Sunday, I splurged.  I went to the nail shop and paid for a pedicure.  I say "splurged" because I am notoriously cheap, especially for things that I consider to be luxurious, like paying someone to cut and polish your nails.  But on Sunday, I had a beauty emergency.  My nails had been chipped for a week, I was embarrassed every time I put on my summer sandals or open-toed high heels, and I had an audition the following day.

Why didn't I do them myself?

 Well, my schedule was

crazy

busy, and did I mention that I can't

stand

to do my nails?  I never know what to do with the accumulation of dead skin cells that eventually populate the crevices of my toe nails.  (TMI?) Sorry.  And when I

do

take the time to do them, they look better, but not much.

For years I have avoided the nail shop.  I've never wanted to be the all-too-typical American woman consumed by her looks, plus I haven't wanted to be the black "ghetto girl" who couldn't go out for the weekend if her hair and nails weren't done and she hadn't spent at least $100.  Plus, I didn't like the dynamics of most of the nail shops in "urban areas" commonly known as "the hood." Picture this:  nearly a dozen non-English and barely-English speaking Vietnamese women with hunched backs, each scraping black and brown feet, with white masks protecting their nostrils from (toxic?) fumes.

One could easily make a case that it is a legalized sweat shop.  Breaks are taken, but they are neither long nor frequent.  And although the women probably make minimum wage, it's probably no where near a living wage.  

How do they survive?

I sit down hesitantly.  "You want nail done?" "Yes," I respond.  It doesn't feel right to start reading my book right away while a woman sits hunched over my dirty feet.  So, I begin a conversation.   The woman tending my feet is named Mary Anne.  She arrived from Vietnam six years before; She has been working at the nail shop for five years. I try to ask her more questions, but she doesn't understand me.  She just smiles and looks at me.

I smile back and eventually begin to read.  Twenty minutes later, I thank her, profusely. My nails look great. Better than anything I have ever done.  I give her a generous tip and walk out of the door, hobbling so that I don't mess up my paint job.

Now, every time I look at my toes, I think about Mary Anne.  Does she make enough to support herself? Does she live in a house with other immigrants? She said that she likes the States, but is life here better than the life that she had in Vietnam?