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The Manicure
Mom with a View

The Manicure

My hands carry the war wounds of serious work in the kitchen. They are a badge of honor.


I need help with a serious dilemma. When we moved to Los Angeles over 27 years ago, it was my first time in California. There were many striking sights and unusual phenomena (use your imagination!) but one of them, believe it or not, was the prevalence of nail salons. Long before there was a Starbucks on every corner there was a manicurist. To me it was absurd.

When I was growing up, manicures were extremely rare – and reserved for very special occasions (for my mother that is, not me!). But assimilation takes it toll and what once seemed ridiculous to me has now become an appetite. I find myself admiring the beautifully polished nails of the women around me – love those summer pinks and oranges – and feeling like my broken, chipped, uneven ones pale in comparison.

I pick up the phone to make an appointment.

Then I think about the time. I have so much to do. How can I just sit there for half an hour (a whole hour if we do my toes and since I’m there already…) not doing anything? A friend of mine downloads Torah classes onto her iPod and listens while her nails are being buffed and filed. I always thought that would be a good idea – if I had an iPod.

I considered that it could be a nice chance to just schmooze but then I reflect that my Vietnamese is weak. And I can’t read since my page-turning fingers would be otherwise occupied.

I accept it’s not going to happen.

Then I glance at my peeling cuticles, compare them to a magazine ad I just saw and reconsider. I dial the number.

Wait! How can I spend the money? Even though, with all the aforementioned competition, the prices are relatively low, it could still be used for other things. Charity or my nails? The choice seems made for me.

I go back to the kitchen. Even if I went, I tell myself, I have no patience to sit there while my nails dry. I’ll only end up leaving early and smudging them – the worst of all worlds. I give up.

Like professional chefs, my hands carry the war wounds of serious work in the kitchen – the burns, the cuts, the calluses. They are a badge of honor. They testify to chores done, a house maintained, a family cared for, a life being lived. They are hands to be proud of – even without (especially without?!) the polish.

I can let go of the temptation. I can return to more worthwhile pursuits. I can regain perspective. The Almighty gave me hands to do mitzvot. And I’m trying to fulfill that mandate. A manicure would be a distraction from their real function.

I’m not even going to glance inside the nail salon as I walk by. Well, maybe just a peek. You take walk-ins? That fuchsia looks so terrific…

May 14, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 30

(25) Mrs.Epstein, May 27, 2011 3:40 PM

Beauty schools offer inexpensive salon services

The students are graduating seniors. You can get a manicure for $2 done by a very enthusiastic students of any age. You are helping the students get some practical hours so think of it as a type of tzedaka. You can also get a facial,a new hair-do,massage,or other treatment depending on the school.

(24) Anonymous, May 22, 2011 8:58 PM

sometimes it is worth it...

I live in a place where manicures are the normal thing to do, I really would like to have it every week, the time I take off to care for myself makes me feel pampared, rested and ready to face my home again. We have them in salons, or at home if we want. Sometimes I make my nails myself, just to look at my hands and see them clean, cut, polished ( sometimes), even if I work to feed my big family, to be clean, neat, pleasant looking and presentable is a big thing for me and well cared hands are part of it. In my country even the cleaning ladies and maids have their hands made for the weekend, why not take care of myself lichvod shabbos??? About the under the nail dirt, wash it very well, as always, with a little brush and soap, even without the polish, before handling the food preparation...

(23) TMay, May 22, 2011 3:44 AM

what I discovered

I tried a manicure once and much to my surprise I discovered that under the nail and nail polish when you couldn't see through your nails, your nails could become really dirty. I mentioned it to a doctor in an informal conversation and he said the rule at the hospital was that nurses and other people who worked hands- on with patients could not wear nail polish on their fingers at work because of that problem. Pedicures are another matter entirely. You use your feet for walking and I consider taking care of them part of health maintenance. In Calif it costs $11. and they can reach your feet and see them better than you can. Even men are discovering pedicures but not with the polish. Just be sure they are practicing proper hygiene.

(22) Rachel, May 18, 2011 3:14 AM

Treat Yourself to Feeling Like a Lady

I am a skin care & a massage therapist who cannot get manicures and I have to keep my nails real short for the clients, and I hate the feel of nail polish, too. But the facials I give help people look and feel wonderful. When people come for my services, they are providing me with parnassah- the highest form of tzedaka. Looking good might give them the confidence to accomplish a goal or may make a woman look pretty for her date or her husband. Just because my hands do chessed doesn't mean there's a mitzvah for them to be ugly, and just because I give people a friendly face doesn't make it a mitzvah for the face to look dreadful when it could look lovely. Take th money for the manicure out of something else, such a fattening desserts that you might be serving on Shabbat, eat fruit instead, and make your hands and your figure look nice.

(21) Leah Bleiberg, May 18, 2011 2:52 AM

hands that work deserve a treat

Exactly because your hands work, they deserve some pampering. (I, too, choose the buffing, no polish, since it doesn't get ruined.) And while I'm there, I get a 10 minute massage for my overworked shoulders. And when I go with my Mom, we have quality "feel good" time together. Small price to pay for a little relaxation and luxury. No guilt!!

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