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Thursday, September 15, 2011


So here we are. 
I don’t know who to blame. I don’t know whether it was the stupid issue of the glossy ladies’ mag that I only got because my airline miles were going to expire... or whether it was re-watching too many episodes of Mad Men... or whether it was the fact that I was feeling decrepit and fat and needed a distraction from this as I prepped and dolled for a Monday night concert performance.
All I know is, I couldn’t have possibly chosen to paint my fingernails under my own influence. I like to think that I’m too practical to allow myself to do something that would prevent me from doing anything else... because my life has revolved around my damned nails since Sunday night.

Now, I am no stranger to the acetone-scented world, but that world is relegated to my toes. Painted toenails are farther away from close scrutiny. If they smudge or chip, or if my hand is not as steady as it should be (yes, I do ‘em myself), it’s no big deal. And it’s just a fun little diversion to rock glossy red or pink or periwinkle toesies in the summertime. People notice, or they don’t. I don’t care. (If you encounter someone who does stare at your feet, well, that’s someone you probably want to walk away from anyway.)
But the fingernails... that is a different story. There was a time when I tried to play the role of Totally Put-Together Photographed New York Actress, complete with perfect manicure, but that didn’t last long. I even tried to compromise with a very light polish so as to conceal any flaws... but I eventually gave up when my nail beds rebelled and got soft. It didn’t matter whether I did them myself or splurged on a salon... in two days they looked like hell. 
So it surprised even me when I found myself in the nail aisle drooling over the new fall colors. This is not me, I thought. This is someone else. Someone who has people to open soda cans for her
And yet, that extra X chromosome kicked into overdrive and before I knew it, I had a bottle of Essie’s Hot Cocoa in my hand... my basket... the shopping bag... and then home with me. 
It wasn’t just my girly parts that drove this purchase. As I mentioned before, I had an upcoming concert that somehow seemed different than all the other concerts I’ve done lately. Maybe it was because I was slated to sing a whopping four songs instead of just one or two. Maybe I thought I needed to “bring it” just a little bit more. Maybe having polished nails wrapped around that microphone might distract from any vocal imperfections that might occur. Maybe a coat or two of color would draw the eye away from potential Spanx lines. 
Whatever the reason, here I was, armed with my base coat and top coat and nail color and orange sticks and cuticle oil, ready to make the plunge again on a Sunday night to allow for maximum drying time.
I know what you’re thinking: people do this every day. Yeah, well, people give birth every day, too, and look at all that fuss. 
Silly, yes. Stupid, yes. And yet, totally serious about making this manicure the best manicure ever, for no good reason at all.
I knew what to do, and I did it. Considering my lack of practice and relatively poor lighting, it was not a shoddy job. I took all the precautions, like letting each layer dry before applying the next, capping the ends of the nails, making sure the nails were prepped and oil-free before starting... I’d read enough magazines to know what was what. 
And when it was done, I sat motionless for two hours, fearing the slightest smudge, the faintest mark. I just sat and stared at my nails. For two hours. Two. 
But that wasn’t enough to allay my fears. (Fears. Think on that.) Everything I attempted to do after those two hours was done with the tentative touch of a bomb diffuser. I even noticed that as I brushed my teeth, my pinky stuck out like I was at high tea. It became this ridiculous game: I would do the smallest action and immediately check my nails. I’d want to touch them, but I couldn’t. If I ruined them, I reasoned (reasoned!), I’d inadvertently ruin my upcoming concert.
Again, this is not me. This is some shallow, superficial, irrational version of me. But whoever this “me” was, I was living with her and her fingernails. I had things to do. “She” would not let me do them.
The next morning, the first thing I did was check my nails. Hmm... was that a thumbprint on the middle left finger? No time for another top coat, as I had to run errands. 
I’d look in the mirror and suddenly notice my hands. Did the color look right? It was a lovely chocolate brown, but did it look like it belonged on me? Did I look like I was trying too hard? And just as I wondered if I looked like I was trying too hard, I realized I was putting on jeans. 
No! No jeans! Abort! Abort! A jean zipper, with its unforgiving teeth, is the mortal enemy of a fresh manicure! Had I learned nothing in my lifetime? 
I reiterate: this is not me. I dress for occasions, I dress for climate, I dress for comfort, but I do not dress for my nails. This other me, however, dressed for her nails. 
After the errands were run (ever so gently) I came home, retrieving my keys from my bag as though I was retrieving a diamond ring from a sewer grate with string and gum, sitcom-style. And then I stared at my beloved MacBook Air. It looked extra sharp and dangerous around the edges. But life cannot stop for a manicure, try as it might.
It was a day of shallow ridiculousness. I primped for the evening, spackling and spraying as I usually do, just slower. I kept looking back at my nails, thinking how silly this was to be so obsessed with this particular paint job. Yeah... thoughts and deeds are often two separate things.
There’s nothing like having to sing in front of a paying crowd to get your mind off of such superficiality, and thankfully, I was able to successfully focus on the show and feel a little more like myself again. But after I got home and got under the bright bathroom lights, I noticed that my nails looked a little dull.  And that’s when I realized that between the humidity and my anxiety, I’d spent the evening scrunching my hair to fix it... and the hairspray had dulled them. 
It was kind of a relief. They were imperfect but fine, and it hadn’t affected my singing, and nobody died. I could go back to living a non nail-centric life. My life.
Yeah... you’d think, right? Now that a few days have passed, I’m finding that I’m trying to preserve the nails, even balking at sticking my hand into a bag of chips. (Balking at chips! Who is this person?) Worse, I’m thinking about painting them again for when my husband and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend. 
It should be interesting when he sits down to dinner with two me’s. At least the shallow, temporarily nail-obsessed version of me won’t be too grabby with the guacamole lest I scratch ‘em on the molcajete. Of course, the real, guacamole-obsessed me might not like that too much...
Oh well. The husband loves a good cat-fight.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me. 

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