Cringing whenever my Supercuts stylist asks if I want mousse or hair gel, I will never be confused with a metrosexual. So needless to say, I was shocked by how eager I was to charge into Kim's Spa & Nails for my first pedicure.
Located in a Derry strip mall, the salon lures me inside with a bizarre group of new employees. Hundreds of little toothless piranhas - called "doctor fish" or chin chins - were the first to offer controversial fish pedicures in New England.
Owner Kim Ong trumpets her salon as "a beautiful place to be" and liberally sprinkles a butterfly logo throughout her shop. But despite all the girly stuff, there is something extremely manly about letting your feet get attacked by nature. It also evokes the primitive animal labor technology (i.e., elephant vacuum, bird beak phonograph) of "The Flintstones."
These Chinese guppy-like fish feast on dead skin. They have voracious appetites, relentlessly scraping and softening rough feet before the pumice stone even gets a chance. But so far, they are incapable of steadily controlling a nail polish brush - and thus pose no threat to American jobs.
Plunging my feet into a tank with 100 chin chins is tantamount to intense ticklish resistance training. It feels like a gazillion ants are scampering up my legs. Another challenge: Making sure I don't crush a hard-working guppy or two with my massive Fred Flintstone toes.
In a few minutes the nibbling feels like a pleasant pulsating shower head. Eventually, the ticklishness subsides altogether and is replaced by total numbness. After being munched on for nearly a half hour, I have a selfish urge to keep some of my dead skin for myself. So I bail out.
Fish pedicures are forbidden by law in Texas and Washington state, which only heightens the appeal for me. New Hampshire is the state where you can buy cheap cigarettes and don't need to wear a motorcycle helmet, so how risky can flesh-eating fish really be?
Once the wildlife show is over, Kim seems stunned I'm willing to brave a full pedicure. While I'm officially here on a newspaper assignment, I'm unofficially here for my own entertainment. I'm not going to wimp out of the nail polish.
With 300 different colors to choose from, now was a time to exercise decisive leadership. My only rule: No black.
To me, black nail polish means you hate your parents. It means you are one step away from an eyebrow piercing and hanging out at the mall with the Goths. I go for "Osaka-To-Me-Orange," named for an industrial Japanese city - the equivalent of picking a polish named after Detroit or Gary, Ind.
Kim applies the first coat and I realize there is no turning back. I ask for a candid fashion assessment: Was my pick a trendy one? My pedicurist diplomatically says Osaka is "fine" for seasonal wear, but she would have chosen a bold red polish called "I'm Not Really a Waitress." Later, in a mocking tone of indignation, my wife, Stacy, asks, "Did you actually pick that color? Weren't there any prettier oranges?"
I have no regrets and would pick the same color if I were to do it all over again. But I likely won't have the chance - at least not with these chomping chin chins. A week after my beauty salon induction, the state of New Hampshire banned fish pedicures for public safety reasons.
I don't feel like I put myself at any health risk. But this sudden government concern is refreshing. Maybe we'll one day have a motorcycle helmet law here after all. NH
Darren Garnick is one of only 20 N.H. residents to have ever received a fish pedicure - a certifiable resumé booster.
This article appears in the January 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine