It’s the Little Things

Published 2008-11-16

I was in Boulder — sunny, safe, rock climbing central — when I talked to Mark. He mentioned ice climbing. In Hyalite Canyon. In Montana. I would have to get boots and crampons and all that shit. He had tools I could borrow. After a few days of swinging them, I forked over the cash and bought a pair. I liked it.

Then I lost my toenails. I remember being a little alarmed when I took my boots off and saw purple down there. Everyone else was ripping into pizza and beer after a long day of climbing; I was staring at toes that looked like the aftermath of an Alaskan epic.

I remember being surprised and happy when I kicked the bottom stair in the garage barefoot and ripped one toenail half off. Goddamn thing hung on though. While looking down at the bleeding mess, I realized it didn’t hurt at all — it was already dead. I taped down the massive flappers, walked pigeon toed for a few months and, as the smell worsened, I finally realized they had to go.

Everyone told me I shouldn’t do it myself – so many that I believed them.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, I found time to visit urgent care. The comely nurse made me feel like a sissy for having her do the job on my toenails. The injections of Novocain hurt worse than the injury or the actual nail removal.

When you lose your toenails, they don’t grow out the way you think of nails growing. The soft shelf underneath slowly hardens and after several months it becomes nail material. But in the meantime it is a strange in between form, somewhat hard but also strangely soft, and the old dried blood is hard to get out of there.

They looked like painful, messy little stumps. And I was dating a girl at the time who was a tough, outdoorsy type. She was filming a documentary about a native whaling tribe in Alaska. She watched them kill two on the ice. Not squeamish. But even with her I felt little weird the first time my shoes came off. “What the hell is wrong with your toes?” I imagined her asking in alarm, but she didn’t dump me. Not for that reason.

It has been a long, slow recovery while being a resident of alien toe land. I’m happy to say my toenails have grown enough that for the first time in almost a year they are getting a bit long. I’ve returned triumphantly to the realm of those with normal looking feet. My new girlfriend even thinks I’m hot. When barefoot.

Thanks Hyalite. Toenail clippers never looked so good.