NAILED – A Mani-Splendored Thing

I never used to get my nails done. Manicures just weren’t a “thing” for me. Oh, I wanted to look “polished,” so to speak, but to me, short, clean and neat got the job done.

Every week, or more frequently (we’re talking before the emergence of the “no chip” manicure), I would pull out my nail file, buffer, cuticle cream, clear polish – and go to town.

And then there were my toes. My efforts here, although mighty, were laborious, and ultimately, unsatisfying. I tried my best to make my feet sandal-worthy for the summer months, but I never quite got the hang of DIY pedicures. The foam separator shoved between my toes. The uncomfortable, hunched over position in order to reach my ten little piggies. The ultimate smudges and do-overs. Ugh.

Now that I reflect on this, maybe I was just cheap. After all, why throw big bucks at something that could be obliterated at the scratch of a car key? I was being cheap with myself, in all honesty. Although looking – and smelling – good, is important to me, I have no interest in wearing Stella McCartney or Jimmy Choo. Costume jewelry is just fine, thank you very much, and bi-yearly haircuts suit my style, whatever that may be.

Self-pampering, to me, takes shape in the form of long, hot bubble baths, followed by generous slatherings of a rich body lotion, of which I have many. Too damned many, actually. Beauty products are my undoing. I hoard them like a squirrel hoards nuts for the winter. But, just looking at them “sparks joy,” ala Marie Kondo. Go figure.

So, why the lack of interest in professional mani-pedis? As someone who does her own housework, crimson nails and Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner are a particularly odd couple. And let’s face it: There’s nothing remotely “shappy chic” about chipped nails.

My sister, Diane, who I’ve written about before, has always had her nails professionally manicured. And they look great. Always. Not that she’s a spendthrift, by any means, but she doesn’t need L’Oréal to tell her that she “deserves it.” And more power to her. For years, Diane has tried to persuade me to accompany her to the salon that she has frequented for like, forever. That said, I’m not quite sure what the tipping point was. I believe my change of heart came about because of two things: My breast cancer diagnosis and the emergence of the gel-based, “no chip” manicure. An odd couple perhaps, but there you are.

Thereafter, it was “Screw this. I’m having my nails done. Fingers AND toes.” And even though I’m out of work, and trying to live more frugally, I’ve never looked back. And here’s why:

There is something so sexy, so damned girlie, about well-manicured, beautifully polished finger/toe nails. And the available colors! They range from the staid to the hedonistic and everything in between. Matte. Neon. Shimmer. Glitter. A veritable jewelry box of choices. With all these hues at our fingertips, it is imperative that we women strive to pick colors and designs we can live with because no-chip manicures can last nearly three weeks. Manna from Heaven for those of us who can’t exist without a can of Comet at the ready.

As I quickly learned, getting one’s nails done isn’t just about the nails. It’s about the experience. The feeling of being pampered. It’s about the community of women, many of whom you might never see again, but even still, women with whom you feel perfectly comfortable sharing confidences, or discussing current events, or gushing about your favorite movies or just – talking shit.

I’ve been to a few different salons over the last few years, but for me, now, there’s only one. And it’s the salon that my sister goes to, which has become an integral part of the experience for me. Spending quality time with Diane, and my niece, Megan, when she’s home from school. Let me tell you about this place: Located in a suburb of Chicago, Xanadu Nail Salon & Spa is an oasis of calm – of love and light – in a world gone mad.

Even on those days when I don’t feel like dragging my ass out of the house – to get my nails done! – I am unfailingly glad that I did. No matter how down I am, or anxious, or tired, I always feel better after a trip to Xanadu. Much of the credit goes to the owners of the salon, who are also the artists performing countless mani-miracles, daily. A Vietnamese family consisting of Nancy, (or Ne La), her sister Ne, and their mother, who everyone calls “Mom,” myself included (and I’m older!), these three serve as constant reminders that qualities like “grace” and “kindness” still exist if we care to seek them out.

And get this: They all live together. Nancy, Ne, Mom, and two more siblings, along with Dad and Nancy’s son, share the same household. Peacefully. Without rancor. Imagine that.

To that point, I have never, ever, heard them utter a nasty word to one another or picked up even the merest hint of tension. At the salon, Mom and her daughters work together like a well-oiled machine. They talk and laugh and poke fun at one another and their clients. While Ne is soft-spoken and a tad more reserved, Nancy is the wise-cracker of the two, who outwardly, appears to be the gregarious one but in reality, is sweetly shy. And Mom is just…Mom. All three are, in a word, “adorable.”

I mentioned “grace” and “kindness.” Aside from working long days at the salon, the family, Ne, especially, expends much time and effort doing charitable work on the weekends, making sure that hungry people are fed, and those who need a warm coat or a pair of socks, get them. Their level of commitment to taking care of others is both heartening and inspiring.

As for the “experience,” nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the feeling of sitting in one of Xanadu’s massage chairs, and sipping a cup of sweet Vietnamese coffee while having your feet rubbed. Ladies, you know what I’m talkin’ about. And no doubt, some of you men do, as well.

Once in a while, as a surprise, Mom will send Diane and I home with a batch of her homemade Vietnamese Spring Rolls. OMG. To die for!

And there is always candy. A big bowl of it. The good stuff! And we’re encouraged to take some home, which I always do. Last week, I came home with a big stash: Lindberg Chocolate Truffles, Peanut Butter Cups, Peppermint Bark – you name it, I grabbed it.

Love. I’ve grown to love these women. I truly have.

When I’m sitting in front of Ne, and I feel her warm, brown eyes on me, searchingly, as if to ask, “How are you? Are you okay, today?” I feel genuinely cared for.

When Nancy asks me how my screenwriting is going, I feel cared for.

When Mom, who I tower over, gives me a hug, I feel cared for.

When you consider all of the above, it’s not about the nails. Or just the nails, anyway. It’s about balm. For the soul. Something we can all use.


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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  1. Sherry, I’ve been meaning to comment on this article. It was the first one I read on Biz.
    It’s so fresh and whimsical, and I think we can all relate to being pampered. Frankly, I’m in need of some…. but I do my own nails, although, having hair shampooed and cut and having a massage! That is enough for me to feel brand new.
    thank you for sharing this sweet piece.

  2. Sherry, love this, and my only comment is that doing something for yourself that makes one feel good, there are certain things that others do that makes it worth it, because they do it better and when the compliments pour in, it simply puts a smile in place.

  3. Oh, I love this essay so very much, Sherry! You’ve inspired the telling of another story from my life journeys. I pretty much missed the whole “girl” thing when I was growing up. I was too busy dodging the other shoe droppings and such — I gravitated to the outside and activity as much as possible. Plus, in fourth grade the teacher I adored had asked a question and saw my arm up with hand eagerly waving and she said, “Do you actually have something to say or are you just drying your nail polish?” Blushing deep red with embarrassment, I quickly pulled my arm down and sat on my hand. I didn’t even have access to nail polish (not a thing in my parent’s house). Wow. I had so much to say and in that moment vowed to not ever polish my nails or do anything remotely “girlie.” Being smart became more important to me than being a girl. This strong commitment lasted until I was in my sister’s wedding and she insisted that her maid of honor have a manicure.

    Happy to say that I’ve found my way to enjoying many things about being a woman. Thank goodness!! I happen to love pedicures the most!! My adult daughter and I love going together-and the bonding that happens with each other and the women who are doing our nails is such a joy!

    Thank you so much for this as it obviously sparked a vivid memory for me. :)

  4. Soul balm!! YES! This is a beautiful piece Sherry. This was my favorite part:

    As someone who does her own housework, crimson nails and Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner are a particularly odd couple. And let’s face it: There’s nothing remotely “shappy chic” about chipped nails.

    I laughed out loud!! It’s so true. Bless Xandadu and bless you. We all need human connection. We thrive for it. Our world is so separated because we can find entertainment in the comfort of our own homes in pajamas and isolated. But being together is the key. We can only thrive together. The end.

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your positivity. Your spirit is so genuine and solid.

  5. I love this story, Sherry and I’m so glad that you shared it with us! While I don’t usually get manicures, I do go to the salon for a cut and color every 6-8 weeks. That’s my splurge. My time to sit and be pampered. Plus I love the salon, and all their stylists. It’s in a quaint little town that is always bustling. There’s boutiques and coffee shops, and a bridge of flowers (in Spring/Summer/Fall). There’s always candid conversation, laughter, and bonding. I could care less that I sit there with foil on my head and looking like an alien. The time spent there is an indlugence, and a reminder that we are worth it.

    So here’s to self-care. We’ve earned it!

  6. I love this, Sherry, as I look forward to all of your amazing conversations. I know precisely the experience you are referencing. As we enjoy the beautifying of ourselves, we relish even more the beauty of the connection of others. Thank you for this!💖