
“Taiwan.” She raised her brows. “How about you?”
“Oh okay, cool.” Her movements were swift and precise.
“Do you go back a lot?”
“Not really. I’ve been living here for a long time. How about you?”
“No,” she smiled bitterly, her eyes locked on my nails. “Is most of your family here?”
“Yeah. I’m guessing most of your family is in Vietnam?”
“Yes. My family is in Vietnam. I come here to work and get money,” she said and sighed. Here was a woman doing what she could do to survive. How much of her family did she leave behind in Vietnam? parents? husband? children? How did she get here? What food does she miss the most? I imagined her walking down an earthy road in the early morning with a serene smile on her face.
“What’s it like living there?”
“What’s living in Vietnam like, like your living experience? What do you like about living there, or what don’t you like?” It took her a moment to process my question.
“What I like… the weather.”
“It must be hot.”
“Yes, it’s hot. Not like here, cold all year round. Mm.” Our dialogue flowed like when you bring the spoon to your mouth, then just drop the wonton and the soup lightly splatters onto your face. She got up and came back with two plastic bags full of purple liquid. “Put your hand out like this.” I spread my fingers apart like she showed me and placed my hand palm down into the bag of mysterious liquid.
“Oooo.” I cringed. It felt like I submerged my hand in boiling water.
“Too hot?” I nodded no at first, then changed my mind.
“Yeah it’s a little hot,” I said quickly.
“Okay, we fan it out.” She smiled and aired the next bag out for a few seconds. It didn’t help much. The salon was understaffed and she went to attend another customer. When she came back to check on me, I thought, Oh, maybe this is over. She wrapped my hands in warm towels and left me to perish.
So there I was, my hands bound by plastic bags full of burning water, the heat perpetuated by warm towels, stranded in the middle of a nail salon. The liquid eventually cooled and became gel-like in consistency; it felt like I had stuck my hands into a Ditto. My nails took 12 minutes to dry.
“Next time we should try a spa.”