Monday, June 6, 2011

Albania, my labia, and other would-be Nirvana lyrics...

My leg was up in the air as a nice lady named Violetta poured hot wax over parts of the body that are sometimes, euphemistically, thought of as “private.” 

Like a solid 95% of people who’ve intentionally ripped patches of hair off my nether-regions, Violetta had a distinct Eastern European accent. This may not hold true in other parts of the country, but in New York, I’ve never once been waxed by an aesthetician who didn’t hail from a former Soviet or Eastern Bloc nation. (Trust me, it’s a thing.)

To distract me from the pain and/or awkwardness of the situation, she asked me about my summer plans (none).  The next *riiiiip* left me shuttering in painful silence. To fill the void, Violetta volunteered that she was about to leave for a few weeks to visit her family in Albania.

Again, silence. Maybe it was the endorphins from the pain, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Not wanting to be rude, I piped up.

“I’ve always wondered. Why are there so many, uh...?”  What’s the word? Waxers? Is that an offensive term?  “There seem to be many waxing professionals who come from Eastern Europe. Do you know why … ?” 

The words hadn’t left my mouth before I realized how stupid this sounded. Like many people with limited filters, I spend a lot of time digging my way out of well-intentioned, yet thoroughly ill-advised statements.

“Is there, maybe, a special school, or … ?” 

For a second it felt like I was floating over my body, listening to someone doing a bad impression of a particularly idiotic American. A special school? Really? Did I think I would evoke fond memories of her time as an exchange student at the Gulag School of Beauty & Interrogation Tactics?

Violetta was nonplussed. I worried that I’d offended her, which is never wise to do to someone in direct proximity to both hot wax and one’s exposed genitalia. Besides, my intention was the exact opposite! It was just an awkward attempt to make conversation! I wanted to shout. I’m not an anti-Waxite!

As often happens when I get nervous, I couldn’t just shut up.

“Or maybe Eastern nations have a rich tradition of … you know….”

Day spas? Waxing? Inflicting pain? Anything I could possibly say next would just make matters worse.

“Leg, more higher,” she said with authority. I complied.

Using a tongue depressor, Violetta spread another layer of hot wax onto a place complete strangers don’t normally see. The wax always feels so nice and warm, in those seconds before--


Maybe it was just a coincidence, but this one hurt more than the last. I knew it was time to change the subject, and fast. Say something nice about Albania!, my reptile-brain shouted to the bits of grey matter that retain facts and figures from the World Almanac (in my case, about 10 cells).

That’s when I realized that 99% of my knowledge of her country of origin came from TV sitcoms I watched as a kid. One was a very early episode of The Simpsons, which aired during the waning days of the Cold War era. Bart was sent to France, and the family got an exchange student from Albania, who turned out to be a spy who was stealing secrets from Springfield’s nuclear power plant. This prompted a lengthy and boring lecture from my dad on the history and geopolitical difficulties Albania, something about how it was one of the most isolated and repressive of the Eastern Bloc countries, blah, blah, blah. This didn’t help the problem at hand.

“So, I hear your country was cruel and repressive!” Not a good conversation filler, though it may answer some questions about the waxing.

Albania, Albania, Al

Into my head popped the voice of Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, singing in a lilting melody: “Al-bay-nee-AH! Al-bay-nee-AH! You border on. The. Ay-dree-ATIC!” 

If you’re an American born at any point in the 1970s or early 80s, assuming you’re not Amish, you know the episode in question. Chances are, the melody leaped to mind at the mere mention of Albania.

In case you missed it, I’ll try to summarize based on vague, possibly-faulty recollections (please don’t make me re-watch this episode). High school student Alex P. Keaton was on some sort of academic decathlon team which was headed for the finals (or whatever)!  One of his fellow team members got sick (or whatever), leaving them one person short for the big match.  For reasons that escape me (and that probably defy all logic in the first place), Alex’s sister, Mallory, was the only person on earth who could fill the empty seat.

The hilarity-inducing problem? Mallory was dumb and superficial (i.e., female), whereas Alex was super-smart (i.e., non-female). Thus, Alex had to stay up all night coaching Mallory before the big match. Hence the song/mnemonic device about the geography of Albania.

Back to the 21st century. The waxing table. My leg raised in a contortion worthy of Cirque de Soleil as Violetta does her thing in awkward silence.

“Albania.” I paused for effect.  “Doesn’t that (ahem) border on the Adriatic?”

I tried to act casual, as if I always spent my days discussing the Adriatic and its formerly-repressive border-nations. But secretly, I was pretty darn proud of myself.

Violetta didn’t even look up. “Mmmm,” she nodded.

*RiiiiiP!*  A searing pain.

Just ‘Mmmm’? I thought. I’m not sure what kind of reaction I was expecting, but definitely more than a mere “mmmm.”  Which, in retrospect, is thoroughly ridiculous. To her, my observation was about as impressive as saying, “The United States… that borders on Canada, right?”

The rest of the session continued in painful silence, a I silently cursed the producers, writers, actors, caterers and key grip of Family Ties. You see, this was not the first time an awkward situation made even more awkward by an entirely separate quote from the very same episode. It was years before, on a bad blind date with a guy who was obsessed with SCUBA and, well… it’s a long story.

At least the guy in question never saw my labia.


  1. Self Contained Under Water Breathing Apparatus! Love that episode.

  2. Yes!!! I'm glad someone else remembers that, Mary. I was beginning to think I just watched WAY too much TV as a kid. Oh, wait, I did...