Fancy Feet

  • Barbarella

It's a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson

I should have taken her someplace nicer. As I parked the car, I tried to remember my motives for bringing her here -- any other place would have been like trying to expose her to Mexican food by taking her to Taco Bell. I was committed to giving her the full experience, regardless of how confused and frightened she might be. Whatever sympathy I felt for my apprehensive sister was eclipsed by incredulity -- how did she make it to 26 without ever getting a pedicure? Entering this popular walk-in salon always reminds me of the first time David took me to a dim sum brunch on Convoy. Orders and questions are fired at me faster than I can decipher them -- the words carried on thick accents like intricate oral designs interwoven on a verbal blanket. My friend Stephanie calls this place, "Youpickculuh!" because that's what is shouted at anyone who crosses the threshold.

"You, pick culuh!" Jenny looked at me for guidance and I pointed to the shelves on the back wall, lined with bottles of nail polish. I went straight for the reds; Jenny examined a deep burgundy.

"Manicure and pedicure?" I couldn't tell who had asked this; when I looked up at the room, at least four slight Asian women in white coats -- their straight, dark hair pulled back into ponytails -- were looking at me in expectation.

"Just pedicure," I said, aiming my answer at some point in the air between them.

"Spa?" This was asked in a nasal tone not unlike the thick whine of actress Rosie Perez, whose shrill Brooklyn accent sends shivers down my spine. To our right were two large, vibrating spa chairs, only one of which was available. "Come, sit, have spa, relax," said the whiny one.

"We'll wait until they are both available," I said.

The woman-in-white shook her head left to right and gestured emphatically toward the available spa chair. "One now, few minutes, together."

"We'll wait, thank you," I said, a little more forcefully. The woman's bluish-green eye-shadow, hidden beneath her heavily penciled black brows, was revealed when she closed her eyes for a moment -- probably in frustration. She prepped the spa chair with water and supplies, sat on the stool from which she would work, and stared at us.

Jenny and I stood near the entrance. "Sit," demanded the woman, who suddenly reminded me of an iridescent and carnivorous dragonfly.

"I've been sitting all morning," Jenny said, and laughed nervously.

The Dragonfly stood from her stool and walked the three feet to our side, where she pointed between us at the white plastic chairs against the windowed wall. She tried her command once more. "Sit!"

"No! Thank you, we'll stand," I said. "And we'll wait until both spa chairs are available before either of us will sit in one." The woman undergoing treatment to our right looked our way. "Don't worry," I said to her, "We're not in any hurry, so relax and enjoy yourself." This seemed difficult to do, especially with my sister and I hovering over her -- two vultures circling her spa chair.

The spa chair, what an invention! In this newest version of what I like to call the "pamper-me throne," the chair doesn't just vibrate, it also kneads . Fist-sized balls installed beneath the faux leather intermittently protrude into your back; I'm not sure how it all works, but rarely do I ponder it for long. When it was our turn, Jenny and I rolled up our pants to the knee and sat on our respective thrones, placing our feet in the tanks of tepid blue water beneath us. Air jets circulated the water, though not as forcefully as my feet would have liked.

Dragonfly grabbed one of Jenny's feet after it had barely touched the water.

"This isn't supposed to hurt, right?" Jenny asked. Her face looked a little pale.

"No, not really," I said, but not very convincingly.

A man sat on the stool before me. What? A guy? Isn't that breaking some kind of code? And what's with that extra long thumbnail? Usually it's the pinky nail one cultivates to facilitate the snorting of illicit powders. I glanced over at Jenny, who was unusually quiet. She looked pained.

"You can turn the kneading part off," I offered to Jenny. Relieved, she reached for the appropriate button. Meanwhile, this man was applying cold polish remover to my toes, which were covered in last-month's red.

"Fuh sub?" Dragonfly called up to Jenny. She held up three fingers and repeated the question. "Fuh sub?" I wish I knew what went through my sister's head at that moment, because her expression was comical. She looked bewildered, as though she'd just been asked, "Do you walk to school or take your lunch?"

"Yes," I called out, "We both want a foot scrub, and we know it's three extra dollars." Then, to Jenny, I added, "This is good, it's like the apricot stuff you use on your face."

"Is it going to tickle?"

"No. I mean, it's mind over matter. You'll be fine." Despite my assurance, Jenny furrowed her brow in trepidation. At least I couldn't remember it being ticklish.

The grainy green slime reached Jenny's foot and her entire body stiffened -- the vibrating chair hummed along to no effect. Her lips grew white as her face reddened. And then her eyes began to water as she strained to stifle her giggles and keep her foot from wildly kicking her tormentor. Seeing my sister react in this way awakened the overactive juvenile that had been lying dormant within me. So when that guy took the scrubber to my foot, I was uncontrollably ticklish for the first time in years. I never knew that, like yawns, ticklishness could be easily passed from one person to another. When the "fuh sub" torture finally ended, Jenny and I melted back into our chairs -- she to vibrations, I to intense kneading.

Dragonfly and Thumbnail exchanged a few words in their native tongue, looked at us, laughed, and then continued speaking to each other in the foreign language. Jenny eyed me uncomfortably. They're totally talking about us , she silently communicated to me. Duh, I nodded. Can you blame them?

The next part in the pedicure process is usually my favorite, but my pedicurist's gender was a distraction. Lotion was pumped from its plastic container and applied generously to my legs and feet. Those thumbnails were held aloft as the rest of his hands massaged my flesh. The last time a man touched my feet like this, I was the one getting paid. I wondered if this was strictly business or if this man was living his dream.

"Did you pick a color?" I opened my eyes. The massage was over. Funny he should ask, as if he wasn't well aware that the one prerequisite to sitting in this chair was to pick a goddamn color. I handed him the bright red bottle. Dragonfly was already halfway through painting Jenny's toes a dark merlot.

I finally learned what those thumbnails were for after the footman applied the first coat of red polish to my big toe. When he painted along the edges of my freshly filed and buffed toenail, some of the red pigment made it to my skin. In a movement as fast and natural as the blinking of an eye, he brushed a thumbnail along my cuticle, and the red was gone. He must have quickly wiped his thumbnail on something else because when I next caught a glimpse there was no trace of red there either. This man was the Neo of nail painters, and I was in the Matrix Salon.

Dragonfly led us to the toe driers. Once our feet were nestled inside the boxes that harden the paint with ultra-violet light and a fan, I turned to my sister and said, "See? That wasn't so bad, right?"

"How long do we keep our feet in these?" she asked. "Am I in far enough?"

"Yeah, totally. So? What did you think?"

"It was weird. The scrubbing was horrible. God, that feeling was just so...Wow! My toes look great! I'm never going to wear shoes again! How often are we supposed to get this done?"

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