“Ow! No one told me about the tweezers.”
“No, I mean it’s okay. I mean, I don’t want you to leave the hair there. It’s just that no one told me, you know?”
I went into my labor breathing. I thought of my sexy hairless body on white sandy beaches. I thought of not being embarrassed to go snorkeling with my new 20-something sister-in-law. I thought of how stupid American fashion sensibilities are. Hairless adults? Come on. I thought about moving to Europe and becoming one of the old women who wears black, never shaves and never showers.
I was lying on a makeshift table covered in a white sheet in a back room of a nail salon. The owner, a smiling man from Vietnam, had sent me there with his pregnant wife. Very pregnant. I felt horrible, making her smell that nasty wax, making her bend over my Neanderthal legs with a tiny pair of tweezers. Giving her the odious job of plucking out every offending hair that the wax didn’t pull off. And we were only on my armpits—what would it be like when we got to my, um, other parts? But all my sympathy dissolved when I looked at her arms. No hair. “Stupid genes,” I thought. “Stupid family history to come from stupid cold climates where stupid hair grows to keep stupid people warm. Good birthing hips and lots of hair. That does not endear me to my ancestors.”
Sally (names have been changed to protect the innocent and also because I don’t actually know her name) said, “Okay?” And, not waiting for my groaned response, moved to my next armpit.
Really, the wax part didn’t hurt. But the tweezers. Ah, the tweezers. The higher-ups at Abu Ghraib should find out about this. They could call it “acculturation” instead of “torture”. Vogue would support them, as would Cosmo, Vanity Fair and Playboy.
Pits done, we moved to my lower legs and knees. I could see the pattern. Every time Sally plucked a hair, she said, “Sorry.” And when I was just about to allow sweet unconsciousness to overtake me, she said, “Okay?” I would be forced to open my eyes, say something moronic like, “Oh, sure. Feels great.” Sally would smile, dip her head back to my leg and pluck another microscopic hair. Just when I felt sure that I couldn’t possibly take any more, Sally would say, “Okay” (notice, no question mark. Completely different “okay”. I’m going to start speaking in only two words and see if my kids listen better. But I think one of my words will NOT be “sorry”. Maybe “now” or “death.” That should get them moving). After the “okay”, she’d move on to the next area, wax it up, strip off one layer of skin with a bit of hair and move in with the tweezers.
And now we arrive at my very most sensitive area. You may want to send young children away. As a bit of background, I haven’t been shy of exposing my nether-regions to people in white coats since I gave birth to Child Number 1. But somehow, letting everything hang out while I lay on a table in my granny panties, waiting for Sally to rip off parts of my body, well, that caused me to feel a bit jittery. Just getting the wax on was an ordeal, since Sally kept trying to mush it down to the roots of my hairs. She put the muslin strip on, rubbed it into place, said, “Okay?” and pulled. With my eyes closed, I heard a sharp intake of breath. Not the kind that one uses to express the incredible beauty of a sexy hairless woman. Not the kind one uses when one sees that one has done a great job in a difficult situation. Nope. This was the kind one uses when something has gone horribly wrong. Like accidentally pushing the real nuclear button during a mock war drill.
I looked up right before Sally reapplied the strip of muslin. And I swear I saw pink hairy goop. Not on the muslin strip, oh no. That was clean. The goop was, well, all over my tender areas. Without the traditional “okay?” Sally pulled up again. Another intake of breath and what I swear were curse words in Vietnamese. Sally lunged for the witch hazel and cotton balls in order to clean up the goop. Which was still all over the hair. Which was, of course, still in place, where God put it and where, apparently, it meant to stay.
A short digression here. I know that if Sally had stopped to think for 2 seconds, she’d have realized that using cotton on an area with that much wax would not work. It would, in fact, make it much, much worse. But I believe she was panicking. I know I was. My first thought was… Oh, I can’t type that word. My second thought was, “How do I drive home with this stuff all over me? I can’t put on my pants. Can I walk out with just my undies on? Would anyone notice?”
Sally began to wipe. Not dab, not swab, but full-on, all of her muscles wiping. Which helped the cotton get firmly embedded in my wax-coated hairy skin. Seeing that that wasn’t working, she grabbed more cotton balls. Do you know that saying, “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten?” Yah, well Sally hadn’t.
Now, the whole time, I’m trying to talk her through this. While wiping away tears of pain, I’m trying to say, “Um, excuse me Miss. I don’t want to intrude in your area of expertise, but I can see that the cotton idea isn’t turning out so well. Would you have perhaps a pair of scissors?” I wasn’t really sure how to communicate that in “sorry” and “okay”, but somehow, the idea caught on. She wrapped the cotton-wax-hair conglomeration in a muslin strip (at which point, I will admit, I almost throttled her. Not understanding, I thought she was going to try to pull the hair out again) and grabbed a pair of scissors. She cut it off, cleaned up the remaining wax with witch hazel, and turned away.
“I’m done,” I said, deciding that board shorts were a good look for people my age, anyway. “No more.” I sat up, looking around for my clothes. I found my shoes on the bed and slipped them on. Sally smiled, said, “Okay,” and started walking toward me with another dipper full of wax.
“No! I’m done. No more!” I said again, making the same arm movements an umpire makes when someone is safe. I know, that’s confusing to people, but when it’s accompanied by a maniacal stare and violent head shaking, don’t you think it would get the message across that she was not, in fact, safe? That she was, in reality, going to die if she took one more step toward me with that wax? Confusion crossed her face, but undaunted, still she pressed onward. I angled my body so that the full force of my leg could hit her and just as I took aim and began to kick, she understood. She said, “Okay,” took a step back, and slowly, keeping her eyes on me the whole time, she put the dipper down. She showed me the jar of witch hazel and some cotton balls. “Okay?” she asked in the “calm down” voice mothers everywhere use. “Okay?”
“No.” I said. I located my clothes and put them on, shaking, sticky, and trying to imagine how this was supposed to make me feel glamorous.
I walked out of the room and passed her husband. “Did she do a good job?” he asked.
Now, in that instant, I had a horrible, ugly vision. I thought of all the stereotypes of oppressed women. I thought of her big belly, of the two words she used to communicate in this chaotic place she’d moved to, and I thought of how I didn’t know what her home life was like. What if… what if… And, I was embarrassed to be honest with a man I’d never met and would, gratefully, never see ever again. How do you say, in response to a general question, “No, in fact, she almost got us both tangled up in my pubic hair. Which is still there, by the way.” So, I lied. Not a gushing, raving lie, just an “oh sure” sort of lie. And I paid. Full price. With a tip. Because I’m a ninny and how do you not tip if you’ve just said she did a fine job.
So you’d think the lesson would have been learned. And it was. Nair makes this great bikini stuff that doesn’t smell quite as bad as the stuff from the ‘80’s but does a decent job. And it isn’t sticky.