In the middle of my soy latte, the free Internet at Royal Ground Coffee on Polk Street in San Francisco went away.
When it comes to living a contemporary life, control is an illusion.
Last week, I went to the Bay Area for a quick, before-school getaway. Friends and I hiked to the wharf, shopped at numerous thrift shops and made our way to Coit Tower to check out murals from the 1930s depicting the working class. We enjoyed bars, fine dining and the theater. I knew my friends planned to get pedicures—for about $18, complete with foot baths and leg massages and pretty-colored polish.
I’ve never had a pedicure. I considered it. In the end, I dismissed my potential participation.
“I’m not going with you,” I said, reaching down and peeling dead skin off my pinky toe.
“Why won’t you get one?” my friend asked. “Is it because you’re self-conscious about your feet?”
“If it’s that,” Friend B added, “don’t worry. The women will tell you stories about feet worse than yours.”
“I’ve never gotten stories,” Friend A said. “Do you worry about your sense of self? Will it be forever altered by this act of luxury? Maybe you feel it’s profligate. But there are things you do that are much more profligate than a pedicure.”
I assumed she was referring to consumption of vodka and wine, which has most recently resulted in hangovers for both Friends A and B. Pedicures are good for hangovers, they contended. I prefer fried eggs and coffee.
“Would Emma Goldman get a pedicure?” I asked Friend A, a longtime educator who’s visited the grave of America’s first lady of anarchism, outside of Chicago. I am reading Goldman’s autobiography, Living My Life.
“Hell, no,” Friend A said. “It’s the ultimate bourgeois activity.”
Friend B disagreed.
“Emma would support you making it possible for these girls to earn a living,” she said. “How else would they make money?”
Goldman was, by her own accounts, an aesthete as well as a revolutionary. Once, when chided for frivolity (dancing), she replied that her life’s work was fighting for everyone’s right to freedom, self-expression and “beautiful, radiant things.”
Goldman set a heroic example of passionate, fearless activism. She’d been in jail. I don’t know how she felt about her tootsies.
“Profligate is a good word,” I said, changing the subject. Last night during Happy Hour at a swank bar near downtown, we’d been talking about how no one uses the word “niggardly” anymore—even though the word’s meaning (adj. reluctant to give or spend, stingy) has nothing to do with race. We debated language, sipping $9 Lanai martinis with rum-soaked chunks of pineapple from cinnamon-rimmed glasses.
The next day, my friends chose from among the zillions of nearby salons doing all manners of body waxing, nails and massage. I dropped them off with their books and sandals and walked to an Internet cafe across the street.
The free wireless turned sketchy fast. I pulled up the Reno News & Review. As I clicked on “Right Hook,” the connection disappeared.
Damn. My feet should have been soaking in hot basins of water right now.
Friend A has told me that the thing she enjoys the most about getting her toes tidied up is the sense of empowerment.
“I don’t feel this way about my hair or my hands,” she said. “But when my feet are cleaned and scrubbed and shaped, I feel so much more together. It feels like I’m in control of my life.”
With no Web to surf, I took my ugly toes into the nearest store and spent $40 on 18-inch stuffed representations of Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen.
Indeed, I bought dolls.