Sitting in a comfortable chair with my legs buried to mid-calf in a tub of Epsom salt- and chamomile oil-infused water, I was reminded of a scene from Die Hard.
During the opening credits, when John McClane’s airplane touches down in Los Angeles, his seatmate tells him the key to relaxing after air travel is to walk around barefoot and “make fists with your toes.”
“Make fists with your toes,” McClane repeats, giving the guy a look like he’d just admitted he was wearing women’s underwear. But later in the movie, McClane actually tries out the trick. “Son of a bitch,” he chuckles. Turns out, the dude on the plane was onto something.
I know manicures and pedicures—a.k.a., “mani-pedis”—are increasingly popular among dudes. And I don’t think of myself as a judgmental guy. But if you’d asked me before what I thought of guys who enjoy having their nails filed and their cuticles clipped, I would have looked at you the same way John McClane eyed that guy on the plane.
But now, already, I’m having a McClane-esque chuckle and “son of a bitch” moment, because this Epsom salt soak feels pretty damn nice.
After about 10 minutes of this, my nail “technician” Colleen fishes my feet out of the tub and wraps them in warm towels. She then uses a variety of tools to shave and buff away the calluses that had been building up on my heels, soles, and toes during the long winter months. At times it tickles; more often it just feels like a focused massage.
“You have nice feet,” she remarks at one point. I manage not to say, “You probably say that to all the girls”—a joke I’m sure she’s heard a thousand times.
Instead I smile politely and eyeball the door of the salon. Like a mobster who won’t sit with his back to a room, I’ve been watching the door with the anxious certitude that someone I know will walk in, see me getting a pedicure, and roll their eyes when I say I’m doing this for a story.
But as Colleen continues to file away my callouses and crooked nails, it’s hard to stay antsy. This is all just too pleasant. Even if someone I know came in and caught me Epsom-footed, there’s no way she’d fault me for participating in something so obviously enjoyable.
With my feet and toes de-calloused and de-cuticled, and my toenails clipped and filed, Colleen treats me to a foot massage. I can’t clearly remember this part because I blacked out from the ecstasy of it.
When it’s over, she takes a moment to inspect my fingernails. “You obviously don’t chew them or pick at them,” she says approvingly. “A lot of the men that come in here do both.” She adds that manicures tend to be more popular than pedicures among dudes—a statement I don’t believe until she explains that male nail pickers and biters like to have their hands cleaned up before a big interview or date. “It’s just good grooming,” she says, and I can’t argue with that.
She has me soak my hands in a solution similar to the bath my feet enjoyed, and then she repeats the acts of pushing back and clipping my cuticles, filing my nails, and massaging my fingers and hands.
Earlier, she’d asked me if I’d wanted any polish applied, which at first I’d taken to mean some kind of colored veneer. She’d explained that some men ask for a clear polish to give their nails a smooth, healthy appearance. I’d declined, so my mani-pedi experience ends with a 5-minute shoulder and neck massage—something I’m told happens at nearly all nail salons.
I walked out after nearly an hour feeling relaxed, and as though four long-neglected appendages had received the pampering and care they deserved, but that I’d never given them.
That said, I wouldn’t go back. I’d sooner skip the nail polish fumes and pay a spa for a hand-and-foot massage. But now, if a buddy tells me he likes a good mani-pedi from time to time, I probably won’t John McClane him.
RELATED: Essential Tips For Shaving