I won’t say it was a dare, as much as something someone said “I just needed to do before death.” That has come pretty nasty intonations, so let’s just get it out of the way that there is no immediate danger here. Unless….
I am standing in a room with twenty-six well-stuffed leather chairs, all of which sport massage rollers along their spines, and some oddly-shaped buckets beneath their bottoms. There are mirrors and photos of East Asian women and lighting that suggests romance is imminent. Sixty-two percent of the chairs are filled with barefoot women who seem to find it acceptable that small Vietnamese people are stuffing cotton balls into their toe crevices and shrieking (loud is not the word for it) with the sort of high-pitched clangs one would expect from people having a fight with flung aluminum cans. Echoes of running water resonate throughout the place.
I am here for something called a mani-pedi, and if we are being honest, I’m kind of freaked out about the whole thing. Filbert (the name explains everything you need to know about him) takes my hand and guides me to my chair at the rear of the room. Filbert is 5’4, with comic strip black hair and the type of effeminate lisp that you just know got him his ass kicked in grade school. Filbert also appears to be flirting with me and lets his hand linger a little too long on my shoulder before passing me on to a woman whose name I didn’t quite get but sounds like “Tongue.”
Tongue has six teeth, and if her name really is Tongue, that would be awesome.
Anyway, Tongue places her hand on my knee and starts to untie my shoes. For those who don’t know, I play a lot of tennis, which means we wear some pretty offensive socks and have appendages that have an extraterrestrial thing about them. I’ve developed a soul-penetrating anxiety about this and the red cheeks and leather-sticking sweat I’m now wearing, just makes the whole thing miserable. Tongue makes an interplanetary sound that matches my feet and then hoists her hand to her nose and backs away from the whole pedes area altogether.
When she returns, she is holding a card with a price tag on it, presumably suggesting I need – let’s call it a callous-shaving service – before we move on to the nails thing. I don’t know how she thought I said, “Yes,” but a few seconds later she’s using something off a construction-site to sheer off half my foot. I hear “Holy Christ, are you fucking kidding me?” come out of my mouth, but luckily the Vietnamese chatter drowned out most of my scream. As Tongue bores into my right sole, Lina appears with a white surgical facemask and a dipping bowl (you women have issues). Lina grabs my left hand and immerses it in one of those milky-like substances you see first-graders have running from their noses. She places my other hand in the dipping bowl as Tongue starts hacking at my other sole. Across the room, two women, who I’m fairly certain, were laughing at my mani-pedi-virginity, cover their mouths and shake.
In Vietnamese, the phrase Dep Trai means handsome. I know this because at least five of the staff passed by and said it to Tongue, who slurped back her agreement while Lina alpha-dogged about her dep trai client. Filbert even tossed out a dep trai with the sort of aggressive wink that suggested he might be willing to stay after hours if I could summon the interest.
I need to confess something. I’m a masculine, blue-collar-mentality guy who spends a lot of time sweating and mucking about in some pretty dirty areas. I pee on trees for God’s sake. The idea of nice nails being relevant in my life is slim. I don’t think it makes my top 1000 list of imperatives. But I’m aiming the philosophical arrow at something here.
By doing this Mani-Pedi thing, for a brief moment, I’ve slid down the masc.-fem. spectrum into the metrosexual zone. There’s this old joke about a modern day Lothario who sleeps with a thousand women and then has one drunken night with a guy named Biff and for the rest of his life he’s called a C-cksucker. I kind of feel like that, as though I’ve now done something to erode the fact that I like peeing from a standing position, that I am no longer allowed to root for football teams and stare at women’s breasts, that I now have to call a tow truck to fix my flat tire and might have to add conditioner to the whole morning shower routine, that I might someday have to let someone buy me dinner.
Lina files down the nails on my second hand and Tongue is now jamming cotton balls between my toes, an act, which she performs with the tenderness of a proctologist shoving a comforter up one’s ass.
And then both women disappear and I am left to stare out at the clientele, most of whom are staring right at me, presumably wondering about my gender-identification issues or who the woman was who forced me into this – I’m guessing Filbert is curious too.
Just when Ithink the discomfort is done, Lina and Tongue return, this time both wielding large plastic bags of a steaming orange waxy substance, which, it turns out, is steaming orange wax, and the temperature of lava, and now being wrapped around my hands and feet in ways that suggest both mummification and a sincere desire to burn the client to death. “It will moisten and soften your skin,” they say between my screams, and then Tongue gives a big smile that shows her dental habits are even worse than the British.
Seven burnt minutes later, I am sulking. The wax-filled bags have solidified and I’m pretty much catatonic in my leather chair, surrounded by a roomful of women laughing at my misery and suffering the lingering looks from Filbert-my-wanna-be-lover and a bunch of oompah-loompahish Vietnamese women that think I’m quite dep trai, but also, just a really big pussy.
Lina puts her hand on my shoulder and removes the wax bags. Imagine trying to open one of those plastic-wrapped electric razors or remote controls, the ones that stare at you like a caged monkey and then mock you while you rip and tear and scream your way through it, only to find out that what you’ve ripped off is actually just the front of the packaging and the razor is in the back and so you start to think about killing either the person that created this plastic tomb or yourself. Well, you get the point. Tongue is tugging and yanking the ones off of my feet. They both withhold their mocking for what I imagine is an effort to get a larger tip. I give them each $20 and tell them that if I ever walk in this door again, they are to kick me in the balls and send me back to my car. I figure that will save me a lot of pain and the price of a mani-pedi.
The point here is this: I have a newfound respect for the lengths women go to look groomed. For the future, I’m content with your nails being back-scratchingly long. And if your toes aren’t perfectly painted and aren’t baby’s ass soft, I’ll survive. Next week, I’m heading over to Vietnam to let them know the war is over. Hanoi no longer needs to send folks over here to torture our women. And as for my new look, well two hours and $50 later, I can’t tell the damn difference.
Post mani-pedi update:
Two days later, I began to feel pain in my feet, the result of the newly-shaved callouses now creating a completely different balance and walking terrain. The skin on my soles is now splitting and sore, and with the bleeding and sock lint now sticking to them, the whole thing looks like a Jackson Pollack painting gone awry.