Sunday, June 19, 2011

An ode to acrylics

Ten days before my wedding, which is to say toward the end of April, I marched into an empty nail salon in Southern California and requested a full set of acrylic “French tip” nails. I’d been toying with the idea for months, as “What am I going to do about my NAILS?” is a question that every self-respecting bride-to-be asks herself at some point. I’d begun early: interrogating my loved ones, scouring the web, consulting my inner child.... Most opinions were negative, acrylic nails being notoriously rough on one’s natural nails (really? You mean cementing prosthetics to one’s hands and then covering them with three layers of foul-smelling resin is harmful?). But there is no such thing as natural beauty—at least not in the world of nail art—so I paid no heed to the naysayers. Besides, I wanted gorgeous hands for those wedding photos and no way was I going to settle for a basic manicure. I wanted to go whole hog. I wanted my Steel Magnolias moment.

Thus, on a sunny Wednesday, in I strolled into my chosen nail salon and within minutes was seated comfortably facing my nail technician, a portly Vietnamese lady wearing a gaping, washed-out tank top that left little to the imagination and kind of made me feel overdressed. One other client was there —a 40-something character named Linda, the kind of woman who just hangs out in nail salons: big hair, loud makeup, ocher skin and a smoker’s voice. She wasted no time in announcing that she had a blind date in an hour, and had come over to get ready. She also fully intended to choose an outfit while at the salon, and thus had brought along several possibilities to model for us. This initially struck me as surreal, but a few blinks of incomprehension and I was over it. Besides, the surreal seems to follow me wherever I go—so why not here? Otherwise, the salon was fairly classic: rows of reclining pedicure chairs, little tables adorned with manicure lamps, displays of brightly-colored nail polish and a big flat-screen TV. In this case, the channel was set on Disney. I figured there must be a small child hiding in the room somewhere—a daughter perhaps?—but no, my nail technician just had a thing for Hannah Montana. Who doesn’t?

That and gambling. As it turned out, acrylic nails are actually quite labor-intensive, which left us plenty of time for light-hearted banter. So as she proceeded to glue 8-inch-long appendages to my nail bed (step #1), I lent a polite ear to sordid tales of gambling away her livelihood at the big casino over on the nearby Indian reservation. Not that I had any choice in the matter—I couldn’t very well get up and walk out looking like Edward Scissorhands, plus I really needed her to do a good job. So I shut up and listened.

Apparently, she had begun hitting the game tables ages ago, not long after arriving in the US as a Vietnamese refugee(?!).

“I used to play all the time. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I lose a lot. My husband, he no like it when I lose. You know, hundreds I lose, sometimes thousands (laughs). He get real angry when I do that.”

“You don’t say,” I answered.

“It used to be real bad but now is better. Now I play, but not all the time. Sometimes I win. But also I lose (laughs).”

“Interesting,” I said.

“Do these pants make me look fat?” interrupted Linda.

Three and a half hours later, I felt as though a certain level of intimacy had been established between us. Upon leaving, I almost wanted to give her a hug and encourage her to stay away from the casino. But instead I gave her a nice tip, hoping it wouldn’t end up where I was imagining it would.

And in the end, I didn’t regret my choice. My nails were impeccable for the wedding and remained so for the honeymoon. In fact, I grew so fond of them that I had them “refilled” upon my return to Paris, which was almost as amusing as the initial operation. Nail salons here tend to double as erotic message parlors, which kind of makes sense. I mean, men have to do something while the ladies have their nails done—thumbing through magazines is just so prosaic. Incidentally, women can also get massages at these fine establishments, but the cost for men is always significantly higher. Now why would THAT be...?

But dubious salons aside, I’m still loving the fake nails. Why? Because they’re flawless! I mean sure, they do make a hell of a lot of noise when I type, but otherwise it’s pure pleasure wearing them. They’re unbreakable, unsplittable, unsulliable; I haven’t so much as caused one tiny run in my stockings since I had the nails put on and that alone is well worth the cost. Plus they’re still relatively rare in France, which is a nice boost for my ego.

The ONE downside is that they’re ... um ... flammable. I found that out the hard way while lighting a candle the other evening. Suddenly it was my thumbnail that was twinkling away and not the wick. “What’s that smell?” G. asked. “Nothing!” I said, trying to hide my singed nail. Oh, it was fine. I filed it down a bit and it was good as new. Mostly.

So in conclusion, I give two singed thumbs up to acrylic nails. Sure they’re somewhat dangerous. But in the end ... aren’t we all (philosophical pause)?

1 comment:

  1. A friend here in Ramona is opening a new hair salon, and she just purchased a shellac-based nail kit for her customers. It's a clear UV-curing resin and a bunch of topcoats.

    I haven't tried them but I can tell you they smell better than traditional acrylic glue and paint. They seem to hold up nicely, too, and you dry them with 2 minutes under a little fluorescent light cabinet.

    This is a thing in Europe too? No?