Beware! The following is mostly about my toenails. I take no pleasure from cutting my toenails, not even the satisfaction of having completed the job. It’s a cumbersome process in a couple regards: the awkward reach to my toes in a manner to allow good visual contact with the digits, and the disinclination for the nail matter to give itself over to the scissors in the same way that cutting fingernails does. The former is a function of considerably less than acrobatic flexibility that has been amplified by age, while the latter is apparently just another element in the human condition.
When I was working at the Duplex Nursing Home in Boston in the late seventies and early eighties once a month a podiatrist would visit the facility, tending to the feet of the forty-five residents of the all male home. More for routine maintenance than overtly medical, some gadgets with whirring electric motors would be used to trim their toenails back within the comfortable borders of each toe. Part of me wanted to take my shoes and socks off and get in line. This procedure struck me not as gerontological intervention, but as invitingly modern as the then-new Walkman cassette player. (One resident who was notably not participating was Frank Hooker, who believed he had a radio implanted in his chest, permanently tuned to the race results at Pimlico Racetrack. The only way he could quiet this racket and sleep was by “shorting out the radio,” a feat he accomplished by growing his toenails long then touching them to the metal frame of his bed.)
A couple decades later, as one of twenty-four family members on a Carnival Cruise excursion from New York City to Nova Scotia, I could easily have been voted “least likely to get a pedicure.” However, seeking some new activity that didn’t involve me carrying a tray full of all-you-can-eat buffet food or wandering around in baggy casual attire, that notion was turned upside down on an upper deck on the final night at sea, with a spectacular view of the sunset. This experience had two distinct parts: the procedure and the outcome. The process was akin to a teeth cleaning. Nothing really hurt, it just had me on edge. However, different than the relief in the completion of cutting my toenails myself, the finale left the white-knuckled realm of metallic dentistry, finishing up with my exfoliated feet gently rinsed for me to re-sock and re-shoe. The experience could not be filed alongside my pleasurable memories of saunas, hot baths, or massages. It was not at all relaxing, though I really did try to focus on that setting sun across the miles of gently undulating ocean.
(Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg)