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Zen and the Art of Cuticle Maintenance

by Roberta E. Morgan

I am constantly struck dumb by the fact that males appear to have the skinny totale on deeply spiritual matters, at least according to the popular self-help book lists. Sure, women score big with tomes about life, dancing with the angels after death, and/or abusive relationships, but it's the inner peace and wisdom as taught by Scott Peck or Deepak Chopra that purportedly will lift the light, loving Self from the gross material body and make us all messengers of prosperity and peace everlasting.

Hold it! There's something wrong with boys (think: testosterone) teaching Zen patience and an end to destructive aggression. Their major controlling hormone is the essence, root and projectile of most hostile acts on the planet.

And informed patience? Please! From birth, boys are never able to contemplate, concentrate, or meditate on anything for more than a second or so. This has been proved by numerous clinical studies conducted with one-month-old female and male infants. The gals focus on who is changing them and how. They often smile, cry or giggle directly at that person and, in general, pay attention. But the males? They glance at the changer for a nanosecond, and then their eyes wander aimlessly in that singular route toward nothing-think that all wives recognize so well.

SHE: Darling, your mother died. Aren't you listening?
HE: Uh...what did you say?
SHE: What were you thinking about all this time I was telling you?
HE: Uh.....nothing.

Now, if this "nothingness" had been arrived at through generations of deeply spiritual work and past lives of intense awareness and realization, we might have something here. But it's not. On the male part, it's pure brain haze. Most esoteric texts discuss discipline and application to the mystical arts, not magical goofing off. They certainly stress a single-mindedness of purpose, that Zen of living totally in the moment, which only women can appreciate.

Consider the day of a woman who's been asked out on an important date. First, she will probably visit the beauty salon, where she will endure four to five hours of waiting, waxing, picking, soaking, coloring, tweezing, drying, brushing, and cutting. Men who wait for their sissy, colorless manicures to dry look like cats hovering over a bug--if they don't jump soon, they'll explode.

The woman lies down. Someone covers her legs, underarms, private areas, eyebrows and upper lips with hot wax. She meditates on the worth of this process, obviously, or it would drive her mad. A cotton rag is pressed onto these areas for a second or so, and yank--hair and bits of skin adhere to the cloth. At no time does the woman scream. She knows the pleasure of bearing pain. The Zen of it.

We do not need to hammer home this point of enjoying both pain and pleasure, to get into monthly menstrual cycles and of course, the multifaceted, mystical union of agony and ecstasy called childbirth. Would men be contemplative during menstrual and labor pains, thankful for their fruitfulness? Sure. They'd also be breaking furniture and doctors' arms.

Hair-dyeing is another adventure in serious mystical training. First, the hair is washed, perhaps twice. Then the woman is placed in a chair while someone pulls tiny strands out of a plastic cap with a thousand holes and wraps it tightly around her head. Because the victim must look up, she can neither read nor work. The stylist is either too talkative about inanities or silently sulking about being dumped by lover number 44,350.

The strands of highlighted hair simmer under a heat lamp for a half-hour or so. If she's under five foot two, she cannot adequately dry that hair and read. Her body must be slumped into such an awkward position that even drinking the lukewarm coffee she is handed is impossible, as is putting it down. If she is taller and can read/drink, the choice is never between John Irving and Alice Hoffman, or even John Grisham. It's those high-style magazines with their endless commentaries on the correct nail color, hair color, skirt length, and intensity of orgasm.

Does the dolly girl complain? No, she sits like a Buddha, calm and fully prepared for the next stage, where the highlighted strands are washed, the overall color is applied, and she's back to the spine-twisting, hot seat again.

By the time the stylist is actually combing out her hair, burning the scalp sadistically with his handheld dryer (especially if his lover dumped him last night), and telling her that orange does wonders for her brown eyes, she's in a state of bliss. Smooth legs, clipped cuticles, hair cut, new color. It was worth the discipline, the humility. Now all she needs is the perfect outfit to wear.

Usually, a women visualizes and meditates the night before the date, mentally scanning her closet, and magically combining outfits, concentrating on the overall effect with a concentrated effort worthy of the holiest sages.

If shopping, she has correctly internalized all relevant colors for matching purposes and will patiently try on dozen of articles before settling on perfection. This takes dedication, discipline, and a highly evolved sense of personal responsibility.

Her male counterpart, on the other hand, barely remembers about dinner until after the big game is over, at which time he jumps in the shower, haphazardly shaves, throws on some cologne his Aunt Hannah gave him for Christmas (the name of which he has no idea), and rambles into some just-barely-semi-suitable outfit.

He arrives at the date, always late, always rattled about traffic, with holes in his mismatched socks and no flowers. (If he does not look and act this way, go home. He's gay.)

Consider the patience and time the woman put into the simple act of an evening out with a virtual stranger. Like fine Oriental calligraphy or archery, she has studied each aspect of her personality and appearance dutifully and completely. The man does not even remember whether her name is Susan or Suzanne. If she corrects him, he shrugs, as though nothing about humanity means anything to him.

Who, then, is the evolved soul? From whom shall we take guidance on the meaning of life and dedication to the universe? The brave princess who has survived ripping, snipping, and shopping, or Sloppy Joe in his insolent shrug?

The next time some male pseudo mystic starts explaining his devotion to Zen, how patient one must be, I am going to drag him into my bathroom and have him put on full make-up, just for day wear: moisturizer, setter, foundation, concealer, lip-liner, lipstick, eyeshadow(s), eyeliner, mascara, brow liner and powder. I believe I'll have to call psychiatric emergency just about the time I ask him to look up with his eyes only, so I can apply gloppy, stinging mascara to his lower lashes.

After they've taken him away, I'll lower the lights, meditate, and smile with my soul, knowing I've broken through yet another illusion of life.

Roberta E. Morgan is the author of ten published books, including the best-selling "Main Event," five produced plays, and numerous newspaper and magazine articles in such publications as Family Circle, Self, New Times, and Ocean Drive. Her first fiction novel, "Born Liars," will be coming out sometime next year. She is a New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six devoted felines, one of whom is a descendant of Ernest Hemingway's polydactyls. She hopes that the appropriately named Ernie helps a bit more with her work.


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