I tend to find myself in awkward, uncomfortable situations on a semi regular basis. I don’t mean to do this, but rarely am I sorry that I did so after the fact. I simply don’t seem to fit in. And naturally I blame my parents for this. It’s every time they said “Just be yourself.”
A family photo when I was 8 years old. I’m sure they asked I just be myself for this, too.
There’s a song by Wilco called Hell is Chrome. It’s about finding yourself fitting into a wonderful, clean, handsome world where you really feel you belong. People like you and help you, and there’s order and organization. That world just happens to be Hell. When I hear that song I don’t think “It is because I am a heathen that I would fit into that place” as the action of being a heathen itself fits into the normal ideas conjured by the word Hell. What I hear is the story of a place that translates into ‘What is one person’s heaven is another man’s Newark. One man’s hell is another’s Oxford.’ That is to say, this world doesn’t necessarily work for me. People pretending to the point of making situations uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t fit in to Greenwich Village or L.A. or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes it feels like I don’t think I fit in with other humans. Any where. Yet I live here and I do my best to be pleasant and ordinary.
The day before Christmas Eve a few years ago my cousin and I went to get holiday manicures. I like getting manicures. I don’t get them too often because I feel weird paying the equivalent of 2 or 3 hours work to someone who is more often then not an immigrant to my country just to clean my filthy hands. The same applies for pedicures. There’s something that seems uniquely American in having immigrants scrub the dead skin off your feet.
Megan and I went down to this place in Stamford, Connecticut and signed in for manicures. The woman I was placed with quietly asked that I take off my coat and roll up my sleeves to which I complied. Once I settled myself into her chair she begins to scrutinize my nails. In doing so, however, she judged my entire character.
“You…have…uh… very hairy arms,” she forced, choosing each word carefully as she was obviously only recently subjected to English, and smiled genuinely up at me.
“Yes,” I said. When I am insulted I save the emotions for later rants when I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones who have learned to ignore me. The thing was, though, that I wasn’t really offended. Besides, what do you say to that? I knew I had hairy arms and for her to be new to English and correctly identify that fact was pretty good. And I didn’t know where she was from; it could be that in her land a chick with hairy arms was hot shit, in a good way.
I smiled back. She spoke very quietly of the weather and holidays with vast expanses of silence in between. My cousin yelled something to me from a few seats over confirming our plans later in the evening.
“She….your sister?” my nail person asked after Megan and I finished our brief itinerary check.
“No, she’s my cousin.”
“Oh,” my manicurist chuckled. “I thought she your sister, but you would be thin.”
Awesome. No matter how new to American culture, one can apparently always master fat jokes immediately.
“I wish”, I answered dead pan. Of course, if I was her sister I'd probably have some other issues; I like to tell myself there are trade-offs to being hot.
Again, she continued filing my nails in silence. Silence. Nail filing. Nail buffing. It goes on forever. Barry Manilow played off in the distance, singing some ever repeated holiday song that was supposed to get us into the Christmas cheer while visions of Baby Boom–aged woman throwing panties on a stage played in our heads. Right when I was beginning to be lulled into a false sense of security my nail person jumped up, hand over mouth, and ran away. To me it’s obvious that in the incredible glory of my chubby, hairy arms she simply could no longer take being unworthy and left to return to her homeland.
About ten minutes passed, in which I continued to sit in at her chair. I guess other American women would have said something, but I like sitting, and if I’m sitting away from other people it’s even better. Finally another girl came over.
“I’m sorry,” she said, also somewhat new to the language, also speaking quietly.
“Megan!” I shouted to my cousin across the room. “I made my nail chick throw up.”
“You would,” Megan explained.
The new girl, still standing, was looking at me nervously, almost as though she were a little afraid. I never ever mean to be an offensive person and I take hygiene to be of upmost important, above all else except maybe booze. I smiled politely, sympathetically at her, as if to say “I will not bite, am not mean or angry, and just want someone to peel this wax crap off my hands.” I also made an attempt to smell better, through shear determined will, just in case. After a very long, very uncomfortable few seconds the new girl did this quick sigh-smile-shrug maneuver, something I’ve since tried to mimic toward my husband at times when I’m not listening, don’t care, and just want everything over with. It was a great move.
Then the new girl sat down and deftly finished my manicure.
And that’s the story of my first, and last, Christmas manicure.