On Sunday E.S. and I went to get manicures and pedicures.
I have been after him for months and months to do this with me. He claims always to have been willing but says he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Since he had dragged me to Brooklyn the day before to go to Target–I must be in love with this man if I’m willing to suffer such indignities for him–I told him he had to get a manicure and pedicure with me the next day, or else.
Since there are three Korean nail salons on every Manhattan block, it wasn’t difficult to find one near E.S.’s apartment. The pedicures went exactly as one would expect them to, but then when our nail experts beckoned us over for our manicures, there weren’t two seats next to each other, so we ended up being separated by a thirteen-year-old girl. All was well until, while our cuticles were being trimmed, the girl looked up and over to her mother, sitting on the other side of me, with a helpless expression on her face. “Mom . . . I . . . this isn’t good . . . I want the other . . .” Finally, she managed to express that she was dissatisfied with the job her manicurist had done.
“You must tell me what you want,” said her manicurist in an almost incomprehensible accent. “I ask if you want cut, you say no, I put cut away. If you want cut, you tell me.” The girl continued to look helpless; she was finally able to communicate, by means of half-voiced whines, that she thought her manicurist was incompetent, and she wanted a replacement manicurist to finish her up.
JAP bitch, I thought. With your hair and that nose, you have bigger problems to worry about than fingernails.
The replacement manicurist did a good job cutting what the first manicurist had failed to cut, and began to paint the girl’s nails, a lovely peach color. As my nails were being buffed, though, the tiny sounds started again. “This is . . . this is wrong . . . I should have . . . I should have stayed with the first one . . . could I . . . ?”
The first manicurist said no, she couldn’t. Then she said something in Korean to another manicurist; I didn’t understand it, but it seemed to contain the word “psycho.”
The girl’s face crumpled.
And in an instant my perception of her changed utterly. I felt a rush of pity for her. That’s not whining I hear I thought. It’s crippling doubt. You’re not a JAP bitch. You just have an anxiety disorder.
“Oh . . . this is . . . why . . . why did I do that?”
Her mother answered in a voice dripping with contempt, “Because there’s something wrong with you.”
Scratch that, I thought. You have an anxiety disorder and a terrible mother. When E.S. and I got up to leave, our nails impeccably cleaned and shaped, the girl had the nail polish in hand, trying with trembling fingers to finish the job none of the manicurists in the shop would touch now.
E.S. and I went to have dinner but the whole time all I wanted to do was run back and save her.