Best Foot Forward

I first took note of the activity on a Saturday afternoon about ten years ago, on my first visit to Palm Desert, in the Coachella Valley of southern California, where I was hard at work convincing myself that it might be a good thing to join the ranks of the Snowbirds who flock south annually for the winter. It was a losing proposition at that point, I remember, because I was also discovering just how much pavement there is on the hectares of sweltering parking lots down there, and how hard it can be on the soles of one’s feet on a really hot day, when the shopping malls stretch for miles in every direction and disgruntled males of all shapes and sizes hang around in varying stages of discomfort and impatience, trying to remember just how far away they parked their car and waiting for their spouses to emerge from whatever store happens to have caught their attention.

The entire exercise was a lesson in futility, because you can’t win if you try to register a complaint on a shopping expedition that has suddenly mushroomed out of control. You’ll be told to wear heavier shoes, for one thing, despite the fact that it’s invariably too hot to wear heavy walking shoes, and if you suggest that it’s hot and sweaty out in the sun, you’ll be invited to enter the store and share the shopping experience. Personally, I’ll pull my hat down and opt for the grilling sunlight every time.

On this particular day, in early March, the temperature was unseasonably high, even for the Desert—over 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 Celsius—and I had been foolish enough to wear flip flops, never suspecting that our little outing to the drugstore would develop into a miles- and hours-long, haute couture odyssey. The tarmac under my feet was ferociously hot and my car was more than half a mile away, for we had moved from mall to mall in barely perceptible stages, and I was starting to look around in desperation, hoping to find a hostelry where I could hoist a cold beer, when I saw a sight that captured my attention.

A magnificent old, navy blue, pre-WWII Bentley with the classic, strapped-down hood and the huge, rolling, burbling exhaust pulled up about four spaces from where I was standing, right in front of one of the Vietnamese fingernail salons that seem to be everywhere down there. Two well dressed, middle aged men climbed out of the vehicle, laughing at something one of them had said, and made their way directly to the Nails shop, where they entered without a moment’s hesitation.

I waited until I was sure they were not coming back out immediately, and then curious, and frankly nosy about what men might be doing in what was obviously a beauty salon, I sidled along casually to where I could look in sideways through the window, and I was astonished to see that they had joined half a dozen other men, all of whom were sitting on substantial, very comfortable-looking reclining chairs, some of them reading and a couple snoozing, while their feet were soaking in tubs attached to the chairs. I don’t know how long I stood there watching them, but you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see they were having a great time, relaxing in comfort while having their feet cared for and pampered.

Being a curmudgeonly old Scot with a lifetime of deep-dyed and usually erroneous convictions under my belt, though, I remained pig-headedly convinced that there was something fundamentally unmanly about such goings on, and it was to be close on another decade before I allowed my wife to talk me into having my first pedicure. Fool that I am, I now kick myself for having taken so long to discover the luxury of such harmless self-indulgence. And it really isn’t self indulgence at all, for as we grow older we all suffer from the inevitable outrages caused by gravity and it becomes harder to do things as simple as clipping and caring for one’s own toenails.

Nowadays my pedicurist does all of that for me, and at a remarkably small cost, considering that I always leave the premises walking on air, having enjoyed being groomed and spoilt, my feet, ankles and legs washed, cleaned, massaged and generally made to feel wonderful.

I try to visit once a month now, and I encourage my friends to go, too. On my last visit, with my wife, there were two other men in the salon, both with tattoos and each of them at least twice my size. I nodded to them as I walked in, then happily ignored them and read my book, content to leave my feet in the capable hands of the lady who now knows how ticklish the soles are.