Even as a boy, I had subscriptions to magazines that I felt guilty about not reading. Back in the day, my guiltzine of choice was World Magazine – a Boys’ Life-style colorful magazine aimed at teaching kids about science and, well, the World. It was chock-a-block full of interesting articles on geckos and eerily iridescent photos of deep-sea jellyfish, but for some reason the World magazines piled up in the corner until ones on the bottom began to smolder from the pressure of the magazines on the top. Eventually, they turned to peat.
But there was one issue of World that changed my life – or, rather, it didn’t change my life. And it happened when I was eight.
The issue in question had an article on fingernails. They were amazing fingernails, of the sort I’d never seen before – big, long, smooth things painted in bright colors. My mother painted her fingernails a crimson shade, but that wasn’t what World had.
World had art on those fingertips.
One of the fingernails had a tiny globe on it, complete with the North American continents and wisps of cirrus clouds. Another had a rainbow in lacquered colors sweeping across the face of the nail. A third had a little black-and-white panda, eating a bamboo leaf.
That was the coolest thing my eight-year-mind had ever seen. I knew about tattoos, of course, but the ones I’d seen were faded and muddy against a pale pink skin. They were nothing like the bright primary colors on these fingernails.
I craved nails of my own.
Alas, I knew I wasn’t artistic enough – and I had the bad habit of biting my nails off, something I instantly vowed never to do again so that I could carry around ten miniature landscapes upon my hands. So I asked my mother for help; I knew she painted her nails, so of course she knew the deep secrets of how to place the rings of Saturn upon my fingertips.
When my Mom freaked out, I could not understand.
“You’re a boy,” she said firmly. I shrugged. Yeah, I got that whole “boy” thing. But what did that have to do with painting my fingernails?
She explained that I would look stupid, but this had no weight coming from my mother – no offense, ma, but I’d seen some of the outfits you’d picked out for me, and they weren’t exactly getting me acclaim on the school grounds. I held fast to my goal of getting cool fingernails.
She railed on for another ten minutes, and realizing that she was getting nowhere, she brought in my Uncle Tommy. Tommy was my idol back then, forever going into New York to do cool things with fun people, and surely he would convince me. And then Tommy explained that there were some things that boys didn’t do, and just like you didn’t see him walking around in a dress, we couldn’t see you walking around with hot pink fingernails.
“But a dress is stupid,” I protested. “These fingernails are cool.”
Tommy knew that I was flighty, seized with a monstrous need to play the violin one day and skipping my lessons the next, so he just nodded and let it go. But I had found something beautiful, and I latched onto it like a terrier onto a rat.
The next day, I asked again. They brought in my babysitter, Sheryl, who was young and popular, and she told me that the kids would laugh at me. This was, of course, nonsense. They’d have been dutifully impressed by the elaborate brushwork on my fingertips!
My dad took a stab at it when he came home from work. He made no further sense. And when they brought in my grandparents, I caved.
I did not stop asking because they had convinced me of the righteousness of their cause. I stopped asking because I could not do this without help – fingernail polish was expensive, and the kids would laugh if I walked in with slipshod art. And apparently, the entire world was against the idea of boys wearing cool fingernails, so I was destined to fail.
I burned with envy. I didn’t want to be a girl, but it bugged me that girls could be pretty and guys had to be dumb and boring. Couldn’t they see that the appeal of having a unicorn doing a little dance on your ring finger crossed gender boundaries?
So I put the idea away. And by the time I was a teenager and able to afford it, I was such an inveterate nail-chewer that I never could make it happen.
But what I remember is the stupid wall. I wanted to do something that would have been the coolest goddamn thing ever, and it was the only time in the history of my family that I could not find a single ally no matter how hard I looked. I had a supportive family, and usually at least one person understood, but the one time I was totally alone was over something so silly and trivial I still cannot fathom why they abandoned me.
To hell with my parents. Those fingernails would have been awesome.