Pedicure Patriotism

So I had a patriotic moment the other day. I feel this needs marking or noting in some way, as it’s not very often I feel patriotic, at least in the traditional sense.

I’ve become quite a critic of the U.S. in recent years as I’ve learned more about politics and the horrible things people do to each other in the name of money and power. And I still am, trust me. But I was getting a pedicure the other day, (not something I do very often, but a long-ago boyfriend gave me a foot complex, so what’s a girl to do?) and I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for my surroundings.

I was sitting in a spa chair, a smiling woman at my feet making them as pretty as they can be, making my ugly toes soft and colorful with a shade of deep orange. I had just bought “Reading Lolita in Tehran” the previous weekend, and since I had it in the car, I started reading it there while I waited. I don’t know if you know anything about this book, but it’s a memoir of a woman who spent a day a week for two years meeting secretly with a group of women in Tehran, Iran to read Western classics with them, books forbidden under the Islamic Republic for various reasons. I got about a chapter into it, and I was reminded of all the people in the world, such as in Iran and China, who are deprived of so much information by their governments. I was reminded that women in Iran cannot wear makeup, and showing their bare feet in public, as I was doing (especially being a single woman traveling outside my home alone), is pretty much out of the question.

I was sitting there, digesting these thoughts, and an extremely effeminate man walked in to get his nails done. He was wearing heeled shoes, jeans, a tucked-in, long-sleeved black shirt, and he had synthetic, French-manicured nails, earrings, and shoulder-length hair slicked back and curled under. It was obvious that he was a regular, as one of the women walked up and hugged him, and he sat down at her table and asked her how she’d been. As they chatted, I was reminded that in Iran, gay people are simply not recognized. They don’t have gay people in Iran, Ahmadinejad says. If someone is caught conducting homosexual activity, they’re pretty much either beaten or killed, as far as I understand. I thought wow, how great is it that I can sit here and have my toes out being beautified in public, and so can this gay man. He doesn’t have to hide his nature, his behavior, and he can broadcast it as loudly as he likes with his French manicure. Vanity and sexual freedom are legal here.

Then a fire engine drove by on its way to an accident down the road, and I was reminded of the government employees that come to our aid when we’re in trouble. I make training materials for firefighters for a living, so I’m reminded of them on a daily basis, but in this context, I was feeling pretty proud of our country and its system of protections.

Then I looked across the street and saw a Japanese restaurant, and I was thankful for our system of immigration, with all its flaws. We may have a wildly imperfect way of carrying it out, but I love living someplace where everyone is different, where everyone’s family has a different story that spans countries and continents and cuisines.

Next to the restaurant was a car stereo store. Common, I know, but most of the listening I do in the car is to NPR. And I thought my goodness, how lucky we are to have a legal radio station that is partially funded by the government that allows such a diversity of content. People are allowed to say bad things about the United States, about President Bush, about our system of government. I’ve got a friend living in China right now, and the limitation of information is so severe there that we had to work out a code before she left so we could keep each other informed of danger, riots, government-censored information or anything to do with God or churches. It’s real, and it happens every day to people all over the world, and the account of this secret book club in Tehran reminded me of that.

I know that this country has SEVERE problems right now, and I’m horrified by the erosion of citizens’ rights that has gone on under the Bush administration. We are by no means perfect, or as good as we could be, but we have the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion. We don’t always use them to the fullest, but they are ours, fundamentally. And I’m always aware of this, but sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the negative aspects of democracy that I forget that we really have it so great here. I wouldn’t consider myself a vain person, really, but I’m so thankful for my pedicure and what it means about my country, and I left the salon feeling just the tiniest bit patriotic. It was a refreshing change.

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