Thursday, June 13, 2013

Of spark plugs and nail color

I used to think of hardware stores as the most boring places on earth. I just think "hardware store" and images of a sea of gray come to mind. Gray, steel, metal, knobs, pipes, wires... and nothing much else besides maybe blacks, whites and some brown.

I still think hardware stores are boring, but at least they've taken on a more interesting character when I discovered decals and stumbled on some lovely and quirky decorative stickers that can embellish the plainest walls of a home.

I feel practically the same way about car service centers, and while there's a lot one can learn about the workings of a car engine within an hour or two as mechanics tinker with all that gray and black amid the maze-like environment under the hood, my eyes don't exactly light up in anticipation of getting better acquainted with spark plugs or suspension bushing.

I've told friends about this regard I have for the environment in auto detailing shops -- I find the way men huddle around a car's engine, as if it's the most interesting thing in the entire universe, simply fascinating. And the closest equivalent I could think of as far as women are concerned is the excitement that goes on at a makeup counter during a sale or when a new product has just been made available. That, or (since a lot of women do away with makeup) the clothing/shoe store setting during a sale (everybody needs clothes and footwear, after all).

Tastes and preferences vary from person to person; there, too, are the masculine and feminine qualities to be considered. So I understand why men would feel perfectly at home in a talyer (car service center) and women would probably be bored out of their minds there, while men would pass up the chance to stay even minutes at the cosmetics counter or go around a shoe/clothing store trying out items with a friend, while women (in general) would find the experience of talking about colors and fabrics and trying on different shades and styles at the makeup counter or shoe/clothing store positively enjoyable.

I believe more than just the look of the place, the nature of the visit to the place, and the things one sees in the place, it's the quality of the talking that happens there which spells the difference between them.
Take your "typical" beauty salon (if there is such a thing), for example. The conversations that happen between client and mani-pedi specialist (or haircutter) can sometimes be superficial chitchat, but often they are an exchange of personal experiences and even a quasi-counseling session. Or it can be merely an exchange between a lady in need of a sounding board and her kind, accommodating manicurista. It's amazing how a children's book captures this observation from the point of view of a child: In this scene from Ang Makapangyarihang Kyutiks ni Mama, the little girl watches as her mother, a manicurist, works on the nails of one client, who, like all the others her mother calls on, is down in the dumps. Other ladies seem ill or exhausted or fresh from a good cry when she and her mother arrive with the bag containing the bottles of "medicine," the girl says.

What follows is a scene that has become familiar to the little one: as the women take their seats, one holds her fingers or toes in front of the mother, who goes about cleaning them while the two have a talk about things that the child doesn't understand.

She regards her mother as some kind of doctor because there is a complete transformation in the women afterwards.

"Ang galing ng mga kyutiks ng Mama ko. Nagpapabalik sila ng tuwa. Nagpapaalis sila ng galit at pagod. Nagbibigay sila ng ningning sa mga mata. (Mama's bottles of nail polish are extraordinary. They bring back happiness. They take away anger and weariness. They put a twinkle in anyone's eyes.)"

Getting a haircut or having one's nails painted sure can do wonders to lift the spirits. It works for some, not for all. And while it's the new look or the flash of bright color that serves as a pick-me-upper for some ladies, for others it is the conversation with the stylist -- the chance to talk about something -- that seems to be responsible for the transformation.

I'm wrestling with my own unresolved conflict these days, and while I've told myself it's one I have overcome, it seems what will put it to rest -- besides more prayers -- is my own version of a mani-pedi. I'm off to the salon!

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