I don't enjoy many luxuries in life. I drive a fifteen year old car that's a few hundred miles from the big 200K. We have a very nice large screen television, but no cable to match it and it spends most of its limited viewing time acting as a forty inch monitor for one of several computers. I do own far more PCs than the normal middle class person and more than most people would consider prudent, but I'm a PC enthusiast and like anyone with a hobby, there are boxes of spare parts and works in progress scattered throughout the house.
The one big luxury I allow myself - once every few weeks - is a manicure and pedicure. My mother had terrible feet. Just awful. Caked with callouses, fungus, everything terrifying that you can imagine on a foot... and my father's were considerably worse, as he had diabetes. So I allow myself this one little bit of pampering, sometimes splurging on little designs on my toes. Mostly it's for hygiene.
Today I also treated myself to a discount haircut at the cosmetology school. We'll start there...
The local cosmetology school is a good one. They're located in a shopping center near the Red Cross and Academy Sports. For five dollars, they'll have a student trim your hair. It's a busy place - there are usually twenty to thirty students and a handful of faculty members at any given time.
Now, this is the south so there are young women of all races in there, and they have to learn how to deal with all textures of hair as well. I just needed a very slight trim as I'm trying to grow out the stacked bob I had last summer (a cute cut, but not really me and I missed my long hair.) My student hairdresser's name was Kendra. We didn't get to talk much, because it was so busy, but she carefully snipped her way through my hair and commented that it was the slightest trim she'd ever done.
I have talked with other students there before. Invariably, they're proud single mothers trying to do the best for their children by embarking on a career path to independence as a registered beautician. Some of them are able to live with their parents, others have to work day jobs to pay the bills while they are in school. One mentioned that the school was very flexible - if someone attended full time they could finish up in six months, but the average time to certification was a year to a year and a half.
A sign on the wall admonishes them to pay their student loans, or else they state will confiscate their hard won licenses.
The supervising instructors there are all very confident professionals who have been in the industry for decades. "Ms. Allison," they'll call to one of them. "Come look at this and made sure I did it right." The instructor will take the sheers, make a few adjustment snips, and then give a nod of approval. Usually. One time she had to do an entire inch correction on one side of my face, carefully explaining to the student how you have to be careful about when your customer leans off to one side. The student, who had just been on the floor for a few days, it turns out, was duly chastised and promised to do better.
The student faces change. The instructors do not. Today, Ms. Allison recognized me and gave me a quick smile before whirling off.
I think I've become a regular there.
In another universe, in a different shopping plaza less than a mile away, is my nail salon. No mere students, this is a pro shop owned by a Vietnamese couple who emigrated to America ten years ago and have since brought along a dozen family and friends.
They were half staffed today and swamped. I almost turned around; the haircut had made me late for my standing appointment, and I knew it'd be an hour before they got around to me. But I'm definitely a regular there, and I was told to "pick a color" and then waved over to a seat.
Perhaps because it was so short staffed, or perhaps because it was so late, or perhaps it was because their other talking customers consisted of two elderly Christian women witnessing to each other*, but both my pedicurist and my manicurist were talkative tonight. The pedicurist, the younger brother of the owner of the shop who moved to America when he was still a child, wore purple nitrile gloves as he shaved the callouses off my feet.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asked, referring to the Ghost Hunter's show on the Travel channel. "They say there's lots of haunted places in Georgia."
"In Savannah, definitely," I agreed, and told him about my adventures in Savannah last fall, during which I went on a "Haunted Pub Crawl" and heard about some of the more infamous residents of the most haunted city in America. The topic of our conversation turned to travel in general, and we talked about places we've been and where we wanted to go.
"I want to move to Canada," he said. "But it's harder to go there as a US citizen than it would have been if I had stayed in Vietnam..."
I knew that much to be true as well, considering I have a friend who married a Canadian and she still hasn't cleared her citizenship yet.
The young man is attending classes while he works part time at his older sister's shop. I can't imagine anyone wants to make a career out of being a pedicurist, but he's good at what he does and my feet and toes are scrubbed and a pretty copper color by the time he's done.
My manicurist is a shy, quiet girl, who moved from Vietnam just in the last few years. She has braces that are slowly correcting a terrible overbite. But she has a sweet nature to her, and she's all business when it comes to hands.
"I totally believe in ghosts," she said, echoing the conversation with her coworker earlier. "My little brother saw one. And... my first apartment here in town was haunted for two weeks. Then I told them to go away. And they left."
She continued on, talking about Lunar New Year coming up. The salon would be closed on that day - everyone would be celebrating at home with their families. She explained that it could be an expensive holiday for a family with a lot of children, as they would all be given money in red envelopes for good luck. Her parents had already sent hers, from Vietnam, because they wanted to make sure it reached her in time.
It was almost closing time in the salon. They'd turned off the "open" sign thirty minutes ago because the low staffing and busy schedule meant they simply could not accept any more clients. I paid my bill - $25 for clean hands, feet, and a good hour long massage in the chair plus an extra five for the tip.
I left, wearing my flip flops into the brisk Georgia evening.
This is the world of the ninety nine percent. Hard work, long hours, struggling to pay bills and attend school... but it is, as it was during the 20th century, not without laughter.
*This is the Bible Belt South. This is actually pretty common. I think everyone else in the salon was pretty uncomfortable, though.