On Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. sharp, I have a weekly appointment at the Paradise salon. After I’ve dragged myself away from my office desk and have had a quick bite for dinner, for 30 minutes, my nails are primped and pampered in a sybaritic nail shop housed in a strip mall that's a true sanctuary for women who do too much.
“Pick a color,” says Young as I walk in the door and she signals me to her station. The corps de ballet of immigrant manicurists, dressed alike in black aprons over white shirts, welcomes me in unison. Directly to the left of the entryway is an impressive floor-to-ceiling backdrop of shelves of miniature bottles, arranged first by color and then by hue. The display includes barely-there pinks, conservative peaches, and luscious reds, followedby the wilder-looking purples, plums and blues. Without wasting a moment, I respond, “Ballet Slippers,” a pale pink.
Like season ticket-holders, we know exactly what to expect. The regulars proceed directly to their manicurist, who’s waiting at one of the twelve nail stations.We come face-to-face with someone who knows us by name, but not well enough to interrupt our respite from responsibility with anything more than a superficial conversation. I suspect that, in this instance, language barriers are on our side.
The right side wall of the shop is lined with nine pedicure stations, each comprised of a high-back, black plastic, executive massage chair poised over a foot spa. The whirling jets offer warm waters for weary feet. Once a month, I splurge on the 60-minute manicure-pedicure combo.
Customers arrive either solo or in pairs: two friends, a mother and daughter, and occasionally a couple. Most of them look familiar so we smile at each other politely. The couples have me puzzled. “Do they nibble on each other’s toes,” I wonder. On the rare occasions when an unescorted male enters this female haven, heads turn to stare. The man usually positions himself spread-eagle for a quick getaway–which can only be achieved by a simultaneous manicure and pedicure, with two operators working on him in tandem. I once heard a man cry out in pain when, at his request, a third operator waxed away the hair inside his ears. He never returned, at least not on a Thursday evening.
Jessica, the manager, is perched at the cash register. As another walk-in enters, she asks, “Manicure,pedicure, or both?” If a customer says, “I’m here for a bikini waxing,” she is immediately whisked down the aisle separating manicures and pedicures to a room “backstage” where the services are performed behind closed curtains.
With a fresh swab of cotton, Young carefully removes my polish from the previous week. Methodically, she immerses one of my hands in warm water and then the other. She inspects each nail and says they look better than the week before (a sure sign that I’ve been wearing my rubber gloves for dishwashing).
“Square or round?” she asks. She files each one, cleans under the tips, and nips the cuticles. Afterwards, she dashes to the microwave at the back of the shop and returns with two warm washcloths with a waft of fresh lemon. I remove my watch and stuff it in my handbag. She places one washcloth on each arm, cleanses my hands, and applies moisturizing cream from the fingertips to my elbows. She kneads each hand slowly, finger by finger, and then massages and pats my supple arms.
The reverie is only interrupted momentarily when she hands me a small slip of paper that notes the charge. To avoid smears and smudges, I take money out of my purse (including an offering for Young) before the polish is applied. Then she puts on a base coat, two successive coats of fresh polish,and a topcoat. In a moment of absolute transcendence, I hold my hands up to dry.
“Do you want ‘Quick Dry’?” Young asks. The super-dry coating assures a quick dry when your hands are placed in one of the four fluorescent drying gizmos in the shop. Ten minutes later, after two five-minute dry cycles, I reluctantly wave and say a warm good-bye to the choir and head home.
By Sunday morning, the beautiful shiny veneer begins to lose its luster, probably from dishwashing, even with the gloves. By Monday afternoon, I also notice that the tips of my nails are chipping as I precariously balance family, home and career. But then I take a deep breath, knowing that Thursday will soon roll around soon enough again: thirty minutes when relaxation and mindfulness are at my fingertips.
About the author: Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author, and a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.Her most recent book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend (Overlook Press).