I was determined to not go back if I could help it. The last time I was at that cheap nail salon I left in a rage and threatened to call the Better Business Bureau. I remember my dad using that threat on sleazy salesmen growing up and thought it might work on the nail artists who charged me extra for a pedicure because I refused to pay in cash.
Alas, their late business hours, convenience to my house, and competitive prices sent me crawling back in shame with my nail fashion emergency.
You know the place. Where everyone's name is "Tammi" and they call you "honey" and double-check five times to make sure you don't want bio-gel on your nails even though you've politely declined seven times. The kind of place littered with decaying fashion magazines and scrupulous disinfecting habits, where they twitter about in their native Asian tongue, doing half-ass jobs on a foot massage, but you still love it because it's the most attention your poor feet have received in months.
A calendar hung on the wall with a Vietnamese woman dressed as Miss Saigon. A tacky reminder of home, I thought.
I was soaking my nails in polish remover when I received a phone call I had to take from work. I needed my television host to tape a quick hit and directed him and the camera man on what we needed to do. A few minutes later I received another phone call on my personal cell I had to take. "Tammi" appeared shocked I had two phones. How could anyone be so busy they needed two phones. By that time two Tammi's had joined in.
"What you do for work? Why you need so many phone?" they demanded.
I explained the television news business doesn't stop, especially for a producer, and why it's important to separate business from work, even if it's placebic in its desired effect. By now I was surrounded by three small Vietnamese women curious about the television industry and mistaking me for some kind of hot shot.
In their very broken English, they asked me about the news of the day, what I thought about Obama, Middle East tensions, and pop culture all the while my nails were receiving a top coat. Only half the time did I understand what they were saying, but it felt like we were having some kind of cultural breakthrough and the sins of the past were forgotten on both our parts.
One woman in particular seemed to appreciate how demanding my job could be and then stunned me with a sincere question.
"You think our
job hard?" she asked. What she was really asking is if I thought my job was more important than theirs.
My mind raced through a decade of cheap nail salon experiences and the storage shed of quiet judgment I had built.
"Yes. Yes, I do," I replied.
She pushed further. "How?"
"Well, for starters," I said, "you mess with all sorts of nasty feet, hunching your back all day, listening to privileged white women drone on about their white women problems. You have to pretend to care. You have to laugh at their unfunny jokes and smile through their patronizing tones."
At this point I was sure I had lost them. But I hadn't. They laughed in surprise at how much I seemed to understand and I watched their defenses completely melt. We spoke some more about bad news going on in the world. When it was time to pay, they didn't fuss over the fact I used a debit card and they didn't over-charge me.
The oldest Tammi said, "maybe next time you tell us good news."
I immediately started to rummage through my purse, as delicately as I could (my nails were still drying from the polish), for my personal phone. There was a photo from a newspaper I had seen earlier that had melted all my work stress away, albeit briefly, and I wanted to share that photo with them in the hopes that it would set their work world right too.
They waited patiently as I impatiently waited for the wireless signal to download the photograph
of a young Afghan girl, awkwardly and proudly holding a lamb in her arms. It was truly a picture of innocence.
The Tammi's crowded together to squint at my phone's small screen. They coo'd over the picture in Vietnamese. Then the oldest Tammi said in English, "she peaceful."
Yes. She peaceful indeed.