The Person in the Next Chair

Yesterday I decided it had been too long since my previous pedicure. My skills at trimming and polishing my toenails, never very good to begin with, have deteriorated as I age. The corns and bunions on my feet have gotten worse; some of my nails are often slightly ingrown. My feet really needed a good soak and trim. I decided to try a new-to-me nail salon, near the grocery store where I do most of my food shopping. 

On this late Friday morning, the place was not very busy. One of the pedicurists quickly got me into a chair and started the back massage with a few clicks of buttons that usually befuddle me. She had me sit comfortably side saddle at first, before testing the temperature in the basin of water with my toes—nicely warm, not too hot. She then started in, first on the more-distorted toes, working gently but firmly, readying me for the eventual application of the bright orange polish I’d picked out as this season’s color. I’m not good at small talk, so I mostly sat quiet. 

I heard the person in the next chair before I took a good look—a booming somewhat older-sounding voice, joking and flirting with the pedicurist who was working on his toes. His toes. In my prior experience, guys in nail salons are rare. Even rarer are guys with booming bass voices. And black guys with booming bass voices? No way. 

Because I never engaged him directly, I’ll never be sure whether his near-continual line of patter was partly from nervousness.  It seemed to me that he was a repeat customer—he knew the entire staff and, if I understood correctly, had a standing appointment about once every two weeks. 

When I briefly glanced his direction, I noticed that his ankles seemed a little swollen and discolored. I wondered whether he had circulatory problems, perhaps partly related to a diabetic condition? Whatever, he was enjoying his pedicure, and the pedicurist seemed to be enjoying his line of patter. Once his nails were trimmed and cleaned, I thought he’d be ready to leave. Instead, he asked that they be polished with bright pink polish. This seemed to be a first for him. 

“My daughter will fall out when she sees,” he chuckled. “She just started a new job, with the sheriff’s department. I’ll send her a picture on my phone, and she’ll probably respond right away, especially if she’s on her lunch hour.” 

“You’ll need to sit here for about 10 minutes to let the polish dry,” the nail tech told him. 

By that time, I’d finished. The jack-o-lantern colored polish on my toes was dry.

It wasn’t until I was leaving that I ventured another glance at the guy in the next chair, who could well have been a football linebacker in a prior career. 

Into the polish on each big toe, the guy had gotten the pedicurist to inscribe a small loop in a different shade of pink. Suddenly I remembered it was October 1, the beginning of breast cancer awareness month.Because I didn’t engage him directly, I can’t be sure, but my guess is that his daughter is a breast cancer survivor. If so, I hope she can feel the love emanating from her daddy’s bright pink toenails. 

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