An afternoon at a nail salon

Everyone has a story

A few weeks ago, I was at a nail salon getting a pedicure. Now before you start snickering and questioning my masculinity behind your screen, just know that my first pedicure changed the color of my big toe cuticle from black to that fleshiest of pinks, so I will unabashedly admit this fact. Most of the workers were Vietnamese, as is probable if you’re going somewhere cheap/high-quality in the Bay Area. But what was most interesting about this whole situation is that there was a 6-month-old baby bouncing its head in a stroller and a 3-year-old girl running around and making everyone’s life just a little more hectic than it already was while scrubbing away at a white woman’s feet (except for mine, of course).

Why, you ask? It led me to think about the journey that these workers had made. Since working at a nail salon is not (I assume) in the list of the most lucrative jobs, I would guess that these people came from somewhere across the globe to the U.S. in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their family. And while removing the many layers of the epidermis that have accumulated on my heels while asking me in broken English if I would like colored nail polish may not be the most glamorous occupation, it is honest work with true intentions, and I truly and humbly respect that.

As the son of immigrant parents, I stopped to think about the journey my own parents had endured in their voyage on the S.S. American Dream. My father came to this country to do his Masters in electrical engineering, and when he was admitted for a Ph.D. in computer science, he promptly returned to India, married my would-be mother, and brought her to the United States as well. During graduate school, my parents lived the stereotypical tale we may have heard: at first not knowing anyone and living on a modest budget but working tirelessly and developing a close, supportive social network as a result. An interesting thing happened after I was born and we settled down in Oklahoma — my parents fell into careers that they loved. My father became a professor of computer science, and my mom joined a daycare and helped take care of infants. Both of them hold the same occupation to this day, and I can confidently say both of them love their jobs.

Growing up, I remember my father going to work after dropping me to school and not coming back until 9 or 10 at night. This wasn’t out of necessity; rather, he’s a hard-working person who willingly put the effort in to his students and to his research. And though I didn’t see him much in the daytime while growing up, I always respected his work ethic. I would often accompany him to school on the weekends like that 3-year-old at the nail salon and sit around in the computer lounge marveling at the latest Mac model or trying to look like a pro on a terminal when all I could really do was type cd or ls.

My mom is the person I’m most proud of in my life although oddly, I’m not sure if she knows it. She’s amazing at her job; people from Tulsa flock to this particular daycare because they know she’s working there. I marvel at her ability to understand, communicate with, and sometimes even subdue a tenacious, energetic infant. Indeed, she’ll often tell me: “This is a job where I’m never bored: every day is a new and wonderful experience.” I always joke(?) that I won’t break a sweat when I’m raising my kids because of her expertise. When I tell my friends this, they respond, “Your mom sounds really cool,” and a smile always escapes me. It then promptly turns into a bemused flatline when they follow up with, “…actually cooler than you.”

These are just one-dimensional portraits of my parents, but they are relevant when considering the big picture of tying one’s career to one’s broader life. My parents were fortunate not to find careers that could support a reasonable life, but rather to happily knit those careers tightly with their lives.

Like every millennial, I’ve been spending countless hours wracking my brain and searching my soul to figure out what I want to do in life. How can I contribute to the world as a productive citizen? What do I love doing? How can I help my fellow human and also create a nice life for myself (and one day, my own family)? These aren’t questions I have the answers to yet, but I find it nice to look to others for examples in everyday life and just wonder how they got there and what their stories are.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I need to get my nails done more often.