We may have all been there before…early in the morning…not a lot of time…kids running around not getting ready for school (like it says they should be in the textbook.) This particular morning, you had set the clock a little earlier, because last night, instead of making the lunches, you decided to take that extra nap before going to bed. The Pre-sleep. That glorious 20-45 minutes of curling up on the couch mouthing the words silently “I’ll just close my eyes for a moment, get some energy and then, I’ll go up to bed” as you drift off…before you’re supposed to drift off. It makes perfect sense for those of us who believe that a nap is an appetizer and the good night sleep is the main course. Plus, making lunches can be hard. I’m not sure about how you feel, but I for one think that the new food pyramid is more like a confusing rhombus of compromise.
Back to the morning of the ticking clock and the whining of the dog and the panicked scramble to find the right selection for “show and tell” (“How about this, this is cool…” “That’s a penny, Daddy.” “Yes, yes it is…but just think of what stories it can tell…”) Usually, before the clock winds down to zero (what, you don’t do that? You don’t set an NBA scoreboard timer at the top of your front door and set it to expire at the exact minute you can still leave the house and get to school on time?) and the buzzer sounds — there is a padding of sorts, insulating the occasional “Oh, I spilled orange juice all over the dog” and the inevitable “I’m not sure where my other shoe is…” or the surprisingly common, “Daddy, can we have a snack in the car on the way to school…like a breakfast number 2?” (this is surprising, because these kids eat a lot of food, and I’m not sure if there’s some Pavlovian response every time I snap a seat belt on these kids, but when I do, it’s ding, ding, where’s the food?) with an additional dollop of minutes. Burn through those, and it’s scramble time.
This morning, I hadn’t slipped the timekeeper a Franklin to add some more time, and I wasn’t ready for this, albeit, simple request. My daughter, 3 years old, from another room, caught my wife as she ran out the door to work with a “Mommy, please you can put nail polish on my fingers?” (Yes, “please you can” for some reason, my daughter’s sentence structure smacks of Jar-Jar Binks.) Now, I know that 3 years old may be very young for nail polish…I think this may be one of those milestones for girls…I’m not sure. But, I’m thinking that nail polish might be in the same landmark seeking realm as ears piercing, a perm, etc… I can’t remember when my sisters were “allowed” to wear nail polish — which wouldn’t be an accurate marker of any sorts since we went to a parochial school where nail polish, makeup, jeans, and any shirt with a picture was strictly forbidden. Colored nails is a gateway to a wild life. It’s pretty obvious. Paint those nails, brush some blush, and walk around with something more than an alligator on your shirt and you’re just asking for trouble.
“Please I can…”
“Ask Daddy, Mommy has to go.” And that was it. I was applying my first nail polish. I didn’t have the soft lights of the salon, the chit chat falling like Mahjong tiles around my ears, or the fancy tables…I was pressed for time and I needed to deliver. “Just say ‘No'” I hear you thinking. “She’s 3. You’re the boss. Lay down the law.” Well, when the sands in the hour glass are racing each other to the other beach, your choices are limited. And like they say “pick and choose your battles” and our little 3 year old could best Patton, so, I just rolled with it, and searched for the nail polish.
Seek and you shall…have it shoved in your hand.
“Here, Daddy.” Suddenly, without thought, without me asking for the nail polish, it appeared in my hand with a little girl staring at me with both hands flared out, extensions of two eager arms. It looked like she was trying to cast a spell on me, or make me levitate, or…
“HERE, DADDY.” I realized that the “here” was not the “here is the nail polish” but rather “here are my finger nails for which you must apply a shiny gloss.”
While no pickle jar, the cap was on pretty tight. With my son looking on and my daughter patiently waiting and our dog feeling the tension rising — I opened the cap. As I put the cap down, and the scent wafted up to remind me of what I was doing…I drifted back to one of the few jobs I ever quit…
Temporary stroll down memory stain…
I was just a lad of 17, looking for some summer work. The temp agency, recognizing that my WPM were below average, sent me to work at a factory for $7 and hour. Giddy with the opportunity to walk away each day with a pre-taxed $56 — I accepted and arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Monday morning. Conveyor belts, big machines, loud noises and people wearing hairnets, smocks and gloves. This was a dream realized. I expected to see Laverne DiFazio and Shirley Feeney waving at a gloved bottle of beer as the credits rolled. Not so lucky. The one thing that I wasn’t counting on was the smell. Acetate. Fun. “It’ll stain your clothes, your hands…your sense of smell” the foreman told me as he handed me a smock, gloves and a painter cap. “You don’t need to wear a hairnet if you think it’s too frilly-poo-poo.” I kind of wanted to feel what something “frilly-poo-poo” might feel like, but, figured, there was a time and place for everything, and now was a time to work.
Silly worker, ethics are for chumps.
I was the lead box taper/stacker at the end of the line. I was the one responsible for seeing that package after package of low-cost, lemony scented nail polish remover, arrived to all the discount cosmetic stores around the country. Little did they know, that this very same nail polish remover is big in the entomology world. It’s used to send insects into a peaceful death sleep. Take a normal Bell jar and tape a cotton ball soaked in Acetate (nail polish remover) to the top of the cap. Put your bug in the jar, close the lid and presto — you’ve just created your own “killing jar.” As I looked around, I gravely squinted to see if I could see the cursive lettering of “Bell” on the walls. My boxes were building up…I fell behind. I began to work faster, and faster, and soon, was waiting on everyone else. The foreman came over to me.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Slow it down, superstar — slow it down.”
Turns out, I was pissing off the entire factory. I was trying to work hard — not just “work enough.” When they took a break and I didn’t want to, the foreman visited me again.
“Why the hell are you standing here?”
“Go have some coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Go take a leak, go do something. It’s a break. Take it.”
Reluctantly, I went over to the break room. People sat and talked, laughed and joked and uniformly hated the young superstar who moved a little too quickly. I meandered to the cork board that had two items, the first, a list of O.S.H.A. rules and the second, a “Get Well Soon” card to Renee. Not sure why a “Get Well” card was at the workplace where the sick person wasn’t at, but, it was a picture of a puppy with its head wrapped as if it had a toothache.
After the first (of many) breaks, I was a good non-worker and kept glacial pace with everyone else. The foreman came over, I was sure to congratulate me on my fine display of sloth skill. He came bearing a box. Most likely a gift.
“Hey, superstar, got something for you to do.”
“Of course. Anyway…you gotta take this box into that room. They’ll know what to do.”
“You don’t have any jewelry on, do you? Rings, necklaces, choker chains, that sort of thing?”
I didn’t. Should I have?
“Good. Bring this in. Don’t shuffle your feet.”
I took the box and went over to the room. “Don’t shuffle your feet” confused me a bit. It seemed the whole day to this point was about shuffling feet, slumping in chairs, leaning on boxes, etc. I stood at the steel door and knocked. No answer. I then realized that you needed to buzz in, and then touch a metal plate. By the metal plate, I saw “WARNING: GROUND ALL STATIC CHARGES BEFORE ENTERING.” I buzzed and the door opened. I was hit with a wave of acetate and my eyes watered, my nostrils burned…I walked towards the two people in full lab coats.
“SLOW DOWN, ASSHOLE!”
I did. I slowed waaaay down…and slowly brought the box to them.
“Here you go.”
They took it. I turned and walked out.
I did. Slowly.
The door closed and the foreman approached me.
“How did it go?”
“Fine. They yelled at me to slow down. But fine.”
“Yeah, they’re a little on edge since Renee.”
“What happened?” (In my mind, I saw Renee with a toothache.)
“In the room you were in, she sparked, went up in flames, 2nd and 3rd degree burns.”
“Yep, disability. Lucky piece of toast. Anyway, it’ll get easier the next time you bring one in.”
And that was the last thing I ever heard from that foreman, that factory, that temp service ever again.
Back to the nails…
Obviously, drifting back to the days of my youth was of no interest to my daughter and her unpainted nails. Suddenly, I decided that maybe nail polish wasn’t safe, because, after all, to get nail polish off, one requires nail polish remover. That means that somewhere in the world, someone needs to visit the room behind the steel door and may risk “sparking up.” I shuddered at contributing to another Renee — and put the nail polish down.
“What are you doing?”
She sensed something was wrong, but as I put the nail polish down — I thought of a safer alternative. Sharpies. I decided to use this highly useful permanent marker to color my daughter’s nails. Surely the Sharpie factory didn’t have a bulletin board with “Get Well” cards thumb-tacked all over.
Okay, who was I trying to kid? As much as the Sharpie’s made sense, I knew that the gloss wouldn’t be the same. The smell would be worse, and if I were going to do this, I should do this the right way. I grabbed the nail polish, removed the applicator and globbed on the first brush-full on her thumb. It was a big blob of purple that would take until tomorrow to dry. I dabbed from that, and moved to the other nails. The thumb acted like my own little keratin pallet. The nails went from darker to lighter…and my technique was improving with each nail. The first two looked as if she had caught her finger tips in a car door, but as you went from finger to finger, they looked rather nice.
“Oh Daddy, I LOVE it!”
My daughter paraded around with fingers outstretched, holding them up as if she was ready to go into surgery.
“Nothing can touch my fingers before they dry. Nothing.”
My son and I looked at each other. We understood. Nothing.
The Buzzer sounds.
We arrived to my son’s school exactly as his class was standing to say the pledge of allegiance. I stopped, took my hat off, and put my hand on my heart and joined in with the class. My daughter also joined in, holding both hands to her heart, staring down at all ten purple nails — with pride in liberty, in justice and in the ten little ways she felt like a big girl.