Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Trip to the Salon

The common American man is not in the habit of going to the salon for a pedicure, or a manicure, or any other kind of a cure. That's just the way it is. There are barber shops for men. You go in, you wait your turn, you talk about sports, you get your hair cut, and then you go on about your business.

There are exceptions, I suppose. The Wall Street broker, for instance. The corporate lawyer. The fashion conscious pimp from the hood. But by and large we just don't do the whole salon thing. It is frowned upon. In fact a man may justly fear the censure of his fellows if the news gets around that he’s hanging out in a foo-foo beauty salon getting his toenails and fingernails pampered and snipped, filed and polished, soaked in lavender elixir, and so on.

Well, things are different here in Bali. Men do get pedicures. They do get manicures. They do get cream baths and the occasional facial.

Nonetheless, given the traditions with which I am familiar, I was reticent when my wife demanded that I get a pedicure. It wasn’t just the macho aspect of the thing. It was shame. Yes, shame. My feet, you see, are not normal. For one thing they are old. And some of the toes are crooked. And some of the nails on the toes are as thick and yellow as weathered patio tiles. I’d turn them in for new ones in a hot minute, but one can only imagine the cost of new feet these days.

It was Sun Tzu who sagely recommended that we choose our battles with care; and as this particular issue seemed important beyond common measure to my wife, I ultimately took Sun’s advice, ceased in my struggles to free my elbow, and let myself be led to a chair.

With many apologies in advance, I removed my shoes and exposed my horrifying feet for all to see. And all did see. And then called in others to see as well.

This is where the talent of the professional manicurist truly rises to the surface. Without gasping, without shrinking, without fainting or being ill, the young woman kneeled before me, caressed the two wooden doorstops that have long masqueraded as my feet, and assured me--and with a straight face too--that they were not so very terrible. They simply needed a little help. They needed a little care.

And so she went to work. To my surprise no heavy machinery was needed. No drills or chisels. Rather, with small instruments precisely fashioned for such tasks, accompanied by a studious nibbling of the lower lip and a working of the tongue around the corners of her mouth, the young woman snipped and scraped her way to an artful restoration of something resembling real human feet. My hermit toes peeked from their yellowed blinds and did, as I believe, smile in gratitude and amazement.

Now it was time for a head massage. That sounded pleasant enough. There’s nothing very obviously wrong with my head. It’s not crooked, chipped, discoloured, nor otherwise a source of particular embarrassment to me. I relaxed therefore into a new chair and awaited the soothing touch of a new practitioner, while my wife did the same with her own head.

Who knew that a massage could be so excruciating? Or that the fingers of a masseuse could be so like crowbars? The girl had digits of iron. They were hard, dense, digging digits. Her thumbs were like shovel blades, deftly separating nerve from muscle, muscle from bone, man from boy. Through every digging pass I fought back tears, fought back groans, fought back the desire to bolt from the chair and run out the door.

And yet, glancing to the left upon the face of my wife, I found there an expression of perfect repose--eyes closed, jaw relaxed, lips turned up in sleepy smile.

How was it possible? I had to this moment thought myself a man and able to bear rigors beyond any woman’s endurance. But oh my God, my head, my head!

“Enak?” the girl asked.

“Oh yes . . . Sooo good,“ I managed to whisper in reply.

I cannot say that I enjoyed the pain, nor that my head felt improved in the end. I say merely that I survived. And that I learned one thing.

The beauty salon is definitely not for sissies. It is for the brave, the strong, for those who endure. And even for Americans too.

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