After work, I rushed for my 7pm appointment at Bliss. Facial with micro-dermabrasion (who knows how that is spelled). POB had one and, because she does not want to be a Bridezilla — in contradistinction to my Bridezombie — I had to have one, too.
So, I changed into my robe and slippers and joined others in the quiet room permeated by lemon and sage scents. There were healthy (and not so healthy) snacks and lemon-infused water. I ate some sliced cucumbers and drank the water (Bliss’s version of Kool-Aid). There were four of us in our matching robes and slippers waiting for our treatments, with the new age music and the scents filling the air and I thought this must be a high-end version of an insane asylum. Judging by how the “technicians” greeted the other inmates, I was the only non-recidivist in the bunch.
Then, my name was called. Nanetta was my technician. Did I fill in the new inmate form? She asked with an Eastern European accent. No, the concierge didn’t ask me to fill anything out. “Come with me,” she said, in a tone that suggested that I had been transported from 57th Street to the gulag. Why again did POB need me to endure this? Nanetta told me to take off my robe and get under the sheets on the table. Oh, no, I am prisoner in Soviet hell.
She asked me about the moisturizers I use. I told her I don’t really use moisturizer and, if I do, it is whatever POB buys. She shined a beaming light into my eyes. “You don’t know moisturizer?” she said in an accusatory tone. Omigod, I am going to die for the sin of taking my good genes for granted. “I do what I can!” I said in a way that is the intersection between emphatic and meek. The crashing you hear is the tension underlying post-USSR Eastern European and the descendants of those who fled the USSR in 1921.
Nanetta took pity on me and put cucumber slices over my eyes. “I just snacked on cucumber slices in the waiting room!” I said to bridge the divide between us. She laughed, in a slightly un-amused way. The gulag, for sure.
She started the micro-dermabrasion. “Does this hurt?”
“As much as vacuuming my face with sand paper hurts, I imagine.” (what else was I supposed to say?)
“Would you like the anti-aging collagen treatment? It only costs —-”
“If you say, ‘anti-aging’ I don’t care how much it costs. Do it.”
Now we could relax because I was an easy mark for anything that promised the Fountain of Youth.
We chatted about life and her story about coming to this country. Nanetta is Romanian and was pleased that I knew a little about the country’s history pre- and shortly post- USSR’s implosion. She struggled to learn English and put her daughter through school. She has endured hardships, but she makes a living through the self-indulgence of people with money. I wondered if she smirks at the irony.
She asked about my beauty treatment history and I told her that I was getting this done because I was marrying my partner. Whoa, that took a little time to sink in. (But this is New York, why?)
When she finished, my skin felt great. I went into the changing room and, having only a robe on, shed my robe as I prepared to get dressed. One of the house-staff asked me, as she was picking up my robe from the bin, “did you have a good visit with us?” Is this woman — a stranger — asking me to have a conversation while I am naked? Really? Really? “It was terrific. Excuse me while I put on some clothes.” I think that she realized that I was not one of the usual inmates who would chit-chat naked with a person who was fully clothed.
Call me the uptight Americana. I am totally good with that. Because if you want me to talk to you when I am naked, then you need to be naked, too. For the record, there aren’t that many people I want to talk to while either of us is naked. It sounds like a stress dream.
I dressed and walked along 57th Street with glowing skin, as a result of good genes from Mom and the efforts of Nanetta. I thought about a manicure and pedicure and all the other things that would make me feel even better about the trials and tribulations of life. But then I looked at expensive stores and expensive half-built high-rises and felt defeated and under-privileged (but with great skin).
I hopped a cab. My cab driver asked me if the buildings we were passing were Lincoln Center. I said “yes” and asked how long he has been driving driving.
“Three weeks but I have been in this country for one years [sic].”
“Where are you from?”
“Where in Africa?”
“Sudan. Darfur, ma’am. One years [sic] ago since I left.”
There is nothing to say to someone who has been to Hell and back. I sat quietly and then had to say that the reason for my silence was that I was overwhelmed that he survived and escaped Darfur. I asked him how the rest of the world can stop the violence. He said that Save Darfur was a blessing (www.savedarfur.org).
I listened as he tried in broken English to tell me that the government does nothing but kill its citizens and the people are starving and there is no water or schools. And I offered lamely that I descend from survivors of atrocities and that there is hope for the generations to come. Then we passed a Pinky Nail Salon.
“Our nail salons must seem stupid.”
“Life is different here than in Sudan.”
The understatement in this conversation could make a person cry.
He said his sister and nieces and nephews have a better life in CHAD. Let’s all stop for a moment and realize that together we earn more the gross domestic product of Chad.
Life is better in Chad.
Life is better in Chad.
Hug your spouse, your children, your-pets-who-are-children and be amazed at where you live and what you have. Because, in this world, there are places for which CHAD is a step up.
Such was my day in the extremes that intersect in New York City; silently at first, but then with a great emotional burst of noise and pain, acknowledgement of plenty and nothing, experience of joy and sorrow, and of personal triumph and communal defeat.
A day full of lessons to remember.