Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Mar 23 2013 12:01 PM

HERB BENHAM: Trying -- and failing -- to put the man in manicure

By The Bakersfield Californian

Last week I got a manicure. Yes, a manicure. Patty Alexander. She's next to the Nile Theater. Patty's done my wife's nails for years, and a while back I gave her a jar of Herb's Famous Apricot Jam. She'd also read my column about buying a nail-care kit at Valley Plaza and offered to give me a real manicure.

This wasn't my first foray into cosmetology. In my 20s, I had a semi-perm. My hair is and was straight and I was intrigued by adding body, thickness or perhaps a celebratory wave or curl.

What I hadn't bargained for was the price, something I discovered when I walked into the beauty salon in Mar Vista. A perm ran triple figures. When I hesitated, the hair dresser said, "I can you give a semi-perm."

A semi-perm was semi the price of a regular perm. Everything about a semi-perm was semi, including the length of time the perm lasted. A few days after I left the beauty shop, my hair relaxed and lay flat against my head as if it were glued.

I sat in front of Patty and she grabbed my hands, which I had placed on a clean white towel.

"We've bonded now," she said.

I nodded. I had to. When somebody is rubbing your hands all you can do is nod, stare straight into their eyes and look stupid.

We bonded but we really bonded when she started working olive oil into my hands and wrists. If she had had some garlic salt, she could have served me for lunch.

"Make sure you don't work in the garden before I return on Sunday," said Sue, who was away, when she heard about my manicure. "I want to see how your nails look."

Now I understand. Women are off duty after a manicure. When you have a manicure, it's preposterous to think about plunging your hands in the dirt, a sink full of soapy water or breaking boxes apart so they will fit in the recycling.

You want me to do what? I'm sorry, I can't. I have to think about my nails. You wouldn't want me to spoil my new manicure, would you?

Manicurists are a font of information. Patty had 30 column ideas, 29 of which I instantly forgot because she was rubbing olive oil on my hands and I was drooling.

Patty went to work with a cuticle tool. The fun and games were over. She pushed, scraped and trimmed.

Patty told me about raising her grandchildren, her own children, her husband's golf game and Til (the Transition to Independent Living) program in Taft, where they teach young adults how to live on their own.

"How many male clients do you have?" I asked.

Less than a dozen, she said. Most of the time, it was the wife who coaxed the husband to come in. One husband called before his first appointment and asked if she had a back door. He was a back-door manicure man.

"I do have several men who come for pedicures," she said.

I asked whether she worked on men who had the fungus in their feet. I asked in such a way that did not reveal whether I was or was not one of those men.

"I don't think it's contagious," she said, paving the way for a confession should I be prepared to give one.

An hour later, Patty asked me if I wanted clear polish or one with shine in it?

Is that like choosing between flat paint and semi gloss? I opted for the high sheen. I thought about the red but that may have precluded me from re-entering the tree house.

I told my friends. Most were troubled or, when they heard, opted not to return my call. I'm sure they had their reasons. They were probably busy changing their own oil or planting tomatoes.

Stuff I'd like to do, but I just can't.

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