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…