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Tasty Toes 

Painted nails, time, and Carl

Recently our shabby little neighborhood pool hole hosted a swim team from a country club, and I swear that every single toe attached to those posh women was painted. Maybe they had a team moms' toe check before leaving swankyville and venturing into our ramshackle corner of the city, to make sure they showed us plebes living on the wrong fringe of 485 how sandaled feet are supposed to look.

Actually, although it reaches the red-alert status of absolutely mandatory at higher economic levels, toe polish seems to be required of all women throughout the South, except for the Birkenstock crowd. Even at our modest swim club the only gals routinely without it are a lady who's originally from Ohio . . . and me.

It's gotten to the point that whenever my feet are bare I feel exposed, just as I did many murky years ago when girls first stopped having to wear head coverings in the Catholic Church. Suddenly I no longer had a bobby pin digging into my skull to anchor one of those circular lace mantillas that looked like enlarged coasters or something you'd crochet for the arms of a couch.

Just the other day I was comparing my naked toenails -- which, in addition to being unvarnished, appear bitten despite my best efforts to keep them neatly clipped -- with those of one of my neighbors at the pool. Sandi's toenails are perfectly shaped and currently painted a satiny shade of pale purple that complements her multiple engraved silver toe rings.

Each be-twinkled foot that I couldn't quit staring at was encased that afternoon in seductively wispy straps of lilac leather. It's as if Sandi's feet have been meticulously crafted into miniature Vegas showgirls, while mine languish like penitents in hair shirts.

This is what I consider "feet as artform," and as much as I drool over its display I don't feel motivated to pursue it. Ah yes, I've enormously enjoyed the few pedicures that have come my way, and the dainty-little-hands look my feet briefly had after them, but I'm not interested in sawing and painting myself. If I luck into an extra 20 minutes, pulling out the cotton balls and the polish just isn't what first pops into mind as a fun way to spend them.

Time in relation to toenail polish mystifies me. You meet women who are all in a lather because, according to them, they're so super-de-duper busy, and yet there they stand with geranium-colored toes slyly winking up at you, contradicting their claim of a hopelessly hectic life. The females who manage to slap paint on those toenails no matter what are often the same ones who claim to be "too busy" to read the newspaper.

Of course, these manic-yet-manicured moms make me feel like even more of a polish sub-performer, but then I tell myself that at least my toes were good enough for Carl, and the stuff probably tastes nasty, anyway.

Carl was a waiter at the Richmond restaurant where I worked. A dark, intense guy, he had a skull that bulged through his frizzy hair and big, clattering teeth. He also harbored a secret talent I didn't know about until the afternoon I showed up drunk at his apartment.

At a red light I'd scooted out of the convertible of a strange guy I'd let pick me up in a bar and fled to the closest thing I recognized, which happened to be Carl's place. When he opened his door and found me swaying there reeking of alcohol, his little eyes lit up like a predator's into whose lair has stumbled a prime piece of prey.

The next thing I knew we were naked on Carl's couch that was covered in something resembling a tablecloth and felt about as crummy. I remember him mumbling words to the effect that he'd "wanted to do this for a long time," and even through an inebriated fog this struck me as a howler. What, he'd dreamt of screwing me on his couch in head-splitting daylight when I was borderline-vomitose and his roommate was audibly breathing from behind the bedroom door?

Anyway, I was kind of flashing in and out there on the picnic cloth, but I was aware of him heading south, which wasn't surprising except that he kept going until he was way south, like down around my feet. All of a sudden Carl was doing what no lover had done before, or has since: vigorously sucking my toes, and let me tell you, maybe it was because I was drunk, but it felt fantastic.

At some point I passed out, and upon coming to, I ungratefully began crying, which is something I'd never done before in an intimate situation. Poor, go-to Carl was puzzled and deflated, and we never tangled on his tablecloth again.

Hey, maybe I wouldn't have gotten the toe-sucking of my life if I'd been wearing nail polish. Goes to show that you've got to leave yourself uncovered to life's opportunities, and that includes your toes.

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