Monday, April 28, 2003

The Claw

I seem to spend all of my time here apologizing for not writing, and then talking all about what I was doing that kept me too busy to write. So as a change of pace, I today refuse to apologize. I was very busy this weekend, these things happen, OK? I'll tell you more about it when I've uploaded the pictures.

Besides, I have been crippled by Fashion, and that is a noble enough reason to not write.

See, I got these acrylic nails put on Saturday before the Living Sober show. I've never worn false nails before, unless you count the Lee press-on nails that I once put on ten years or so ago and which fell off my fingertips whenever I moved my hand (which I don't count... you don't 'wear' something that won't stay on, you merely entertain it momentarily... how do you catch a cloud and pin it down?) I thought having acrylic nails installed would be much like those press-on nails, except tailored to one's own particular size and shape of nail, and glued on better. I was wrong.

It was a fascinating process. First you find the shop... I happen to live an a part of the world that is fairly well salted with recent immigrants from Asia, and so there is no shortage of nail-shops (I've never seen anyone of the European or African races working in those places); so all I did was walk out of the place I was in when I realized I had plenty of time to get my nails done (which happened to be Sears, where I had bought a new bra), turn left, and walk a couple of blocks. Then you ascertain whether or not they accept credit-cards (in that part of town, the first few blocks of Telegraph, from where it originates at the Cathedral Building down to the old Fox Theater, it's an open question); the shop I ended up in, Happy Nails, did not take credit cards, so I sent Caroline to the ATM machine with my card and my PIN.

Next you sit down and engage in idle and difficult chit-chat with the technician who speaks very little English, certainly not as much English as the people I ordinarily baffle with my baroque vocabulary, and what English she did speak was so heavily accented that I couldn't really understand her, either. There was a lot of smiling and nodding on both sides.

She took off my old nail laminate with pure acetone. Then, with an electric buffer that looked rather a lot like a jeweler's burnishing tool, she raddled my nail surfaces just a bit to rough them up. Then she dabbed a bit of super-strong liquid adhesive to the nail-tips and started affixing these incredibly long (three inches at least) false nail-tips to my fingers, using a close-enough-for-government-work approximation of the actual nail-size. The result was a sort of dragon-lady look, startling and exotic but patently false and unfinished. She trimmed them down rather roughly with plain scissors, not bothering to shape them or anything at this juncture, to about a half-inch beyond my real nails. With a different, finer tip on the buffer, she smoothed the join on each nail and doused it from a bottle marked "primer."

Then, she dipped a brush into a bowl marked "liquid" (without specifying what the purple fluid actually was) and then into another bowl marked "powder" (which looked exactly like sugar and turned out to be pure granulated acrylic). This formed a sugary-looking paste on the brush, which was applied directly and thickly onto the false nail-tips and across the join onto the real nail, all the way to the cuticle. Once done with my left hand, she put it in front of a tiny fan to dry and started work on the right. The whole sugar image remained, my fingertips looked luminous and fragile, as if they were made of white ganache frosting.

Next, the shaping started, with a great big emory board. This took some time, and the technician kept getting acrylic bits in her eyes (she was wearing a mask over her mouth and nose, but not goggles). Then the buffing of each nail with a somewhat finer-grained emory board. Then buffing with the burnishing-tool, smoothing out the ends and nicking my cuticles a couple of times (this entire operation could have been performed with more grace and precision, and in future I will invest more time in the choice of salon than "Oh, there's one").

After which I got another dousing of mysterious fluids, followed by a goodly drizzle of cuticle-oil on each finger. Then I was instructed to wash my hands in the bathroom, and then the technician applied three coats of silver-glittered pearlescent polish. I was next enjoined to shove my newly-taloned mitts in a tabletop contraption that looked like the bastard child of a tanning bed and a waffle-iron. After six (surprisingly long) minutes of UV rays and cool air hardening the nails, I was declared complete, a finished product of the manicurists' art.

During all this time, Caroline had been getting a manicure and pedicure, complete with foot- and hand-massage and parrafin bath, all performed in a vibrating chair. She looked so relaxed that she might have melted and dribbled away. We were finished at about the same time, paid our cash, and left.

I was afraid of breaking the nails, and so it took me quite a while to re-learn how to handle objects without endangering my nails. Ordinarily, when my nails are very long it is because I grew them out, and so the process of their being there is gradual and easy to adapt to; but when you go from short nails to longer-than-ever nails in the course of forty-five minutes, it's a little more difficult. Putting on my makeup for the show took longer than usual, though after I got used to the idea of the nails I realized that I don't use the tips of my fingers that much anyway.

I needn't have worried, though. These things are damned near unbreakable. I mean, not only are they constructed of a rather strong material, but they're crudely thick as well. It's more likely that my entire fingernail will come off before the acrylic portion will break. I had no idea fake nails were this strong... I can bang them all over the place, doing things with them that would have shattered my own nails, like knocking the glass of my car window or scraping stickers off of bottles. I could probably gouge out people's eyes and open cans and slice tomatoes with them.

Furthermore, I can't get them off. It seemed rather wasteful to take them off after having them on only twenty-four hours, even as cheap as they were ($18 for the whole set, and they were going to throw in a free "charm," one of those tiny clever designs that one sees on false nails... but there's something vaguely déclassé about those, especially on just one nail). But I was having a hell of a time going about my daily business with these claws getting in my way, and they're rather visible and odd-looking.

I figured that all I'd have to do is soak the nail in nail-polish remover, and they'd come right off. In fact, I asked the nail technician if that was how they'd come off, and she'd smiled and nodded (which I chose to interpret as "Yes, that's how they come off," but I think now she was nodding at the price-list behind me, which listed "Acrylic Removal, $8"... made me think of a line from a Daffy Duck cartoon, after he sent Porky Pig's entire house sky-high on a hydraulic lift as an anti-burglar precaution: "For another fifty bucks, I can install the button that gets you down!")

But working from my original assumption, I poured some Sally Hansen's into a small juice glass and shoved my left index and middle fingers in to soak; five minutes later, some of the polish had floated off, and my skin was quite dried-out, but the nail hadn't moved. I shoved a flat toothpick between the false nail and my own and pried, but the toothpick simply broke in three little pieces while the nail just sat there. It even looked harder and more permanent, somehow, without the pearly gleam.

So I guess I'm stuck with them until I have time to get to Happy Nails again (or any of its geographically convenient equivalents). I was thinking I'd better do it today on my lunch, but as I've been typing and doing things at work, rather more successfully than I at first thought I could (I'm typing away like mad, now, having learned the necessary way of holding my hands to accommodate the additional length), I think I might just keep them for a while. And Grandmother hasn't said anything about them, so perhaps they don't look as bizarre as I think. There's another show coming up this weekend (Sohorny Beaver's Cinco de Mayo bash for the Alameda County RGDC), and so I can get another performance out of them.

Besides, I'm rather enjoying them. I took the pearl polish off and glazed them with a nice simple semigloss topcoat, and they look a little more real and quite glamorous. They make the most deliciously musico-insectile clicking sound when I rub or tap them together. And I'm very impressed with my ability to type with them. I might even just have them trimmed down to a slightly more business-like length and leave them on forever .

In the meantime (in the tradition of Chabon's Kavalier & Clay, which I'm still reading), just call me "The Claw": Scourge of the Evildoer, Righter of Wrongs, and Corrector of Poor Taste. Badly dressed villains and oppressors of beautiful youths, beware her Slice-O-Matic Fashion-Fixer Anti-Evil Talons! She won't rip you a new one, she'll rip you a better one!

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