t was a long week, and that last day was crummy. “Burning the candle from both ends,” my mom would say. I had been working every single day for multiple weeks on end – so yes, even weekends. On this particular day (the Sunday of my latest work trip) I was at the end of a bust of a day walking around Philly, which I had never been to before, and where I didn’t have time to visit with the few people I knew in the area. It was a solo bust. And while I had some time to kill, I did not enough hours to explore or energy to get myself out of the doldrums.
I Yelped. I found a place that does mani-pedis, and I walked in off the street. This would mark my fifth manicure ever. Second mani-pedi. It’s just not something I do. I’ve always written off nail salons as luxuries. Impractical by the definition of “luxury,” and also extremely girly. But it’s all I could locate in this unknown city with unfamiliar streets and foreign parking situations.
But again, I was in a low mood, so parking the rental and asking for an impromptu “mani-pedi” seemed like a good, honest way to treat myself.
When I sat down for that mani-pedi, I was prepared for a foot bath and then some nail polish. It wasn’t until halfway into the foot bath that I realized I was in a massage chair. Hey, my back neck and shoulders are in sad disrepair. Let’s knead it out. Pamper Level II.
The gentleman doing my pedicure was great. I didn’t care about him being a man, and this being my second pedicure, I didn’t know much of the variance in quality anyway. He soaked, exfoliated, and lotioned my feet. Every time he wrapped my legs in hot damp towels, I thought of throwing him an extra $12 just to cover me in body-sized hot damp towels and leave me in a dark room so I could pass out. Instead, he came back with two flat, round stones. For what? For extra massage, his hands told me. I seriously came in off the street and had no idea I’d be getting a hot stone massage in addition to the never-quite-good chair massage that I thought I was already overindulging with.
All the while I was being a brat reading a shitty airport book (The Fault in Our Stars – inexplicably I had been on a kick for Better Than Ezra’s “At the Stars” single the day that I bought it, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about the book. And yeah, I still cried.), not talking to this man who was pampering my feet and lower legs, and just…getting a pedicure.
It occurred to me – a person who has a hard time asking for help, who is overly self-righteous enough to find herself “above” salon-type services, who loathes physical touch with people she doesn’t know – that getting a mani-pedi could be a great exercise in personal development. It put me back in the world. It made me think of others with whom I’d have to share intimate space for more than three minutes. It’d force me to stay physically in one spot that did not revolve around food. While my phone (Read: BUSINESS MACHINE) was easily accessible in my open purse next to me, I was terrified of it getting wet by the turquoise pedi water, so my over-practical nature even reasoned my actions toward more analog behaviors. For instance: Fucking reading The Fault in Our Stars instead of swiping through work emails. (I was still self-righteous enough not to touch the celeb mags next to me. Although that could have been my distrust of other patrons’ germs. And yeah I already checked and this nail salon used prepackaged tools.)
By the time I was up for the manicure, I was feeling accomplished, like I had made great advancements in calming the fuck down. Not quite. I was awkward with the whole sponge-between the toes thing. Despite this man having washed, moisturized, and painted my toenails, something about the imagery of him putting salon shoes on for me felt like a perverse modern ritual of servitude. I found myself defensively insistent when he asked “Did you bring your own slippers?” – like, no, I wasn’t that type of girl who just carried a pair of salon slippers in her bag for whenever the fancy struck to shove her feet in some person’s face so they could earn minimum wage.
I shuffled to the manicure station, and thus Part II of my Mani-Pedi Trial commenced. Here it was ever more awkward to avoid the gaze of the woman doing my fingernails. For one, we were at the same level now. I was not elevated by a massage chair. Had she looked up and not focused on her work, we could have made eye contact. Couldn’t have that. I wasn’t ready for it.
Second, my hands were non-literally tied by the let-the-paint-dry process of nail polish. As productive as I am on a mobile phone, I couldn’t pump out emails with four fingers plus thumb as quickly as I normally do with two hands, and when the initial coats of strengthening oil were applied, I…was just…stuck. I gingerly dropped my phone back into my purse for fear that I would reflexively try to reply to a vibration and muck up my wet nails, thus botching the entire double-digit investment of the mani-pedi. (Impractical.)
It was during the manicure itself that I started to think: Hey, this is kind of forcing me to unplug. This is weird. It’s Mayka-sized meditation. I can’t do a silent retreat (at least, not now) – I can barely relax on my “down time,” but this, this I can do. Maybe. We’ll have to see in thirty minutes.
Before we could get to the painting, she spritzed my forearms and prepped my hands. She then pointed to my engagement ring, asking if I’d like to remove it. Reflex Answer: No. Actual Answer: Reluctantly raising my arm forcing her to make the decision that if removing my ring was truly necessary, she’d be the one responsible for doing it. She slipped it off, laid it visibly next to my hand where it wouldn’t be knocked off the counter, and slathered on blobs of lotion that she pulled and massaged into my arms. Detaching from symbolic material things. Not all bad. (Temporarily, anyway. I would not be back home now if that ring were still missing in the streets of Philadelphia.)
As she applied pigment, I watched the process itself, admiring her body memory for how much glop to allow to accumulate at the end of the brush. I admired the stroke of color being applied where a proverbial blank slate existed before. I started thinking of sand mandalas. It was a stretch, but perhaps the very tangent is indicative enough of how wound up I was when I walked in.
When she directed me to the drying station, I started to think: This is the most zen thing I’ve done in months.
The red lights radiating onto my hands and feet probably weren’t good for my eyesight, but they drew me to focus on sitting still, not moving. When I reflexively twitched as the woman came around for the next phase of my treatment, I nicked my left thumb against my forefinger. The slight move left a dent in both. My OCD mind couldn’t not see these nicks, but I also knew I was one of their last appointments of the day and that I stood between them and closing up shop, going home. So when she smoothly swiped a couple more protective coats onto my fingers, I told myself to just live with it. Worse things have happened.
After that secondary protective coat, she pulled out a stool to stand above me, which had me perplexed again – but she was about to give me a neck and shoulder massage! Again feeling like I had struck gold as a newbie walking in for a mani-pedi, I shut my eyes, thinking, Just let her touch heal you. Do not twitch your fingers and toes.
Following that massage and top coat came another round of massage and top coat. Indeed, each cycle was unexpected for me, and I just contemplated the idea of going with the flow. Maybe it’s another top coat, or another nick, but maybe – just maybe – it’s a massage coming up! In the extended work week earlier, I had done a solid job of letting go of overplanning tendencies and let the road trip take me. This mani-pedi was the summit of my zen hero’s journey for work-life balance:
- Letting go.
- Asking for help.
- Detaching from material things.
- Going with the flow.
…I even felt like I was meditating on my nails trying to sit still without physical restraints.
Eventually I paid for my mani-pedi and walked out the door. The result on the outside is twenty nearly perfectly painted digits, hued perfectly in step with Fall. The result on the inside is: Wow, I need to fucking relax. And focus. And do a little bit for me more regularly.
I am of that obnoxious ilk, busying herself with work to create worth in her time, as if a schedule is at all an indication of accomplishment and merit. But why all this running around, why this overextension, if time off is spent only in lowly energized defeat? Worth in our time comes from development toward self-actualization. (I’m embarrassed to say The Fault in Our Stars is the most recent anecdote causing me to ponder Maslow’s hierarchy.) No one gives you a badge of honor for working yourself to the bone, karoshi–ing yourself, and having zero energy to exert an authentic personality with individual interests. If you’re going to be a workaholic: 1) You better have something to show for it, and 2) Be an interesting person when you tell the tale.
My mani-pedi might have been petty, but it also slowed me down and forced me to sit without smartphoning for an hour. Mayhaps you’ll see more better groomed in the near future.