A mani-splendored thing.
Note: This was written before the salon I frequent, like so many other independently-owned businesses, had to close down due to COVID-19. For the second time.
I never used to get my nails done. Manicures just weren’t a “thing” for me. Oh, I wanted to look “polished,” so to speak, but to me, short, clean, and neat got the job done.
Every week, or more frequently (we’re talking before the emergence of the “no chip” manicure), I would pull out my nail file, buffer, cuticle cream, clear polish — and go to town.
And then there were my toes. My efforts here, although mighty, were laborious, and ultimately, unsatisfying. I tried my best to make my feet sandal-worthy for the summer months, but I never quite got the hang of DIY pedicures. The foam separator shoved between my toes. The uncomfortable, hunched over position in order to reach my ten little piggies. The ultimate smudges and do-overs. Ugh.
Now that I reflect on this, maybe I was just cheap. After all, why throw big bucks at something that could be obliterated at the scratch of a car key?
I was being cheap with myself, in all honesty. Although looking — and smelling — good, is important to me, I have no interest in wearing Stella McCartney or Jimmy Choo. Costume jewelry is just fine, thank you very much, and bi-yearly haircuts suit my style, whatever that may be.
Self-pampering, to me, takes shape in the form of long, hot bubble baths, followed by generous slatherings of a rich body lotion, of which I have many. Too damned many, actually. Beauty products are my undoing. I hoard them like a squirrel hoards nuts for the winter. But, just looking at them “sparks joy.” Most of them go unused, frankly. I take them out of their cubbies, hold them up to the light, so I can see the mica shimmering within — then put them back. Go figure.
So, why the lack of interest in professional mani-pedis? As someone who does her own housework, crimson nails and Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner are a particularly odd couple. And let’s face it: There’s nothing remotely “shabby chic” about chipped nails.
My sister, Diane, who I’ve written about before, has always had her nails professional manicured. And they look great. Always. Not that she’s a spendthrift, by any means, but she doesn’t need L’Oréal to tell her that she “deserves it.” And more power to her.
For years, Diane has tried to persuade me to accompany her to the salon that she has frequented for like, forever. That said, I’m not quite sure what the tipping point was. I believe my change of heart came about because of two things: My breast cancer diagnosis and the emergence of the gel-based, “no chip” manicure.
Thereafter, it was “Screw this. I’m having my nails done. Fingers AND toes.” And even though I’m out of work, and trying to live more frugally, I’ve never looked back. And here’s why:
There is something so sexy, so damned girly, about well-manicured, beautifully polished finger/toenails. And the colors available to us! They range from the staid to the hedonistic and everything in between. Matte. Neon. Shimmer. Glitter. A veritable jewelry box of choices. Designs, too. You want cat’s whiskers this time? Done! You want a bedazzled “party finger?” Done! An embarrassment of riches for our digits.
With all these hues at our veritable fingertips, it is imperative that we women strive to pick colors and designs we can live with because no-chip mannies last upwards of three weeks. Manna from Heaven for those of us who can’t exist without a can of Comet at the ready.
As I quickly learned, getting one’s nails done isn’t just about the nails. It’s about the experience. The feeling of being pampered. It’s about the community of women, many of whom you might never see again, but even still, women with whom you feel perfectly comfortable sharing confidences, or discussing current events, or gushing about your favorite movies or just — talking shit.
I’ve been to a few different salons over the last few years, but for me, now, there’s only one. And it’s the salon that my sister goes to, which has become an integral part of the experience for me. Spending quality time with Diane, and my niece, Megan, when she’s home from school.
Let me tell you about this place: Tucked away in a strip mall in a suburb of Chicago, Xanadu Nail Salon & Spa is an oasis of calm — of love and light — in a world gone mad.
Even on those days when I don’t feel like dragging my ass out of the house — Yes! To get my nails done! — I am unfailingly glad that I did. No matter how down I am, or anxious, or tired, I always feel better after a trip to Xanadu.
Much of the credit goes to the owners of the salon, who are also the artists performing countless mani-miracles, daily. A Vietnamese family consisting, in part, of Nancy, (or Ne La), her sister Ni (pronounced “Nee”), and their mother, who everyone calls “Mom,” myself included (and I’m older!), these three serve as constant reminders that qualities like “grace” and “kindness” still exist if we care to seek them out.
And get this: They all live together. Nancy, Ni, Mom, and two more siblings, along with Dad and Nancy’s son, share the same household. Peacefully. Without rancor. Imagine that.
To that point, I have never, ever, heard them utter a nasty word to one another or picked up even the merest hint of tension. At the salon, Mom and her daughters work together like a well-oiled machine. They talk and laugh and poke fun at one another and their clients. While Ni (who always compliments me on my red lips) is soft-spoken and just the slightest bit more reserved, Nancy is the wise-cracker of the two, who outwardly, appears to be the gregarious one but in reality, is sweetly shy. And Mom is just…Mom. All three are, in a word, “adorable.”
I mentioned “grace” and “kindness.” Aside from working long days at the salon, the family, Ni, especially, expends much time and effort doing charitable work on the weekends, making sure that hungry people are fed, and those who need a warm coat or a pair of socks, get them. Their level of commitment to taking care of others is both heartening and inspiring.
As for the whole salon “experience,” nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the feeling of sitting in one of Xanadu’s massage chairs, and sipping a cup of sweet Vietnamese coffee while having your feet rubbed. Ladies, you know what I’m talkin’ about. And no doubt, some of you men do, as well. (If you’re even reading this. And I thank you if you are.)
Once in a while, as a surprise, Mom will send Diane and I home with a batch of her homemade Vietnamese Spring Rolls. OMG. To die for!
And there is always candy. A big bowl of it. The good stuff! Even better, we’re encouraged to take some home, which I always do. Last week, I came home with a big stash: Lindberg Chocolate Truffles, Peanut Butter Cups, Peppermint Bark — you name it, I grabbed it.
Love. I’ve grown to love these women. I truly have. When I’m sitting in front of Ni, and I feel her warm, brown eyes on me, searchingly, as if to ask, “How are you? Are you okay, today?” I feel genuinely cared for.
When Nancy asks me how my screenwriting is going, I feel cared for.
When Mom, who I tower over, gives me a hug, I feel cared for.
When you consider all of the above, it’s not about the nails. Or just the nails, anyway. It’s about balm. For the soul. Something we can all use. Something priceless.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.