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Getting a manly pedicure in Sonoma County

Go ahead, my friend Lori said. Get a pedicure. You’ll like it. When pigs fly and deal blackjack, I thought. Real men don’t get pedicures. Then I saw what happened to LeBron James, the NBA superstar. LeBron’s certainly a real man, with a 6-foot-8 body sculptured from granite, including his granite toes.

In 2014 LeBron went on Instagram and announced he regularly gets pedicures. A little more internet surfing found other NBA superstars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant also get pedicures, which at one time I thought was toe surgery.

The players said they did it because all that stopping and starting on a basketball court jammed their toes against the front of their shoes. Made sense but I was unfamiliar with such action, as the only toe jamming I ever did in my life was falling off a high stool.

Still, these were athletes and, after covering sports for 54 years, I had developed a stereotype based on a lot of macho posturing –– guys shake off concussions and broken bones as if they were a mere inconvenience. Heck, the 49ers’ Ronnie Lott had the tip of his broken pinkie finger amputated so he could continue playing and not miss games due to recovery.

But I’m a firm believer in empirical evidence.

“I probably get two men a day,” said Johnny Huynh, owner of Stellar Nail Spa in Rohnert Park. That’s 14 a week, 56 a month, 672 men in a year.

OK, fine, I said to Lori. Let’s do this thing. I warned her I didn’t have Cleopatra toes. I’ve had nine new toenails in the course of my life. As a college baseball pitcher I was so wild sometimes I had trouble finding the strike zone, but I had no trouble finding my toes with large falling objects.

Lori sat next to me at Today’s Nails in Santa Rosa. I warned the technician I had never had a pedicure before. I also told her I was 71 and the only time anyone has touched my toes was when I put my shoes and socks on them.

The technician just smiled. I knew she didn’t speak English. Eighty percent of the nail technicians in California and 51 percent of all nail technicians in the United States are of Vietnamese descent.

Almost 45 years ago actress Tippi Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California. It was a goodwill mission, and ultimately turned out to be much more than that.

The Alfred Hitchcock star had long, polished nails that wowed the refugees. Hmm, thought Hedren the humanitarian. She flew in her personal manicurist to teach the craft to 20 Vietnamese women. It created more jobs than Hedren could have imagined. In 2012-2013 Nails Magazine said the American manicure-pedicure industry is a $7.47 billion a year business, heavily populated by those of Vietnamese descent.

“I sure wish I had a percentage of that,” Hedren told BBC News. “I loved these women so much I wanted something good to happen for them after losing literally everything.”

Huynh in Rohnert Park is an example of such growth. He came to the United States 14 years ago with nothing but hope and work ethic. He went to beauty college in Oakland and with his wife now runs a nail salon with eight employees.