I often experience profound public humiliation with a daunting magnitude that would send most people screaming into the forest, never to return. After all these years, I accept the fact that I probably will trip and fall in a busy crosswalk, fart during a massage, drop my passport into a foreign toilet, or sprout broccoli in my teeth while giving a motivational speech. That’s what I do.
However, I still cringe at the memory of a recent embarrassment. Due to stress, deadlines, and too much caffeine, I had attacked my fingernails like a crazed wolverine, leaving bloody stumps that were too painful to use even to shampoo my hair. Of course, this was on a day when I had a Very Important Meeting with some Very Important People at a Very Private Club in Boise. Not even my best St. Johns knit suit could hide my tortured hands. It was time to leave, so I frantically pawed through my drawers looking for some fake nails to glue onto my fingers but only found some press-on toenails. The instructions on the box guaranteed that I didn’t need glue because the adhesive would last for a week. I slapped those gleaming toenails onto the ends of my ravaged fingers, picked up my briefcase, and dashed to the meeting, feeling smug that I had successfully survived yet another personal crisis.
At the Very Exclusive Club, I was escorted to the premium table and introduced to a sophisticated woman who looked like a model in a Ralph Lauren ad and a man who appeared to possess all the knowledge of the universe. As she shook my right hand, the toenail on my right thumb suddenly popped off and landed on the white linen tablecloth. I mumbled something about “that darned broken nail” and plucked it from the table. After exchanging professional pleasantries, we ordered herb-infused tomato bisque. As I took a sip, the toenail on the left hand snapped off and plopped into the soup. I tried to push it down with my spoon, but it kept bobbing up as if pleading to be rescued. Apparently, toes are wider and flatter than fingernails, and these things wouldn’t last the hour let alone a week. I resisted the temptation to say, “Waiter, there’s a toenail in my soup.”
My table companions cleared their throats and started their conversation about how I should diversify my investment portfolio to take advantage of opportunities in emerging markets. As they talked, I held my hands in my lap, working quickly to pry off the remaining nails so they wouldn’t sporadically shoot from my hand and put out someone’s eye. Two of the stubborn nails validated the claim on the box and wouldn’t release until I ripped them off and the wounded fingers started to bleed again. I discretely wrapped the linen napkin around my hand until it looked like one of those bandaged fists from a war movie. By the time the elegant woman was displaying a chart of recommended international equity funds, I was sitting on a pile of discarded toenails, applying white-linen pressure to my hemorrhaging fingertips, and pretending everything was okay.
I want the dignified waiter at The Arid Club to know that I really regret leaving that horrible mess. But maybe he overheard some good hints about investing and someday he’ll remove my name from the list of “Guests to Never Allow Back Inside.”
(This is an excerpt from the new book Midlife Cabernet – Life Love and Laughter after Fifty. Buy the e-book now on amazon.com and laugh by noon.)