I'd looked forward to the appointment for three weeks! I loved foot rubs, especially since Charley had reneged years ago. I had calluses across the bottom of my toes and heels from all the tennis I played. In addition, balls protruded from the bunions of each big toe.
I'd explained all this on the phone each time I booked. "You come early," the receptionist said in clipped English. "You so-wok!"
"You so-wok! You know - tub?"
"Oh, you mean I have to come early to soak!"
"Yeesss." Her voice dipped through the "Ye" and then lilted upward for the "s's." She was obviously running out of patience with me.
I showed up looking forward to the lengthy soak. "Kim," the American name for receptionist Sholon, showed me to my tub. It was in a line with nine others, all occupied. "Kim" threw a tablet of disinfectant into the water. "Too much hot?" she wanted to know, as I stepped into the water and positioned my butt on the raised seat.
"Perfect!" I said. Kim trotted off in her four-inch heels. I turned the massage button to "knead" and sat back to enjoy the moment.
When I'd first started coming to this salon, it had been a mom-and-pop operation. I remembered when the couple's second child had been born, and when they'd expanded the space. Where had all these other Vietnamese come from? The family must have chartered a boat to sponsor them. At least they were working!
I noticed a bald Vietnamese male speaking with the other two men behind the manicure stations. He towered over them. He started walking toward me, struggling with rubber gloves. He yanked and twisted the rubber, raising his eyes to me above his mask. "Small!" he said, throwing the gloves in a nearby waste bin. His gnarled hands could have used the services of his peers.
I didn't like the looks of this! I was here to relax. I concentrated on my printed page, while the man went to find larger gloves. I prayed someone else would show up at my tub.
"You choose color?" he said to me. I handed him my selection.
He had to remove my old polish first. He did what any field worker catching a mouse would do: he pressed down on my five toes with the palm of one hand, while the other hand rubbed off the pink polish. I looked down the line at the Vietnamese women working. They held their customers' toes gingerly between two fingers. If he pushes down any harder, I'm going to say something, I promised myself.
Next came the callus removal. My guy squirted liquid from a pink plastic bottle onto the rough areas, then grabbed a large pumice stone. He rubbed the stone back and forth, applying more and more pressure with an elbow motion that would have given him the blue ribbon in a sawing competition. For the bottom of my small toes, the only thing he changed was the size of the stone. Finally, he was satisfied that the calluses were smooth. I tried to resume my reading.
"Short?" he asked.
I wasn't sure what he was talking about. Then I realized he was holding the clippers in his hand. "Yes," was all I said. I wanted to explain that my big toenails get ingrown from my tennis sneakers, but I knew it was futile.
The nail clipping accomplished, he began to snip away the dead skin at the corners. I watched his every move, and he watched me watching him. When he dug underneath, I winced. "Hurt?" he asked.
"No more!" I said.
"OK?" he asked.
Oh God, he thought I was asking him for more snipping. What a difference a comma makes! "Stop!" I yelled. The other operators all looked up and began chattering in Vietnamese to each other. I felt like telling them my husband had been in their country during the War, trying to prevent the North Vietnamese from overrunning the place. Why was this man torturing me?
The other operators resumed, and the dead skin was left hanging around my big toes. My guy proceeded to the massage.
I might have failed to mention up till now that I have several small cysts on the bottom of my feet. They are benign, the result of heels I wore while standing for years in front of classrooms teaching. That was in the Mesozoic era, when a dress code for teachers did not include sneakers.
The massage began with my toes. Obviously, my guy did not appreciate his own strength. The bones of my toes actually cracked, as I lifted one butt cheek and then the other off the seat, trying not to yelp.
Realizing my discomfort, he pooled more lotion into the palms of his gloves and proceeded to the soles of my feet. "What this?" he said, as he came upon the first cyst.
"Just a cyst," I said in a slow cadence, glaring at him. He glared back. The other operators stopped to look up again, and chattered in Vietnamese. Obviously they understood every word of English and I had become a source of disruption, if not ridicule.
He finally moved on to massage my calves. I have large calves, the result of twelve years of cheerleading and quadruple years playing tennis. More lotion into the gloves, then a deep tissue massage. He kept smirking at me. What was he thinking? My calves were freakish? It didn't matter. I was going to enjoy this part, even if he killed me!
The polishing went relatively smoothly. Before I knew it, I heard, "OK." He handed my sandals to me and lifted the armrest. "You go." He was pointing to the blow dryers on the floor.
I closed my book. I had read a total of one page. I shuffled in paper sandals to the dryers under the front window, carrying my shoes, my purse, and my book. I had a name for this man who would NEVER touch me again - Conan the Barbarian! Did he actually think I was going to tip him? I weighed my options with my feet under the blowers.
When I got myself together, I stood at the reception counter waiting for the bill. The pedicure was $21, an obvious ploy to have me round out to $25 with a tip. Should I cave in? Mom and Pop, who owned the place, were staring at me. Maybe Conan was their son-in-law! I gave them a thin smile, wrote a check for $21, and knew I'd be looking for a new salon.