NEW YORK — – Men's feet can be abused, scorned and ignored. But since the sandals have long since emerged from my summertime closet, I thought a manly pedicure might be just the ticket to pass the feet-in-public test.
"I have some guys who come see me every week," my pedicurist, Jenny, said as she lowered my lower extremities into a frothy foot jacuzzi. For my first ever pedicure, we were in a skylit salon in lower Manhattan, surrounded by ladies getting their nails painted, backs pummeled and (in the back room) nether regions waxed.
After extracting my feet from the jacuzzi, Jenny gave them a critical once-over. "Your feet look pretty good," she said. "I've seen worse."
I had been a little skeptical of the male pedicure. After all, our culture doesn't go out of its way to encourage men to go for any other form of extreme pampering. When's the last time a group of guys got together for a weekend outing to the salon? "It's not that it's girly or anything, but for guys pedicures just aren't a priority," said Michael Beckwith, a graduate student from London.
Once I got past my own fears that letting somebody cater to the needs of my feet would emasculate me, I really got into it. Later that night, a lady friend made me doubly glad that I went: "I never noticed your beautiful feet before!" she said.
Jenny had at my toenails with regular clippers, trimming the rough edges, and then jabbed at the margins of my nails with a cuticle cutter. Rotating my foot adroitly while holding me by the big toe, she attacked my calluses with a pumice stone.
My feet and toes have more hair than some old men have on their heads, and I was worried I might provoke disgust and horror in the salon. But Jenny, a consummate professional, was unperturbed by the curly toe hairs floating in the soapy water. And I was relieved when I glanced at the lady sitting next to me, whose gnarled feet would have made Bigfoot's look dainty.
In my ignorance, I had thought pedicures were mostly about getting your nails painted — little did I realize that the procedure amounted to a holistic healing regimen for my entire body below the knee.
"This is salt from the Dead Sea," Jenny said, as she massaged abrasive neon-green crystals into my calves, and rinsed them clean. "And this is sugar and oil — it sounds strange, and I don't know how it works, but it feels good, doesn't it?"
Because this pedicure was on the company tab, I decided to go for the whole hog: an exfoliating "leg mask," and a 10-minute leg massage. This included a very enjoyable pummeling of my calves, and a foot rub that just about made my eyes roll back in my head. By the time Jenny took her hands away, my lower extremities were humming with pleasure, and I couldn't help but notice that my feet smelled terrific.
"Do you want nail polish?" Jenny asked as the pedicure came to a close. I considered a rock-star look, maybe purple or black, but in the end I decided to pass.
"Uh, what do guys usually do?" I asked timidly. She pointed me towards a simple buff, which would leave my toes shiny and smooth. I know I should have gone for the polish, but after all the stereotype smashing I had done that day, I guess I just wasn't man enough to get my nails painted.