embarrassment · gnawing · musings · nail biting · success · thumb sucking

Nail Biting: An Art Form

As a kid I had one outstanding talent: Nail Biting.

We are talking Major League ability.

I could have competed with the world’s most determined nail chewers and held my gnawed tips high with pride.

My fingers looked vulnerable: raw, red, rough, exposed. I could never be accused of ignoring my digits, after all, I spent a lot of mouthing energy on keeping cuticles and nails manicured beyond identification.

I was self-conscious about my mutilated digits, but embarrassment did not slow down the nibbling and tugging. I seemed incapable of keeping my fingers away from my mouth. Some would say I made this habit a form of awful art.

My Dad, another world-renowned nail biter, came up with a suggestion to break our habit. I had reached my early 20’s, an age when nail chewing was obviously beyond inappropriate, when he called to share his proposal.

His idea was to bite on all nails except one for a week. The next week we would bite on all but two, and the third week we would eliminate three fingers from our gnashing teeth.

Sounded like a plan that might work if I could remember which nail to protect. I put a band aid around the designated survivor as a reminder. Easy to identify because chewing on a gause and tape is not the same as chomping on a piece of skin.

By the end of three weeks the wrapped fingers made it cumbersome to navigate all the keys on the manual Royal typewriter, the instrument of my livelihood as a reporter.

I ripped the coverings off and decided I could liberate one hand from my teeth and bandaged one finger on the other hand. A month had gone by, and my low level of patience had exceeded its boundaries, so I just quit nibbling, cold turkey, so to speak.

My nails were set free and they have never missed the mistreatment they endured. I haven’t entered any nail-biting competition since those days in the 1960s. While others my age were attending Woodstock and inhaling marijuana, I was rejoicing that my nails were safe, sound and growing.

It is surprising how simple difficult things seem after you conquer them. Now if I could just give up thumb sucking.

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