Saturday, August 12, 2017

Don't blame me for bringing up the subject

     There is a superabundance of colorful images rushing at me like an avalanche of M&M’s rolling out of a jar right into my lap. No fooling.
     It’s delightful and at the same time disturbing.
    Something starts weighing heavily on me, though, the minute I step over the threshold into a Korean nail salon on Third Avenue. I can’t quite put my finger on. It will come clearer shortly.
     After I am greeted profusely, the astute manager pushes me gently toward the shelves of nail colors stacked like toy soldiers, and leaves me to examine the choices. You’ve heard what they say about a New York minute, and that is about all the time I’m allotted to come up with a color scheme.  
     My daughter is with me, and she has the drill down this being her regular place. It’s going to be another one of our weekend bonding activities.
     Decision time. The clock is ticking.
     I am going bold. It will be the lime green with an overlay of sparkles.  Don’t blame me. I’m erasing guilt out of my vocabulary and going with a frivolous choice. Nails grow quickly and in three weeks, it will be time for a do over.

     Walking into a narrow rectangular room, a wall of young career age women are lounging in leather recliners with their feet draped into swirling baths and their hands glued to their cell phones deep in conversation somewhere else. A woman in a black uniform is carefully pampering each, and the majority only speak Korean to each other and nod to their clients — if anyone bothers to acknowledge them.
     I am annoyed at how many patrons actually look beyond their faces as if they are invisible servants.  We are all human beings with the same wants and desires from life.  I engage with others. Don’t blame me. It might be the case that younger generations with their “me first” mentality don’t talk to people on purpose.
    It’s a hot scorching six o’clock evening in the city that never sleeps, and date night is fast approaching. That’s the magical hour where the rest of us older folks are tucked in our beds rejuvenating our bodies for tackling another day. Well, this is the Big Apple, and all rules are suspended for this one weekend. Don’t blame me. I am embracing it.
     I notice the woman who is giving me the green tea footbath. She places a timer discreetly by her side on the floor.  I told you the salon operates on a frantic pace. Her manager keeps tabs on her employees while walking back and forth, and mine is no exception. That’s how the business makes money. It generates a quantity of clients, and in this case, quality, too, is part of the package deal.
     All in all for appearances sake it is a clean and bright space with splashes of chrome fixtures throughout. There is a wine bar with chrome bar stools arranged near the front for those who are in a major hurry to get a quick touch-up. There are other nail salons up and down the avenue and competition is brisk.
    My pedicurist giggles when the attendant next to her says that I am the mother of her regular client. Respect for older women is something Asians are good at as it is ingrained in their culture from an early age. She bows.
     Who is she? What’s her story? Perhaps that is none of my business as our brief encounter is professional.  I appreciate anyone who helps me, and although we can only communicate without words, we are polite.
     My daughter has a regular lady and they have developed a relationship.  Call it synchronicity or not, once for months she was no longer there, and every time my daughter walked by she looked for her. She even glanced in the windows of other nearby nail salons hoping to see her manicurist’s face. My daughter gave up and went to another salon in a different part of the city. One day she was walking along Third Avenue and she saw her manicurist. She ran in crying and hugged her. She doesn’t know the circumstances. Regardless, I have raised her to appreciate each person coming into her life and treating everyone as an equal.
     After she finishes my lady rushes to the back, grabs her tote bag and leaves with another employee for her salon workday is over. I hear her point to my nails and say, “sparkle” to her manager. Somehow that amuses her. Off she goes to her family and more responsibilities.  
     It dawns on me what has brought a cloud over my experience. Don’t blame me for bring it up.      
     Salaries are a pittance and if it isn’t for the generous tips slipped to these ladies, they are the new immigrant slave labor work force. You wonder how many are working illegally, too, under the radar in and around the city.
     Shouldn’t we as a society take the blame for this atrocity? It is a bad mark on our democracy to be exploiting workers. Occasionally I will hear a little buzz in the media. Not much, though. Immigrants found our country and this new generation is no different in their aspirations.
     In one respect my daughter and I walk out the door with a lighter step sporting matching toes and nails. Our hearts are painted a bit heavier, however, having faced a reality we are shielded from too often.