Thursday, September 19, 2013

Restrained Mirth

No Shame: Biting the Nails
by Tony Ertel

It’s not too often that you find yourself in a completely new situation, not knowing how to act or react. I think people generally have a sense of the proper etiquette required in different settings. If not, and the individual is completely lost, one at least knows to imitate other natural-acting people. This generalization, of course, excludes anyone who was ever homeschooled, as they are unlikely to pick up any social cues*.

And so with this understanding in mind, that people generally “get it," it amazes me when some choose to completely shirk social standards and do whatever they want. Today’s example will be... biting and chewing fingernails. While this habit isn’t completely taboo, it also isn’t listed as a personal practice that is likely to advance your social status or make you a better person. In my days as a nail- biter, I don’t think I received more than a handful of compliments linking how awesome I was to the fact that I had short, jagged fingernails. To hear, “Dude, awesome rugged nails! Is that how you got so good at air guitar?!” was rare. Regardless, I maintained my status as a biter for many years.

Those years were marked by different stages, however, from the bite and spit, to the bite and chew, to the bite and chew and swallow, to the bite and pocket**. I am not sure exactly when I transitioned into that last phase. Perhaps it was after detaching that pain-in-the-butt hangnail during the Sunday homily that I realized I had nowhere to go with that thing, save my own pocket. But from then on I knew that unless they were going directly in the trash can or being released into the wild (i.e. thrown on the ground outside) that I had to stuff them into my pockets. I determined that this was the most appropriate  temporary solution to the nails.

This respectful collecting eventually showed its downside when I discovered that the one thing worse and more distracting than a hangnail during mass is a sharp nail that has worked itself deep into my pocket and is cutting at my thigh. However, not even that dreadful experience proved the necessary catalyst of change. Only the love for a woman and the desire to impress her with my fresh and trim nails could lead me to stop the biting... But this post isn’t about that! It’s about seeing random fingernails, possibly belonging even to the toe species, in random places.

I can’t believe how often I now see huge fingernails (toe nails?) in church pews. I wonder if I was that kid, or if I at least had the dignity to put them directly on the ground. I’ve also become increasingly aware of nails here and there and on every public floor I’ve seen – from apartment hallways to store aisles to restaurant floors. Maybe my super power is that I have supervision that only works for dead human cells once they have detached from the body. Dumb superpower, but I have also noticed a lot of hairballs lately...

Let me say one more thing before you get too disgusted and complain to the blog editor about me making you gag (or sparking bad memories of your own biting days). I once witnessed a guy shamelessly and systematically gnawing off one nail at a time and turning to spit them out while talking to me in a nice restaurant/bar. I was appalled and so shocked that I couldn’t even say anything. I suppose if we had been 12 inches closer to the salad bar I would have either eked out some words or slapped the dude, but the salad bar was just out of his range.

My point is... It is both amazing and funny to me when people are seemingly so ignorant of their distasteful behavior. So we can do one of two things: rise up, condemn the nail-biters for their disgusting habits, make them where the scarlet “NB” on their chests, and paint the boys’ nails at the risk of emasculation, or...  We can acknowledge our own less-than-regal habits (whether or not we have yet conquered them) and laugh at ourselves and our sometimes silly humanity. I for one am going to go and check all of my pockets.

*I am 100% kidding! I was homeschooled (well, for a year). I just think it’s hilarious to take a few shots at the stereotypes – especially when you or those you know shatter them. Homeschoolers Rule! - the LOTR fan club
**Kidding again! While I WAS a biter, I was NEVER a nail-eater. Maybe accidentally. Once.

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