Years ago Jami Attenberg and I had lunch in Williamsburg at a restaurant that no longer exists and then I pointed out the place where I get my legs waxed, Serenity Beauty Spa. At first, she expressed incredulity that I indulged in waxing rather than shaving. I was really not doing well financially at the time, and if memory serves she had just bought me lunch. But she just shrugged and said something like “I guess we all have our thing.” Well, it’s maybe 8 or 9 years later and I still get my entire legs (and “bikini line” and, occasionally, underarms) waxed at that same place in Williamsburg. I always leave it til the last possible moment and when I am really short on time or cash I shave, but shaving feels like a setback when you’re committed to the long-term project of waxing half your body’s hair into finer, softer submission. Also, it’s not that expensive, though of course that’s relative. I certainly had no business doing it in 2011, but in 2019 I feel fine about spending don’t read this Keith $900 annually on hair removal.
Serenity is the final holdout in a group of businesses that used to comprise the stops of my Williamsburg errand day. Ideally this day went: I would make someone get lunch with me, ideally at Saltie (RIP) or Roebling Tea Room (RIP), I would get my legs waxed, I would go to Kings Pharmacy (RIP) on Bedford and restock whatever products I was out of, and maybe also go to the comic book shop on Metropolitan on my way home on the G or get an iced coffee at Oslo. Now that area has been rendered almost wholly joyless, with an Apple store where Kings Pharmacy used to be. I also rarely tack errands onto other errands anymore; every moment in my day is accounted for.
Sadly though I have been in DC so long now that I couldn’t hold out for a visit to Serenity, so yesterday I cheated on them with European Wax Center. The alternative would have been to go to a fancy pricey day spa or a questionable nail salon; I don’t have the depth of personal contacts in DC to figure out the in-between option that surely exists. (I’m sure someone will email me about what it is after I send this out.)
The EWC is a national chain with two male CEOs and an app and a branded line of post-wax products that the technicians are clearly required to attempt to sell you. The waxing rooms are like doctor’s offices, with papered beds and a hook for your clothes and fluorescent lighting, but instead of charts of the inner ear there are posters of models with gleamy thighs bearing slogans like “STRUT SMOOTHLY.” The technicians also wear scrubs and the piped-in music is violently upbeat young-person pop. It’s like if an urgent care clinic was trying to be a little bit sexy?? But it is reliable and that’s important in a realm when someone can burn you or leave you with inner-thigh ingrowns for a month.
More and more I try to spend money at independently owned businesses, not because I think I’m making a difference by voting with my dollars, but for the much more selfish reason that letting the algo optimize my consumer experiences has started to gross me out and make me sad. Buying and eating and using things that my phone doesn’t know about feels like something I should do while I still can. When Sweetgreen first opened I loved it. I love salad and I have celiac so there aren’t many safe reliable fast-food lunch options for me. But also when it first opened Sweetgreen was good. Now the smell is just as disgusting to me as the smell of a Subway. Pounding a salad served in a compostable yet landfill-bound bowl as quickly as possible while looking at a phone is bad for my body and brain, it’s now clear to me. It’s more expensive and awkward to sit in a restaurant where someone serves you a salad at a table, and also the salad might be bad, or inconsistent. But I still make myself do it when I can because afterwards I feel less like a cog in a machine.
“The companies’ proprietary apps track every click and decision and order their fans make, of course, and all sorts of cockeyed new analytics are being employed to optimize the salad experience for the ever-younger, tech-savvy consumer, including location (near a SoulCycle is good!), leaf preference (yes, kale has begun trending down), and even the best mix of bespoke dressings for that day’s weather (a specialty, apparently, at fresh&co),” wrote Adam Platt in this very fun and also very disheartening piece about saladworld. It’s easy to imagine a future where every remaining business is collecting data in order to give us the experience that data leads it to believe we think we want. Eating a pallid diner salad and then waiting a little too long for the check is better than drinking the Soylent of the soul because it’s convenient. I’m glad I will be back in NYC soon. I hope Serenity has been okay without me.