I dropped into Tammy’s new salon again for a manipedi. (I’m the daughter of a Nebraska farm girl; I learned the term only a few years ago in New York City. It means manicure and pedicure.)
Three other women were already in the salon when I got there, two of them getting new hairdos from Tiffany, and the third present apparently just for moral support or for fun.
Although I hadn’t met any of them before, they welcomed me into their friendly conversation, the kind of chat women everywhere have when they’re kicking back. We moved from fresh-vegetable delivery services to the latest about Melanie’s young husband and his medical treatment in Denver, and on to what kind of shops we would like to see in the new storefronts that are replacing the burnt-out Mercantile.
We need something like the original Mercantile, everyone agreed: A place to buy good jeans and strong boots, you know. Carhartt jackets. Maybe another place that sells local handmade crafts, like Sandy did in the pop-up shop over Christmas, as well as sewing and craft supplies.
I never used to get a manipedi in Dubois. Here, my feet are in boots all the time, and since I play mandolin and fiddle, I have to keep my fingernails very short. Anyway, who wants a manicure when you go hiking every day?
I would wait till I got back to New York, where manipedis are essential to normal grooming if you don’t want to feel like white trash. Back in our Brooklyn neighborhood, there’s literally one nail salon per block. They’re even more prevalent than Starbucks.
In there, you wouldn’t exchange any words with the stranger flipping through InStyle at the next station. The only conversation took place with your manicurist. “Choose color. Square or round? File or cut?”
Sometimes I would try to strike up an actual conversation with the young woman working so intently on my hand. (Or, more embarrassing, my feet. Visions of Jesus and the disciples would come to mind, and the implications of servitude.) The conversation often failed, because the young woman spoke so little English.
Most of the clients are fairly affluent. Nearly all the manicurists in New York City are recent immigrants from Asian countries, most of them in their teens or early 20s. They wear name tags that say Nancy or Mandy or Susie, but you know that’s not the real name. It’s there in the hope that you can remember them when you come back. But who does?
A few years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about abuses in the nail salons that made the relationship even more awkward. It reported that some salon owners charged high “training fees” before a young woman would be allowed to work there, that many of the employees earned only tips, not salaries, and that usually they lived crammed several to a bedroom, in basements or wherever.
I’d sometimes ask my manicurist about her working conditions, but who knew if she was telling the truth? You wouldn’t dare to ask about their living conditions.
Tammy, the manicurist in Dubois, is somewhere near my own age. With the demeanor of an ancillary health professional, she discusses the physical state of my keratin and my cuticles: why I shouldn’t cut cuticle (infection risk), whether I’m going to lose the nail on that finger I slammed in the car door (probably).
Given the ugly smashed nail (it makes Tammy’s tummy hurt to look at it), we decide on wacky dark teal polish that looks close to black. As she works, we discuss how she came to open the salon.
Tammy used to own the coffee shop downtown. She sold the business because she wanted something easier to leave behind when her husband gets around to retiring. She noticed that there was no manicurist in Dubois, so she got herself trained, got a certificate, and opened the shop.
The wacky blackish manicure lasted only a few hours. I ruined it putting on my snowshoes later that afternoon. Oh, well. I’m more the kind to just wear that ruined nail, or a Bandaid.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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