22: Itinerary For An Identity Politics Guilt Trip


2:50 p.m.: Arrive at nail salon 10 minutes early to show you are respectful of their time and also hope you can get in and out quicker.

2:52 p.m.: “Pick a color.” It’s the same thing they say to you every time you come in to get your nails done. You’ve been here at least 15 times before to get the exact same service. You’ve made an appointment as “Jackie” every time.

They still don’t know your name or what you’re here for. To be honest, you haven’t tried to learn any of their names either.

2:55 p.m.: Sit in chair as directed by the smiling man in charge. Always smiling. Always five inches shorter than you. Smell lavender, sweat and sticky from the back, where they wax. Appreciate the walls painted in a soft, relaxing white, and antiseptic plastic orchids. Scroll through Pinterest on your phone as you wait to see who will be your person this time. 

“Your person.” You cringe at the innocent language of trying to claim someone who works for you. Nail tech? Nail artist? Quickly do a Google search for the answer. What words are least hurtful right now? Get distracted by article on how much to tip.

3:00 p.m.: Curse under your breath. Not this guy again. Polite smile.

3:15 p.m.: Awkward laugh as this nail tech (preferred term per Google) tells you to relax and “breathe.” Try not to say something sarcastic about how the quickest way to get someone who is annoyed with you to, in fact, not relax is to tell them to relax. But you don’t know if something will get lost in translation like it did last time.

3:20 p.m.: Nail tech suggests taking off the acrylics you have on and putting on a whole new set. “Is that what you recommend?” you ask. His eyes light up at the word “recommend.” It’s the one he’s been looking for. “OK. You’re the professional,” you say, determined to make this go better this time.

3:30 p.m.: Surreptitiously take a look around. White women are in the cushy seats getting their nails done. A gay white man is getting a pedicure. You can tell he’s gay by the way he holds his magazine and his floppy felt hat. We all stare up at the TV on the wall in front of us, behind our nail techs’ backs.

We do this — you do this — to avoid conversation, even though the volume isn’t loud enough to really know what’s going on during this episode of “General Hospital.” Still, you make a point to look totally engrossed and, like, “Oh my, I didn’t even notice you all talking in a foreign language you know I don’t understand!” Notice that there are no Asian people in the show, commercials or previews for what’s on next.

3:35 p.m.: Continue to watch the TV. Try to “relax.” Hide growing anxiety that your nail tech is going to, again, not listen to you because, so far, he’s “trimmed” your nails down to a length suitable for FloJo.

Or was it Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Do you mix those runners up because they were both black and you’re racist? Or because one of their two-name last names was the same, Joyner? Or because you were a child when they ran in the Olympics and how can you be expected to remember who was who? Or all a little of all of the above?

Decide to wait it out and maybe say something if they’re still too long when it’s time to put on the polish.

3:40 p.m.: Regret losing brain cells from watching “General Hospital” on mute. Listen, instead, to the nail tech sitting next to your nail tech.

He’s bored while waiting for his next customer. He’s watching a video clip on his phone from a hearing about DACA recipients and the legality and ethics of deporting humans whose parents came here illegally. To your surprise, the nail tech agrees with the congressman who argues domestic violence abusers should not get amnesty. You assume he would think all immigrants should be allowed to stay. You assume he’s an immigrant.

He looks up at you and smiles, turns his phone’s volume down. You want to tell him it’s OK, I like listening. But you say nothing. He did your nails a few weeks ago when you went with “Nuclear Gold”.  The Dallas Cowboys were playing on the TV. You remember he’s a Cowboys fan. “Nothing more American than Dallas Cowboys,” he had said as he put nukes on your nails. You gave him two Andrew Jacksons and one Alexander Hamilton when he was done.

Thank you. Come again.

3:45 p.m.: Swallow your shame that you yelled at your current nail tech last time he did your nails. Well, you didn’t yell, exactly.

You said, spastically, loudly, after he scoffed for the third time and asked why you liked your fake nails so short, “I feel like you’re being super judgey of my choices!”

His dark skin grew red. You light skin grew red. He felt ashamed for making it weird. You felt ashamed that that was seriously the best you could come up with, “You’re being super judgey of my choices!” Like an emotional teen yelling at an overbearing parent. Wonder the rest of the time if something was just lost in translation and now you both feel like shit?

Get frustrated that it’s happening. Again. He’s not listening to you. Again. Feel conflicted but back down.

Wonder if you are just displacing onto him your anger at a male-led American culture that doesn’t listen to you, or seems less likely to listen to you because you have a vagina? Onto this guy trying to make a living at a job that’s gotta feel demeaning but hey also it’s a job and isn’t that what they always say?

4:00 p.m.: Pay. Tell smiling man in charge, “Yes, very nice, thank you,” when he asks if everything went OK, even though your nails feel like you’re wearing Bugles on your fingertips for fun. Even though you wanted something different.

Stuff down anger and questions of why you so often sacrifice what you really want to make other people feel more comfortable. Why do you tip even when the job was shoddy? Note it’s mostly women you know who do this too. It’s mostly women — and especially liberal women — who will nod along to feeling cornered by this kind of “Which Other has it worse?” guilt. The men you know are better at taking the emotion, the humanity out of interactions with money.

4:10 p.m.: Pull up Google Maps. Locate next-nearest nail salon. Call. Ask if they can just trim a full set of acrylic nails that are too long? Make another appointment. Head to ATM. Get two more Andrew Jacksons. Wonder if they’ll actually ever replace him with Harriet Tubman like they promised. Make a mental note to stop buying promises.


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