The Psychiatrist Is IN

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Reporting for duty at the church fair, I requested Duck Pond, but received, in the end, an assignment over here at Hair 'n' Nails.

I think I need better signage. My booth has been open for an hour now, and business is hardly booming. For four tickets I'll paint your nails, and for six I'll spray your head with special hair paint. Tickets are 25 cents each, and you have to buy them over at the ticket booth. I'm out of blue hair paint. I have orange, pink, green, yellow, silver, black and white. Yes, I can do "rainbow." But rainbow hair, I've decreed, shall include no more than three colors. This is on account of the mess I made of that one boy's head, trying to fit every color on it.

I'm better at nails. I have experience with nails, at least on the receiving end. This is the first time I've ever been a nail polisher, as opposed to a polish-ee. It's a unique opportunity. The thing I've always wondered about manicurists is how they're able to extract so much personal information from clients. At least that's what seems to happen to me, always dumping my life story onto the person pushing the cuticles. Tonight, at the church fair, I see things differently. I am doing nothing to extract personal information out of my clientele, and yet -- I had a 10-year-old whose brother was in a car accident, and although he suffered numerous broken bones, he's doing okay now, but he's living at his aunt's because she's a nurse and his mom travels so much. I had a preteen with an aching crush on a boy whose father is -- can you believe it!? -- right now working the cotton candy machine. I had a girl whose parents just got back together after being separated for two years, and now the mother wants to have another baby, which I'm told is both good and bad. I had a girl who ate too much and rode too many rides, and sure enough, right after I finished her nails, she went over to the chain-link fence and threw up.

Why are these girls opening up to me in these ways?

Hang on, here comes a customer. She's tall, leggy, wearing a halter top and low-slung jeans. I'm guessing she's 13 -- in the upper range of my clientele. (Hey, if you're offering to paint nails for a buck, you're advertising something right there about your level of expertise.) "My mom says I can get my nails done," the girl says, plopping herself all at once into the chair. "No, I mean it, she really said I could!"

"Great," I say, wondering if she's overselling this. "That'll be four tickets."

"I want rainbow," she says. "Like, every finger a different color. Can you do that?"

Everybody wants rainbow.

"Let me see what I've got to work with here," I say, taking the girls hands into mine. Her nails, like so many I've encountered, are coated with fair goo. Funnel cake and snow cone and pizza sauce extracts, I'm guessing. I get out a wet wipe and do what I can.

"My boyfriend's here," she announces. "He's texting me like every five seconds. He's like, 'Where are you, why won't you talk to me?'" She says she wants to talk to him, but her mom said not tonight. "My mom doesn't like him. It's ridiculous."

"That can be tricky," I say, as I apply red to her index finger. I've decided to go orange on one thumb and blue on the other. Her nails have a lot of vertical ridges, which is an indication of too much calcium or too little, I think. Her fingers are warm, thin and supple. The polish pools too heavily in one corner, spills onto her skin, so I dab it with my own finger and wipe the polish on my forearm.

It's odd to be so close to a stranger, even a young one. It's odd to know this much about anyone else's nail beds. There is so much intimacy in this human-to-human touch. No wonder the stories flow.

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