Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The working life: Getting a pedicure in Elbonia


I had finished my work early. My plane didn't leave until 11 p.m. I knew to be at the airport three hours early. It would take ten minutes - maybe 15 - to get there. So I had to be ready to leave the hotel by 7:45.

I had to check out of my room at 6:00, a super-late checkout brought about over my complaints about the loud music that woke me past midnight every night.

More on that later. But honestly, if I have to have a highly acute sense, could it be vision instead of hearing? I work around the noisiest people in the world. Nice people, but noisy. I sometimes put in earplugs while I'm at work, but that doesn't really help. I need an office. I want an office. I cannot bear the decline in status in my work life of going from an office to a cubicle. Yes, I know I am shallow. Tell me you wouldn't be bothered that you once had a window office on the 8th floor and now have a cubicle next to the chatty granola-eating, apple-crunching, keyboard-pounding, work doesn't require any concentration people.

Back to the hotel. I had finished work early, so went out to do some tourist stuff (which, I admit, included going to the mall and buying some t-shirts and a skirt at Zara - on sale). On my way to the metro, I passed a salon. It had only male stylists and male customers, but so what? I don't care. I saw a sign that they did pedicures. I walked inside and asked how much.

"Thirty dirhams," they told me, which is about eight dollars US. Which is not too bad. Then they told me I would have to wait 30 minutes because their pedicure guy wasn't in just now. I told them I would come back later that afternoon after my touristing was done - you can't exactly get a pedicure and then put your tennies back on right away, can you?

Oh yes. The tennies. I have finally surrendered. I have given up my quest for nice-looking walking all day shoes. I said to heck with it who am I trying to impress anyhow? I'm almost 50 years old. I'm invisible to men. I might as well be comfortable. So I put on my running shoes for my touristing and you guys, it was a great decision. I don't care how bad white running shoes look with jeans. All I care about is that my feet didn't hurt after walking several miles on cobblestones.

I spent the afternoon touristing around and returned to the salon at about 3:45. Had to be out of the hotel room by 6:00, needed to pack, wanted to shower before the 16-hour flight, not to look great (although my vanity is strong despite a basis for vanity) but to keep from getting smelly. Oh if only the other passengers would think to themselves, "Perhaps a quick bath and some clean clothes would not be out of order. After all, I have not used deodorant for a week and have not bathed in that time, either." Alas, such was not the thinking of the woman who sat next to me. She was ripe. She also remained in her seat the entire 16 hours. As in, she did not get up one single time to use the bathroom.

How does anyone go 16 hours without using the bathroom? I want that bladder.

I popped into the salon. "I'm here for my pedicure," I announced cheerfully.

Seven male heads swiveled in my direction. Eyes widened. Jaws dropped.

I smiled at the man I had spoken to in the morning. "Is he here?" I asked. "The guy who does the pedicures?"

The guy looked uncomfortable. "Yes, but he is with a customer."

"Oh," I said. "Will he be long?" I looked around for the nail polish so I could start thinking about a color.

There was no polish.

"Perhaps. But you know that this is for men only," he said.

I shook my head. "What?"

"This salon. It is for men."

"But you do pedicures," I asked.

"Yes."

"For men."

"Yes."

"But not for women."

"No."

"But this morning when I asked, you didn't say this."

He looked uncomfortable and cast a glance at a heavy, bearded man who sat in one of the waiting chairs, a big pinky ring on the hand that spilled over the armrest.

Armrest hog.

"Let me see," he said.

He walked over to the pinky ring guy and spoke quickly in Elbonian.

He returned. "We usually do not take women, but we will make an exception for you. But the man who does the pedicures is busy right now." He nodded toward a stylist in the back who was carefully shaving a young man.

BTW, these male salons were all over the place. SH and I had noticed an entire strip of them on one street. Men getting shaved, men having their hair deep conditioned, men getting facials. It was outside these salons, while I was in a coffee shop asking for directions because SH was too mortified to ask - "It makes me look stupid to ask for directions!", an assertion I dispute as who expects a foreigner to know his way around Elbonia and even if it does make you look stupid, so what? You're in Elbonia. You don't know a soul there.

It was outside these salons that SH was propositioned by a prostitute.

He declined, insulted, telling me afterwards, "Do I look like a man who needs to pay for [wxyz]?"

"Charlie Sheen says that you don't pay for the [wxyz], you pay for her to go away when you're done," I pointed out.

"But I don't want you to go away!" he exclaimed.

I wanted to hug him for that, but Elbonia frowns on PDA and I didn't want to have to bite the tongue off my jailer.

But may I say something? There is nothing like being told you can't do something to make you want to do it more. All I wanted to do when SH and I were walking around was to hold his hand. Which is not something I think about that much when we're at home. I should think about it more.

I looked at the clock. It was almost four. "I don't think I can wait," I said. "Is there somewhere else?"

He exhaled in relief. "There is a ladies' salon a few doors down," he said as he pointed.

"Fine. I'll go there." I leaned in and whispered to him. "But this rule about men only? It's stupid."

He smiled and nodded slightly.

I went to the other salon. There were two Filipino women in there, wearing blue smocks and watching a very dramatic soap opera in what I think might have been Tagalog but I'm not sure. It wasn't Elbonian.

I knew it was dramatic because there was a lot of dramatic music and a lot of people hurling themselves across beds and sofas and tearing at their hair and weeping.

The two stylists were entranced.

I smiled and asked if they spoke English. They did. Did they do pedicures? Yes. How much? Sixty dirhams, twice the cost at the men-only salon. Unfair.

Seriously. As if women aren't screwed enough in that culture, they have to pay twice as much for their foot care?

But what was I to do? I sighed, looked at the clock, and sat. I had time.

I thought I had time.

My stylist kept casting lingering glances at the TV. This must have been her favorite soap opera. She started to buff my callouses but kept turning at key moments on the soap. I watched the clock nervously.

She switched to trimming my cuticles. Very, very, slowly, again, with frequent stops to keep tabs on the heartbroken teenager who was sobbing across her bed while the mother in full makeup, big, teased, Dallas hair, and evening jewelry, even though it was daytime on the show, gingerly patted her back and threw in the occasional phrase in English, such as, "There will always be men."

"Maybe you don't need to trim the cuticles," I suggested. "Just push them back."

She ignored me and kept trimming. Perhaps she didn't speak English after all. I looked at the clock. Still time if we kept on schedule.

But by 4:40, she hadn't even started to paint my nails. I was getting nervous. The hotel was just on the next block, but I wanted time in the salon for the polish to dry. I didn't have flip flops with me. I had no interest in being the rude American tromping around barefoot in public.

At 4:42, she got out the polish and indicated I should pick a color. I picked red. Of course. Why bother with any other color if you are having a professional do it?

She picked up the bottle, rolled it vigorously between her hands, and opened it. Dipped the brush in. The polish was clumpy.

This was when I should have told her I would take pink instead. But I didn't do that.

She ambled to the counter, picked up a bottle of thinner, and poured in a few drops. Rolled the bottle again. Inserted the brush. A little better.

She returned to my feet. Painted the first toe. Frowned. Rolled the bottle. Returned to the desk. Poured in more thinner. Rolled again. Painted the second, third, and fourth toe. Rolled her eyes and rolled the bottle. Painted the fifth toe. Whew.

It was too late for me to choose another color, but maybe we could get this show on the road.

Then she did something that I found utterly baffling.

Rather than paint the toenails on Foot #2, she started to put the second coat on Foot #1.

Which makes no logical sense whatsoever. Don't you want to minimize total drying time? And isn't that goal best achieved by maximizing the time that each subcoat is exposed to air? She was doing it all wrong!

I was aghast. However, I speak no Tagalog, so I was unable to say anything.

She finally finished Foot #1 and moved on to Foot #2. It was 4:53. I was stressed.

We repeated the Foot #1 process.

Then she put a coat of clear polish on top of both feet.

4:48. I stood, handed 70 dirhams to the stylist at the counter, grabbed my purse, tied the laces of my shoes together, stuffed the socks inside the shoes, grabbed my Zara bag, and ran.

I kept my head down so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with anyone who might see me running barefoot on the sidewalks of Elbonia.

Then I kept my head down in the hotel as I rushed to the elevator. I lifted it enough to see a bevy of girls - maybe eight or nine - wearing fluffy white dresses and full makeup. Full makeup! It is a creepy sight indeed to see girls wearing full makeup. Who does that? Who puts a girl in full makeup? Who sexualizes a nine year old? Sick, sick, sick.

I made it to the elevator without making eye contact. Got to my floor. Ran to the room.

Safe.

With red toes.

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