Just call it a passion for fashion, but I recently bought into the acrylic fingernail craze, a vanity industry that has rapidly taken the nation by storm. Nail shops have sprung up like mushrooms in shopping centers, malls, and discount marts everywhere, making artificial nails available and affordable for the average woman, like me.
Now, these shops give regular manicures too, but most women, like me, go for the acrylic nails — beautiful, long plastic nails for those of us who have brittle nails that break easily — beautiful, long plastic nails for those of us who are nervous and chew their nails — beautiful, long plastic nails for those of us who have never had pretty fingernails before.
The manicurist approaches me: “New set or fill?”
I didn’t know the lingo.
After I became wiser in the language of nail salons, I found that “new set” means acrylic nail tips. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand. She took one look at my ragged nails and knew I was a newbie.
“New set!” she observed.
“Fill in” is done after the nails grow and leave a space between the cuticle and the base of the acrylic nail. I had no idea when I started that I would be returning every two weeks for a follow-up process, or that these nails come with a life-time commitment.
My fingernails are matched up with artificial tips of the right size. My natural nails are trimmed to the skin and new tips super glued on. With the precision of an artist, the technician dips a small paintbrush in acetone and uses acrylic powder to overlay the nail.
After the nail hardens, there is much grinding to shape and buff the nails. The tool too closely resembles a dental drill for comfort. I quickly learn to sit still and not to try to assist by offering a finger. The wheel buzzes. I close my eyes and hope she knows what she is doing and won’t grind off the end of my finger.
She motions to a sink in the back and I oblige by scrubbing my nails hard with the brush, being certain to wash off all the oil she has brushed onto my cuticles. I don’t want to get sent back to do it over again like the lady before me.
“Pick a color now.”
This means select the color of polish I want from the dozens of bottles of enamel. She waits, wanting me to hurry so she can go on to the next customer. Eventually, I will learn to choose a color ahead of time while I’m waiting and she isn’t.
The polish comes in a rainbow of colors. It amazes me what some women do to their nails, making them long and red, or putting tiny designs on them under clear polish. I pass on that look and go for French nails, which are natural with white tips.
I wonder why I have to pay before she finishes. If I fail to give an adequate tip, will she still do a good job? I put a buck or two in the tip jar, just for insurance. Later, I learn that I am paying ahead to avoid messing up the new polish by digging in my purse.
The manicurist deftly applies several coats of polish, motioning for me to hold my hand in front of a small fan while she works on the other one. And I thought the fan was just there to keep me cool.
This means she is finished and admiring her work. I am then motioned to sit with my hands under a heat light to bake the nails dry.
Another customer, another set of nails.
I’m hooked and will spend every other week here for years to come. If anyone misses me, just say that I’m getting nailed.