There is a nail salon down the street, exactly three miles from my house in a white colonial-style strip mall, intentionally designed to look like it’s not a strip mall. There are upscale shops, for the most part everything upper-middles need to function smoothly: grocery store, camera shop, book retailer, ice cream parlor, toy store, Pei Wei, and a nail salon. Having a decent mani-pedi is an imperative in a charity gala-driven town like Saint Louis, where every weekend it seems one auction fundraiser or another is aiming to overshoot their previous year’s goal by that magical ten-percent. And so, given the abundance of open-toed shoe events, we have nail salons on every corner.
These establishments are not truly salons, which implies a certain degree of sophistication, no, they are testaments to the sheer business prowess of the resident Asian community. The one closest to my home is primarily Vietnamese. Some speak perfect English and remember your and your children’s names and chit chat like old friends; and some go out of their way to pretend they do not see, hear, like or understand you. My favorite is a young, charismatic girl who dreams of breaking out of the faux pampering factory and being a teacher. I refer everyone to her, even though she nearly ruined a perfectly good open-toed shoe charity auction fundraiser night for me. I forgive her. Completely.
Three of us heading to the same event decided to mani-pedi together and were lined up in a row of vibrating thrones. The husband of one of my friends surprised us with a carafe of cocktails, which we giddily gulped and then became loud and silly, and maybe a bit inappropriate. It was then that our fate was sealed, judgements sufficiently impaired. My nail friend leaned in close to me, and between clicks of her gum said, You have beard like man. The look of horror on my face let her know that, no matter what, she had me. She sat back and smiled. I do not have beard like man!, I protested, instinctively covering my chin with my newly softened hand. Hmph, come with me, and off she marched to the room of slathering and follicle ripping. My friends were protesting, they had beards like man, as well, apparently, which we knew was ridiculous, but our confidence was clouded by contraband martinis and like lambs we were led to the waxing slaughterhouse.
I had heard of stories where your skin and dignity are stripped in a regrettable expression of vanity, but until this moment I had not counted myself among the victims. My favorite girl told me to relax and asked me questions about my daughters and their school, to make her seem less threatening, I presume, while she stirred the hot honey pot with an extra large popsicle stick. In seconds she had slathered my cheeks, my jawline, my chin, my upper lip, or my beard, with burning goo and ripped it off so quickly my lips stretched out and slapped back together, jiggling cartoonishly. My skin was in shock. It tingled and buzzed, heat outlining the abused area, my heartbeat coursing through it. Stunned, I emerged from wax room one to be met by my friends. With similar expressions, and shiny red skin beards, we laughed because there was nothing else that could be done.
My husband found this mildly amusing, another melodramatic incident where I was forced to suffer publicly. When he inspected the aftermath, tears rolling down my cheeks, he wondered aloud with incredulity, Why didn’t you just say, no?? I decided to not speak to him for a while.
This particular night was a hot one. Our event was in an historic bowling alley upstairs in an old building, a small space with lots of overhead lighting, wooden everything, and no air conditioning. It was still well above ninety degrees when my husband opened the door for me, my poor cheeks throbbing in the summer humidity and all I could do was pray the lighting was dim. At the top of the stairs, the bright fluorescents bore down, like stepping into a tanning bed. Vampiric desperation scurried me to the darker side of the bar where I sunk under my husband’s silhouette, rolling a cold beer bottle along my roasted cheeks, which immediately began to itch.
A few passers-by stopped to say hello and it went something like this: So nice to see you! You, too! How are you? Great, I just had my Beard Like Man waxed and I’m in excruciating pain, how are you? Over and over. That I looked like an oily fifteen year old boy with raging hormones was certainly embarrassing, but feeling the need to explain my shocking appearance to acquaintances was flirting with the too-much-information boundary rule. I violate that one a lot.
One of my fellow-denuded friends had the sense not to show, an option that never even crossed my mind. But salvation arrived with the other, who dragged me from my protected perch under my husband’s shadow and into the ladies room. What soon became apparent to me is that when you are not alone in suffering it becomes much more tolerable, heroic even, and the ability to laugh in the throws of calamity can assuage a whole lot of discomfort. We stared into the images in front of us, red inflamed bumps dotting swaths of shiny pink rice paper, and we laughed. As more entered the ladies room, we recounted our story, which grew more dramatic and harrowing with each retelling. We had drinks brought to us and continued with our ladies room monologues for a long time, until an ally popped in to say our husbands had been looking for us. We said good bye to our not-as-traumatic-as-they-were visages and headed into the sea of charity goers with newfound acceptance, having brought self deprecation to a new level.
The moral of this story is threefold. One, when someone sells you something on a blatantly false premise, and your ego suffers greatly for it, do not expect sympathy from your husband. Two, if you find yourself in a challenging position, find a good friend who will laugh with you. And lastly, when someone with hot wax at their immediate disposal says You have beard like man, just say NO.