The Gentle Diva on “Pedi-quette”



Since summer is finally upon us, The Gentle Diva wants to move away from books and publishing and Department of Justice lawsuits and the craven, rapacious greed of Amazon and talk instead about… pedicures!  If you’ve read any of these humble blog offerings, you’ll have divined that publishing lunches often cover a rich variety of subjects having alarmingly little to do with the written word. Children and dogs, of course, remain among the top ten subjects, infertility and affairs, generally appalling behavior, are always welcome and over-stimulating offerings. Many publishing lunches are consumed with the state of the world and since we’re all a fairly mouthy lot, we’re always on overload with opinions, speculation, ejaculations of indignation about how badly our leaders or would-be leaders are running America.  Occasionally these lunches settle upon a lighter, less aggravating subject and so it was, one day when I was about forty that I had a quick meal with Carole Baron, an old friend.  She had just enjoyed a quick pedicure and was raving about this hole-in-the-wall place just off51st Street. Being the curious creature that I am, I pursued this line of lofty conversation, since I’d never enjoyed a professional pedicure.  What was it like? What did they do to your feet? What was the big deal?

Okay, I admit it, I’m a late bloomer. Carole did her best to hide her dismay and simply told me that, in terms of bang for your buck, it was $20 dollars incredibly well-spent.  So later that week, being a great learner from people I respect, I took myself to the local Korean “Happy Nails” spa and had my very first pedicure.  Dear reader, it was nothing short of a revelation!  That deliciously hot tub of fragrant bubbly water, the little pools of melted wax sitting in plastic bags to press against crusty heels, the exotic range of colors, from fuck-me-red to don’t-come-near-me-blackened-moss! A full hour of buffing, and clipping, of massaging the calf, the woefully neglected, over-worked foot, it was heaven!

If Paul Krugman, in his marvelously clear latest book, END THIS DEPRESSION NOW!, is right—that “your spending is my income, and my spending is your income”, then the global economy should eventually perk up, given my spending.  From that first pedicure twenty years ago, I’ve come to discover no end of sybaritic pleasures—the once-monthly massage, and pedicure.  The twice-yearly facial, the waxed brows and of course, the “I-may-be-turning-sixty-but-can’t-yet-face-turning-gray” hair getting colored.  Truly, I’m doing my part to support the economy, and lucky me, to be able to do so, I freely admit this!

In the course of these self-indulgent forays into the service economy, I also discovered something about myself: I cannot seem to employ a “service” without making friends.  The moment I enjoyed that first pedicure, I needed to know Jung Park’s story, how she’d fled North Koreatwenty years ago. How the Chinese were aggressively encroaching on the mani-pedi business. How badly Jung wanted to improve her English.  How she longed to see her Mom once more before she died. On and on and on, a full hour of Jung’s story.  I immediately went marching off to Rockefeller Center the next day, to buy several Korean/English language books, to launch and then extend her assimilation into this country.  Similar relationships developed with masseuses, wherein I’d become so involved—okay, over-involved—with that person’s life that I began to dread visiting Todar, for example, listening to his anguished tales about the Bulgarian mafia operating out of Sofia, the aphids assaulting  his tomatoes, his daughter’s older, slightly louche boyfriend.  I began to withdraw, dialing back my visitations. Enough, already!  I have my own large messy life, what the Irish fondly call, The Troubles!

When I finally “gave in” and had a pedicure, I was greeted with reproach from Jung, she’d missed me, she’d made me some Kimchi with spices that her Mom had sent in a double-wrapped jiffy bag, all the way from Seoul. I apologized, looking around “Happy Nails”, sinking into the plush leather.

What I observed disturbed me and yes, it’s judgmental but The Gentle Diva IS judgmental, isn’t that, at least, clear by now? A mother was having a mani-pedi and her daughter, not yet five, was having the same treatment at a nearby chair.  There is something really appalling about watching a fifty-year old woman, someone who has been driven in a van from Queens at five that morning, bending over the supple young, barely formed leg of a bored five-year-old.  Maybe the Mom was desperate for some bodily attention and couldn’t get a babysitter, I thought charitably.  Maybe this child was bullied on the playground that morning and this is her reward, a mother/daughter foray into “Happy Nails”? Whatever the scenario, to which I wasn’t privy, I began to notice this phenomenon more frequently: impossibly young girls being buffed and foot-massaged and painted before they could conjugate their first verb.  The Gentle Diva wonders what has happened to the virtue of delayed gratification?  Of waiting a bit for the small but meaningful pleasures that life can offer? Isn’t this, after all, why we love Spring—that first daffodil, primrose, tulip, branch of Forsythia after a harsh and sunless winter?  It was Shakespeare himself, in CYMBELINE, who wrote “The more delay’d, delighted.”

Okay, so it’s now established that limousines are actually a safe alternative, prom night, to yet another high school senior being wrapped around a telephone pole at three in the morning, post prom, I’ve made my peace with that. I used to seethe at the sight of ten pubescent kids joking around in the inner chambers of a limousine, as they were escorted to some ab-fab dance. Probably because I didn’t even know limos existed until I was old enough to pay my share to ride in one of them.

Clearly, people have enormously varied capacities for love, grief, pleasure and more.  I suppose if that five-year-old was on a special Mommy bonding trip, I’d feel less irritated by how short-changed this kid was.  But the Mom was texting frantically and the little girl was working desultorily at some Gameboy, not even acknowledging the Korean woman bent over her young frame, a figure of defeated supplication.   For every reason in the world, this was a sad and truncated portrait of a girl who might have everything—and possibly nothing, not really—by the time she turned fifteen. Maybe her soccer/dance/chess/French lessons had been cancelled.  Maybe she’d thrown an inelegant hissy fit, deciding against the cherry red polish of the week earlier and wanted it re-done, NOW.  Worst of all, maybe her mother simply didn’t known how to “be” with her own child on a sunny, Saturday afternoon.  Anyway, not my problem but a sobering observation.  At least the U.S. Economy got a little boost that day…

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9 Responses to The Gentle Diva on “Pedi-quette”

  1. Katie says:

    I couldn’t agree more, particularly with regard to the rituals of womanhood. With all of the hassle involved in becoming an adult woman, the special pleasures it offers should be cherished and doled out to young girls carefully and with maximum appreciation and sense of occasion.

  2. Paulita says:

    Your observations about delayed gratification are spot on. I bemoan that trip to Corsica at 22 when I was still too young to appreciate it the way I would now.
    I indulge in a pedicure once or twice a year, but my last one left me feeling guilty. The woman was seven months pregnant scrubbing away at my running calluses. I’m not going back til that baby is born.

  3. Dear Gentle Diva:

    We’re all judmental. One’s thoughts are opinions which are, in one way or another, judgments. I concur with your feelings about a 5-year old getting a pedicure from the overworked refugee from a supressive culture. Seems this mother might’ve used her time better by giving her daughter a pedicure herself. I sometimes cut my fiance’s hair, and find the experience to be an intimate, bonding one. Yet I also have to say I concur with Paul Krugman (whose book I’ve yet to read) that spending keeps the economy afloat, even when the life-raft has numerous pinhole leaks! This wealthy woman (I’m assuming she’s wealthy, and there’s another judgment for you!) treating her 5-year old to a pedicure was, after all, spending money.

    I like this post. I’m a writer of novels and would like to query you, as long as your list strikes a chord with my muse.


    Margo Christie

  4. Fran says:

    This was such an enjoyable and informative read, it has all the earmarks of a good piece of fiction.

  5. So glad you discovered the amazing delight of a pedicure! I don’t get manicures – ever. My fingernails react badly to all the chemicals. But my toenails must be tougher.

    I recently completed a grueling contract assignment and decided to reward myself with a self-indulgence I’m normally too cheap to allow. So I hied it down to my friend Vicki, plopped my tootsies into the warm water, and vegged while she massaged, clipped, pampered and painted. What pure joy!

  6. Dawne Webber says:

    A sobering observation for you. A jolt of fresh perspective for me. This sunny, Saturday afternoon my two youngest children and I played a few hands of rummy then made birthday presents for their dad.

    Until I read this post, I thought it would have been nicer to take them to see a movie or go to a water park where they could run loose and I could read. Maybe not having the money to do those kinds of things with them has been a blessing and not the curse I thought it was.

  7. Deborah Purcell says:

    Dear Molly,

    I am thrilled to have discovered “The Gentle Diva”! Not only is it hilarious, observant, colorful, and candid, it also gives me much with which to identify. E.g., I too discovered pedicures, massages, and the like rather late in life (I attribute this to being raised by Depression-era parents), and I too get overly involved at such appointments and wind up equally exhilarated and exhausted rather than rested. My most recent salon experience turned into one part mani-pedi, one part Chinese lesson, and I feel I must put off my next appointment until I’ve done the homework I’ve now created for myself!

    At any rate, eagerly looking forward to your next post.

    All the best,

    Deborah Purcell
    Bedford Corners, NY

  8. Love the Shakespeare quote: “The more delay’d, delighted.”

    Funny, I was blogging about delayed gratification just last week. It’s pretty safe to say that every author I know understands the concept, unequivocally:)

  9. Thea Phipps says:

    I’m in my fifties and I have yet to have a manicure or a pedicure. I’m told that it is a wonderful experience. And then I saw one woman grimacing in pain while a small, intent worker (teenaged boy) scraped out the underside of her toenails. The woman’s face was so red and contorted, she wouldn’t have been out of place on a Lamaze video. Scared the hooey out of me.

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