Manicures and Memories

Confession time. I got a manicure. I liked it. As a guitar player that engages in a fair amount of manual labor, I fuss over my nails, a lot. I am a finger picker, by necessity. A flat pick slides right through my fingers. I never got the hang of those picks that slip over your fingers, so it's finger nails. Now before you jump to any conclusions (if you haven't already), I'm not particularly fancy, or particularly particular about my appearance. I'm a function over form kind of guy. Most of my clothes come from places that also sell tools, and sometimes farming implements. I guess I wear as much flannel as any songwriter. So anyway, back to the manicure. I had heard of guitar players getting press-on, or acrylic nails for the durability they offer. I considered it. I recently read an excellent biography of Guy Clark titled "Without Getting Killed or Caught", written by his last manager. I highly recommend it. Anyway, I found out that Guy would get acrylic nails to keep from having to worry about them holding up to marathon picking sessions night after night. Armed with this justification, I was warming up to the idea. I ran into a gregarious English guitarist and songwriter named Richard Wilson at a songwriter night, and in the course of our conversation he showed me his acrylic nails and explained how it worked. They actually mix up liquid acrylic and shape it with a paint brush over your existing nails. These things are HARD as rocks. I was sold.

At lunch on Monday the next week, I decided I was going to walk to a nail place across the street from work and give it a shot. I didn't have any shows coming up, so I figured I would have time to decide if the plastic fantastic was, in fact, for me. I walked up to the door and the gentleman standing outside smoking a cigarette greeted me with a suspicious "Can I help you?". As I tried to explain the reason for my trip, I could see we were up against a language barrier. My ignorance on the protocol of how these kinds of services are rendered was obviously compounding the issue. My clumsy and exaggerated pantomime of playing the guitar just drew confused looks. It probably was also a factor in cigarette man sitting right next to me the whole time the lady was getting me fixed up. As soon as she was done he took my money and ushered me out the door. Funny thing is, my buddy Crockett Hall hit me up to do a last minute show with him at Growlers the next night, so much for getting used to the nails. But wait, that wasn't even the manicure.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. As the nails grow out, the acrylics grow out as well, and have to be filed. This is an adventure all its own, because, like I said, these things are HARD. I have visualized a scenario of an angle grinder in a vice for speeding this task up, but in an unprecedented sign of maturity, I did not rig this contraption up on the spot. I filed, with Zen like patience, to the confused stares of my co-workers, until Joe, in his cut-through-the-bullshit manner that makes us friends, said "What the fuck are you doing?". Then I explained, and mid explanation I realized that maybe nail filing is like scratching certain spots, folks do it but not in company. I'm still not clear on that one, and its passed far enough I guess I missed my chance to ask. Anyway, we still haven't gotten to the manicure. When the nails grow out they leave a gap that you go back to a nail place and get filled in. I was in Collierville picking up a favorite pair of cowboy boots I had resoled. I had let the nails grow out to a point that I was going to have to get the fill in, or let them go. I spied a nail place and decided to go for it.

There are similarities and differences worth noting in both of the nail establishments I have visited. I always told my kids to approach unfamiliar situations or when they were places that they were obviously outsiders, to act as an anthropologist. Try to observe without judgment but an intellectual curiosity. In my observation both operated as I imagine a brothel does. A person (not a madame in this case but a guy that speaks ok English) greets you at the door and determines what services you are there for. Once they have determined your needs, they direct you to the lady that will perform the services, in a very detached, business as usual manner. The first place was pretty bare bones. There was only one lady working, and they didn't seem to want my stay to extend any longer than it had to. I guess like brothels, or any other service providers, there are varying "levels" of establishments. In the second place, I was greeted by a very friendly fellow, and ushered to a plush chair next to another customer with perfectly lacquered hair and an accent out of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes". We were offered champagne while we waited. Luckily I had swapped out my tennis shoes for the newly resoled cowboy boots, I hadn't gotten my lunch on my shirt (or maybe I had, but hey plaid!) and my boots no longer had two "mouths" at the toes where the soles had split, so I wasn't feeling too out of place. I was pointed to a table where the man explained to a rather matronly lady in their shared language what I wanted (I don't know if that happens in brothels, the metaphor might have played out). She prepped my fingers then snatched up my left hand to examine those fingers. I'm a guitar player so the nails on my left hand are clipped, or sometimes bit, as short as possible. She pointed to each finger individually and exclaimed "Bad! Bad!". She was right. Ingrown, cuticles hanging, uneven, and unequivocally Bad! "You need manicure. Yes?" I nodded my agreement and the magic began. She squirted some kind of gel on my fingers, shoved my hand in a baggie, and then shoved the whole shooting match in a bag made of electric blanket, to cook until she was ready for it. She was grinding away on the right hand, and of course my nose started to itch. The right hand wasn't too terrible. I had the acrylics on all but the pinkie finger. She finished it up, bagged it, and set about salvaging my disaster of a fretting hand. She scraped cuticles and dug out the ingrown bits. It hurt, not terribly, but enough to jog a memory (we'll get to that later). When she was done, I noticed my fingers felt odd. They didn't hurt! I thought constantly ingrown nails was a guitar player's burden. She could tell I was pleased, and teasingly asked "You want pedicure?". Maybe next time. Maybe next time.

The memory? This wasn't my first manicure. In high school, I went to vo-tech for half the day my junior and senior year. I had my own car and drove myself a lot of the time, or caught a ride with my friend Randy from Overton, in his Volkswagen, affectionately known as "the drug bug". I was driving a 66 Chevelle I built with my Pop and my brother, from about a dozen donor cars. It was a teenage boy of a car, flashy, fast, offensive and totally unreliable. This meant I had to ride the dreaded vo-tech bus on many occasions. There were a couple of guys going for welding, commercial art or small gas engines, but the bus was mostly populated with about 25 girls and 25 styrofoam heads that were taking cosmetology. The ring leader of these girls was a little firecracker named Marilyn who once very loudly made me an indecent proposal and nearly hurt herself laughing at how flustered I got. Her side-kick and court jester, was a tall thin girl named Trixie. Marilyn led the girls in these unbelievably dirty raps with Trixie hollering hilarious asides. The bus driver pretended not to hear. As a gang, they were a little terrifying so I don't blame him. But among the girls with severed styrofoam heads was Rosa. She was thin and delicate, half Palestinian and half Puerto Rican, all beautiful. She said something to me in Spanish and when I shrugged, she switched to English. We talked on days when I rode the bus. She talked about her boyfriend and I talked about my girlfriend, or whatever band I was obsessed with at the time. One day she noticed me absent mindedly biting a nail off on my left hand and she snatched it from my mouth. She got her bag out and kind of violently started filing at my nails. She filed and spoke angrily, not at me just whatever she was angry about. Her Mom, her boyfriend, whatever. I don't know why, but during these exchanges I didn't talk. She filed, I listened. She was new to her craft, and sometimes when she got really going, there was blood. That was the dance. We never exchanged numbers, or really talked outside of that bus. Sitting in the nail parlor, I wondered what ever became of her. I didn't wonder about the manicure though. That's definitely happening again.

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