It was 6, just time enough for a mani/pedi before they closed. Mimi was my manicurist. She had been inoculated; I could see the round scar on her upper arm. I asked where she was from and she said Orange County.
She is 30 years old, with 4 kids. She married at, by my calculations, 22. Her husband was a friend of Mimi’s friend’s boyfriend, and at first they hated each other. For some reason she can’t understand, they love each other now. They’ve had their rough patches. He lost his job in 2008, when the economy was bad and times were tough. She became the bread winner, and it put a strain on the family. Mimi learned, then, about how important it was for a man to feel useful and have a job. Men lose themselves when they are not employed. He cheated on her, and she cannot forget this though she would love to move on. Having their third child helped mend things. And now, he has a job. Now things are better, and Mimi doubts he will cheat on her again.
Mimi shares a room with her husband and 4 children. Also in the house are 14 other members of her family. They all share the same dwelling space, but only Mimi and her husband hold jobs. The other members of their family— brother-in-laws, sisters, signifiant others, and in-laws all together under one roof with different schedules makes things busy all the time. Mimi likes to sleep early, by 10 if she can, but sometimes the rest of the family plays loud games in the small house, or her brother-in-law (who is only 18) takes a shower. The house is old, and the pipes are right behind the wall in Mimi’s room. Any use of water sounds like a rushing river. Mimi has told them that she needs to sleep because she gets up early, but sometimes they forget. The 18-year-old brother-in-law will soon go to community college, and will continue to live with them. Hopefully he will get a job after, and help out.
Mimi wakes up early and leaves by 6 to go to Orange County. She visits her parents every day she works. She wanted to live closer, but instead moved to Riverside to live near her husband’s family. After visiting her parents, she leaves at 8:30 to get back to the nail salon. She works a 10 hour day, 6 days a week. They don’t get paid by the hour, though. They work on commission. At the end of the day, the money that was made is split 50-50 between the shop owner and the workers. The manicurists then divide what’s left.
Sundays are her day off. She does not go to see her parents on that day, although she feels guilty about it. Instead she spends time with her family and plays with her kids. During the week, her in-laws pick watch the two babies and pick the older ones up from school. The eldest is a girl, 8 years old. The three younger ones are all boys, and easier to deal with. The boys only need to be dressed, and they can have a good time. The girl wants to be pretty, and likes everything pink. She makes Mimi wear pink whenever possible, which differs from her 6 year old brother who likes green. The 3 year old cannot talk yet; he had complications, and needed a C-section to come into the world. Most babies talk by 1; the youngest is not yet there, but he will most likely surpass his brother soon.
And yet, when she does nails, she like all the others in the shop compliment the clients. She says oh how we work so hard, oh we need to take a day off and rest. I looked around the shop and saw a girl with a Coach bag, and a matching Coach wallet. She was probably hearing the same sort of things. I wondered if she believed them. It’s hard to take those sorts of questions seriously, for me, when the woman asking them is washing my feet.
Mimi told me that it was not so bad working on commission. All they had to do was be nice to the customer, and they would come back. I wanted to come back, but she was in Riverside and I was only visiting a friend. The manicures were cheap, the conversation was good, and the colors although in limited variety were pretty.