I stomped out of the International College of Cosmetology on Polk Street–livid. I hurried around the corner to my metered parking spot on Fern Alley. If I’d gotten a parking ticket, I would have stomped back to the college and gone postal on all those Asian women with their handwritten notes on how to do a manicure. Is it really that hard? I guess it is.
Three hours earlier, I could hear in my head Dean’s recommendation, “You ought to try that cosmetology place on Polk. They do a fine job and they’re cheap.” I like my $20 nail salon in the Marina, but I decided to give the school a go. Cheap and convenient. Can’t beat it.
Even after I handed the receptionist $15, I still should have back-tracked when she seated me in front of a student with a mustache. Call me racist, but this ‘stached woman was not Indian or Black, but a fair-skinned, Oil of Olay complexioned Asian. I thought it was so hilarious, I wished I’d had a hidden camera to take her picture. Well, I wasn’t laughing a few hours later after a tedious manicure and pedicure.
‘Stache meticulously referred to her flashcards like any proper Asian studying for class. She didn’t speak a lick of English, instead pointing to pictures that she had drawn out for her customers: square, round, oval. I thought her renderings of various nail beds were cute. I pointed to the round digit. I liked ‘Stache. Overall, she did a good job.
Despite the holiday, classes were clearly in session. A group of four were in the back giving a classmate a facial. She was lying down with her feet up in the air. She looked like she was about to get a pap smear. Goodness, these students have a lot to learn. Others were working on mannequin heads, wetting the hair, cutting it into a bob. Next to me, a Black tranny was instructing three manicurists. “If you don’t buff during the state boards, you’re toast. Ok girls? You gotta buff. That’s good Mai. Take a look at what Mai’s doing. Buff in one direction. That’s right.” She was a good instructor–clear and encouraging.
The place was flanked by Asian women. I know my own kind, meaning I know Filipino people, but it’s hard for me to distinguish between Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean. Their official cosmetology manual was translated into several languages.
Everything was labeled: polish remover, base coat, top coat. Even the lotion was labeled. Signs along the walls read, “No converse on cell phones.” I was amused. Sure, I wasn’t comfortable in their fold-out chair, but I was fine. ‘Stache had done a good job and now someone was coming over for the pedicure. She looked self-assured and didn’t bring over any notes like the other students. But then she started cutting my toe nails using the wrong side of the toe nail clipper. She got frustrated, eventually turning the implement around the right way. My pedicure continued to go downhill from there. After a grueling hour, she finally started to paint. I wish she’d had some notes with her. She sloshed dollops of nail polish onto my toes so that they were gooey. I couldn’t say anything. I knew she didn’t understand English. I pouted fiercely.
One hour later, my toe nails felt like little cans of paint. Anxious about my car and metered parking, I had to go. I knew as I walked out with socks and boots that my pedicure was ruined. I was furious. I texted Dean, “Just leaving that cosmetology place more than two hours later. Never again!”
What a waste of time. What a waste of my holiday. Then I felt ashamed.
Me and my McDonald’s culture of fast everything, expert customer service, and cheap. I will never know what it’s like to really fight for my country or work in the armed forces. What does that really mean that people fought for our freedom? I’ve read about it in text books, but I will never know. I nod and roll my eyes when I hear about my parents immigrating here. I never stop and think. They left their countries. They left their families. And shit…my lucky parents actually speak and understand English. Can you imagine uprooting yourself, leaving your homeland, not knowing anyone, not speaking the language? I cannot imagine. I’ll never know what it’s like to wish for freedom and dream of a better life like every non-English-speaking woman in that beauty school. Because, thankfully, I was born American.
I’m grateful to all the veterans who have served and continue to serve us. I’m also grateful to the people who courageously immigrate to our country, running it from the bottom up so that all the rest of us have time to dream our big dreams.