You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2009.

Although it is now late summer 2009, the salon is called Nails 2000. It is modern enough, and seems hygienic. I’ve been going there once a month, more or less, since a friend took me there for a birthday pedicure several years ago, when the name was just a couple years out of date.

Most of the women there recognize me. They ask about my daughter since they saw me through nine months of pregnancy, when pedicures were a particular relief, and the two and a half years since, when the nail salon becomes a sanctuary where someone takes care of you instead of the other way around. No one asks you to do anything except raise or lower each foot.

They ask me about my sister, who I took, along with her other bridesmaids, for pre-wedding pedicures and manicures. They ask me about my father, who I took for a Father’s Day pedicure, which he enjoyed tremendously, much to my delight and his surprise. I should take him again.

They know I almost always choose variations of purple for both toes and fingers and that I read books I bring instead of magazines they offer and that I like designs on my big toes. They know my feet are very ticklish.

A new owner recently took over the salon. The first clue was the man who offered me wine after I chose my colors and sat down to wait. I declined.

I noticed a few new faces. I asked the woman who was working on my manicure, who used to wear braces and has a little boy who’s six, if the shop had changed hands. She said yes, that there were new girls, and others had left. She looked like she could have said more, but wouldn’t.

The second time I was there since the new owners took over, someone I had never seen before took me back to wax my eyebrows. Afterward, when I settled into the pedicure chair and pressed all the massage buttons, a familiar face sat down at my feet. I was relieved. She did my pedicure and manicure and all was well.

Then the waxer came back to paint the design. Tiny white daisies on the field of plum. Lovely. Then it all came undone. As I was about to get up from the chair and go home, the waxer/painter asked “Would you like a shoulder massage?”

I was caught off guard. This is not a spa. It is not a fancy place at all. It is a nail salon. They don’t give massages. I was confused. At the same time, massages are something I love and desire on a daily basis. I would choose a massage over most other activities, provided the giver is skilled. And I was relaxed from my manicure and pedicure. I must have been in a weakened, vulnerable state.

Despite the fact that I have never received a favor at any nail salon, and that I always pay for the services I receive, for an instant I thought she wanted to give me a massage just to be nice. I couldn’t figure it out.

So I said yes.

A decision I came to regret.

Suddenly I was out of my pedicure chair and she was whispering in my ear “$10 for 10 minutes.” I nodded, feeling a little intimidated at this point. Seeing my compromised mental processing, she egged me on. “You want 15 minutes? You want 15 minutes?”

I regained a small amount of sense. “No, no. 10 is fine.”

While this conversation was happening I saw the owner, or at least the man who had offered the wine last time, standing in a back hallway with another man. There were never two men there to run the salon before. What was going on? What were they talking about? Were they congratulating each other on sending one of their new girls to find the first massaging victim?

I was led into the back room, in fact the same one where this woman had, only hours before, applied hot wax to my face and ripped it off again. But this time there was going to be ambiance. She turned down the lights, turned on new age music, and cleaned up the waxing table. It was quickly transformed into a massage table. Or at least the blanket was removed, a clean sheet spread out, and medical grade paper spread over the hole where you rest your face.

Then she said “Let me help you off with your shirt.”

At this point I felt really weird. I have had many massages before, at chiropractors’ offices or spas, all given by certified and trained massage therapists. And I have removed my clothes on all of these occasions. So I am not at all afraid of being naked. But on none of these previous occasions did the person about to give the massage ask to take off my clothes. It was terribly awkward.

But, because I eschew confrontation and hate the thought of making someone feel bad, I just kept going. I laid down on the table and tensed up. She unhooked my bra strap. This was so much worse than any bad date.

She put on a kitchen timer (always a relaxing sound) and immediately slathered some sort of oil on my back. Then she went to work pounding and chopping and whacking me from every angle. She wrapped her fingers around my neck as if trying to relax my muscles through muted strangulation. She dug her palms into my lower back and rubbed as if she was trying to erase a tattoo that isn’t there. She was attacking my back so vehemently that my head was rattling around in the hole in the table. It occurred to me that she wasn’t necessarily certified or trained in anything. Or at least not in the type of massage I am used to. I have heard that some massage technique in Asian countries involves beating people with brooms or something to that effect, and can be quite painful at the time but beneficial after the fact. Perhaps, I thought, this was the kind of tradition she was used to. But certainly if you’re going to wail on someone rather than relax them, shouldn’t you warn them first?

Mercifully it was over quickly, and I fumbled around for my glasses and got dressed as fast as I could while she stood there and watched. She said I should have an hour next time. I fled the room.

As I paid up front for my mistake, the woman at the cash register asked “How did she do?” “Um, it was nice,” I mumbled as I edged toward the door. “Next time, you do half hour!” she suggested. I smiled the smallest smile.

On the way home I tried to shake the feeling of being violated and recapture the relaxation I had achieved earlier. When I got home I started to change out of my oily clothes when I realized I smelled something strange. I sniffed around the bedroom, looking for dirty laundry or a diaper in the trash. I asked my husband to consult. “Do I smell like mildew?” I asked. He sniffed carefully and answered diplomatically. “Something smells a little odd.” I jumped in the shower for a literal and metaphorical cleansing. No next time, thank you. I will stick to the purple polish.

Tonight I drove home from my parents’ house in my brother-in-law’s 1999 Honda Accord which has a tape player. I found a crate of mix tapes in the back seat and popped in a mix I made for my sister in the 90s, featuring some excellent tunes I had completely forgotten about but still knew all the words to: All I Want Is You by U2, Stay by Lisa Loeb, There She Goes by the Las, featured in one of my sister’s favorite films So I Married an Axe Murderer.

The opening song was “To Sir with Love,” as sung by Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe. Although this song is from an old movie that I haven’t even seen, it always reminds me of my sister because her initials spell SIR. And it’s a lovely song about growing up and moving on.

The reason I was driving my brother-in-law’s Honda home is that he and my sister are moving to Taiwan less than eight hours from now. Aaron will be a professor at a university in Hsinchu, about an hour outside Taipei. They will be living in Taiwan until December when they come home for Christmas vacation. They’ll go back in February and finish out the school year in June and then travel in Asia.

This is an adventure for sure, but one about which my sister is rather apprehensive. After five years of reporting for the Los Angeles Times, she was laid off this spring (after 364 other employees were laid off over the course of a couple years). She and Aaron spent the summer criss crossing the country to visit friends and relatives and attend and participate in weddings. They spent last week at the beach with us. And now they’re off, but my sister has no idea what she’s going to do with herself for the next year. She’s going to blog. She’s going to try to freelance from Asia. She’s going to travel. But she has no office to go to, no paycheck to expect, no official responsibilities. So she is nervous. Despite the encouragement and reassurance of me, our parents, and all her friends that she can and should relax and have fun and not worry so much about her career for the next several months, she seems more like someone sentenced to hard time in Siberia than several months in a highly developed Asian nation where she doesn’t have to work.

I’m sure I would be nervous too. I was nervous before I studied abroad in England for a semester during college. But Susannah is much more adventurous than me. She studied in England too, and Spain, and has traveled all over the country and the world with remarkable flexibility, curiosity, and agreeableness. And she writes excellent travel narratives. Still, venturing into the unknown would make anyone nervous. Aaron does not seem nervous at all, but I don’t know him as well and it’s quite possible that he doesn’t demonstrate his nervousness as such. And Aaron has a mission–to be a professor–so perhaps he’s focusing all his energy on that and doesn’t have time to worry about anything else.

I hope Susannah will be ok. I trust that she will. Once she gets there and settles in she will find things to do. She will make friends. She will explore the city and write funny things about strange edible animals for sale in the open market. I hope some good things happen for her. I hope she makes some good things happen too. I will miss her a lot. I’m going to buy a webcam tomorrow so we can Skype. I’m going to show Zoe where Taiwan is on a map. And I’ll listen to the mix tape I made her as I drive Aaron’s car. That will keep her close.


Zoe has a new friend. Her name is Dee Dee and she lives in a crack in the concrete in our backyard patio.

Dee Dee evolved from Zoe’s affection for nonsense words a couple months ago into a full-fledged girl in recent weeks. Dee Dee came on vacation with us to the Outer Banks last week. Dee Dee shares many, if not all, of Zoe’s tastes and interests. She takes baths with Zoe, goes swimming with Zoe, and gets her diaper changed when Zoe does. Dee Dee is brave when Zoe is brave. Dee Dee also has parents and sometimes goes places with them. Or Dee Dee’s parents follow behind us when we’re taking Dee Dee on an excursion. I gather Dee Dee’s parents prefer to drive their own car.

Along with Dee Dee, Zoe had a marvelous time at the beach. What a difference a year makes! Zoe was eager to jump in the pool and swam around like a little beaver in her swim ring, or without it. She is very fond of pool and bath toys and particularly loved a little penguin who swam with her around the pool and who she rocked to sleep and cared for with the requisite pacifier, bottle, and rattle that all beings need when they are crying.

The big theme this week was being brave. “I want to show Fuzzy how I’m being brave! I want to tell Zannah and Uncle Aaron how I was brave!” Zoe bravely jumped into the pool (and into our arms) from various steps and ladders. She bravely showered in the outdoor shower with Mommy and Daddy and let us wash her hair without crying. She bravely swam in the ocean and rode the waves with Mommy (a first!) for a while, even though “the ocean is pretty cold, I think!” While she observed several times that the ocean was very big, she was much more willing to test it out than she has been before. She was especially fascinated with collecting shells and rocks and building things in the sand. Aunt Susannah or Mommy would dig a hole and fill it with water and Zoe would jump inside, splashing for a few seconds until the water receded into the sand.

Zoe continues to try to impose her will on the world as best she can. One day at the beach the biting flies were particularly aggressive. “Go away bug! Don’t bother me! Go back to your little hole!”

Zoe has an emerging interest in cooking, and climbs up on her stool in the kitchen so she can see what we’re doing. I have experimentally helped her bake a bit, cracking the egg and mashing bananas and stirring the batter to make banana bread. She continues to be a ravenous snacker and I think understands us when we spell out S-N-A-C-K. She can spell Z-O-E and sometimes Mommy and Daddy. She can also count to 10, reliably now, in English and Spanish. I have to admit that I have been won over by Dora the Explorer, now Zoe’s favorite show, because she has actually learned a lot from watching, including Spanish words that pop up occasionally in conversation. And I am a fan of Dora as strong female role model, at least as far as cartoon characters go.

This morning’s first activity was flopping into my daughter’s bed after I roused myself from my own, obeying the siren call of “Mommy, I’m awake. Mommy I’m awake. Open the door, Mommy. Open the door, Mommy.” When I come into her room in the morning Zoe is almost always sitting up, smiling, and ready to announce something she’s been thinking about or doing or ask you a question. She might serve you some pretend ice cream, or comment that there wasn’t a thunderstorm last night after all. It’s often an amusing and pleasant way to start the day, a period in which I avoid thinking about the requests, pleading, and negotiations that will surely follow and escalate rapidly. Note that the requests, pleading, and negotiations are from me, not the toddler.

One of the next activities was throwing towels on the bathroom floor and trying to keep Zoe out of the bathroom when the toilet suddenly and surprisingly overflowed (since it was not stopped up, but just started spewing water, which thankfully was clean). Seeing that the water had stopped, I was content to let the towels do the work and we went downstairs.

Downstairs I observed a smallish puddle of water on the carpet surrounded by a damp area, directly underneath a water mark on the ceiling. Zoe said “that’s where I peed on the carpet.” But I told her that no, she hadn’t peed there, that it was water leaking from the ceiling. While she has, in the past peed on the carpet, she was fully diapered when we went downstairs. I’m not sure how she might have thought she peed there, but that’s another story.

So I called our handyman service, which kindly sent someone over pretty quickly. I answered the door in my pajamas. The handyman, Mike, who has done a lot of work at our house, asked if my the green Honda Civic in the parking lot was ours. It was. He pointed out that the front right tire was low. So noted.

He came in and assessed the toilet situation and determined that there was no leak and no ongoing problem. “It was just an event, and it’s over,” he declared. I was relieved.

On his way out Mike inspected my tires further. He decided that the tire was actually nearly flat. He asked if I had a spare. Sure, but I don’t know how to change it. He asked if Randy would know. I said I doubted it, but Randy was at work so it was moot. We discussed possible options. I decided to take it to the gas station a couple blocks away. Mike said it should be fine to go a couple blocks, and that if I wasn’t able to do that I could call him later and he would come change the tire for me. He is a seriously nice guy.

I drove to the Texaco and as I pulled in three mechanics who were standing outside the garage, evidently bored, looked at my tire and their eyes widened and they laughed. It looked serious. Turns out there was a nail in my tire. On the one hand, I was irritated by the toilet, but on the other hand, if it hadn’t overflowed and I hadn’t called Mike and he hadn’t noticed the tire and told me about it, I would not have noticed and I might have blown a tire or broken down while driving, or had an accident as a result. So I was relieved.

Of course the mechanic told me my brakes were low and needed replacing, so the minor repair ended up being not so minor, but oh well. Are you really going to say you don’t want your brakes fixed and you’re going to drive your two-year-old around and not be able to stop quickly enough? No.

I walked home from the Texaco and took care of administrative tasks for my family members. If I didn’t have my own business, I would make a damn good intern for somebody else. When my car was ready, I walked back to the gas station. On the way I saw three police cars clustered across Columbia Pike from my house and noticed that a man was being arrested. I realized that his day was already much worse than mine. I was not being arrested, nor was any member of my family. I was relieved.

I ran some errands and stopped for fast food on the way home. As I was in the middle of ordering, a bug crashed into my cheek and I thrashed around, certain I would be stung or bitten. When I recovered and pulled up to the window I saw it was a ladybug that had swooped in, and was now trying to escape again. Ladybugs are lucky, right? I was relieved.

After a very stressful July, maybe August is a fresh start. The problems haven’t all gone away, but there are small things to be thankful for. My sister and brother-in-law are coming to town tomorrow. My dad is coming home Wednesday. We’re going on vacation next week. It won’t be for long, but it’s reassuring that we’ll be together again for a few days. People go away, but then when they come back, it’s that much better. I will be relieved.

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