Nail Polish


I don’t paint my toenails anymore.nailpolishDon’t want to attract attention to my once sexy feet. It’s hard enough exposing them in the summer months wearing sandals.

My toenails are so tough these days and my hands have become so much weaker that I have difficulty squeezing those nail clippers together even with both hands. So I’ve become a frequent customer of a salon that does mass production pedicures. Having tough nails has  provided me a great excuse to go pamper myself-a luxury my parents would have strongly disapprove of.

The place I go to is a Viet Namese salon where they have a big operation going. You can get perms and dyes, depilations and facials, manicures and pedicures. There are rows of tables cluttered with clippers and files and bottles of chemicals. Slim young Viet Namese women work at these tables, wearing masks and gloves, using toxic smelling liquids to attach fake nails to stubby fingers and chewed down nails. They have salon names like Linda, Mary, Hanna so when we English speakers return at a later date, we can request them by name. We have trouble pronouncing their given names and remembering them would be even harder.

For pedicures there are large comfortable chairs with foot-soaking tubs attached at the end. There must be at least 12 that line two of the walls. These chairs massage your back by a submerged  roller that goes up and down and up and down. I think this is to relax and distract a client while their toes and calluses are being clipped, filed and grated, because sometimes a misplaced clippers will clip more than the nail. And instantly a cauterizing stick comes out of a drawer to stop the bleeding. They’re prepared.

The first thing they will ask me is to go over to a cabinet with rows of nail polish of every imaginable color and select a color I’d like. When I say I don’t want my toenails painted, there’s an expression of disbelief that moves across their face. They ask, “Why not?” They will even paint flowers on top of the nail polish. Anything you like.

As I think about my answer, I realize it’s way too hard to explain about neuromas and surgeries and toes crawling over one another to native Viet Namese speakers.

I take Nancy Reagan’s advice and just say, “No.”


Saving My Parts: Part 3

 THE FOOTthe foot

On a chilly autumn day some friends and I were heading north to a hot springs to spend the afternoon lollygagging in the mineral baths. Ojo Caliente. A beautiful backdrop with gray, pink cliffs and blue skies with a few puffy clouds rolling by. After having squirmed into my bathing suit (one piece, you realize), I was making a bee line for the outdoor pools, barefoot, clutching a beach towel around my bare shoulders.

Suddenly I crunched down on a pea sized pebble with my heel really hard. Ooo did that hurt. But then, I’d be soaking immediately in the hot springs. That should sooth it and my foot would be better in no time.

Days passed. The pain increased. I hated standing up. Walking across the room was miserable. I would hold off going to the bathroom, which meant climbing a flight of stairs, till I felt I might burst. Sometimes I just peed into a jar- well, I do live alone.


The dog, wagging and heading for the door, didn’t understand why we weren’t out taking a walk every day like before. Sometimes I’d drive to a secluded spot, open the door and she’d jump out and run free for a few minutes. That was the best I could offer.

Enough of that. Off to the pediatrist. Humm. Something new. Planter Fasciitis. What is that? (Getting older, one’s vocabulary begins to increase. We seniors could write our own Merck Manual.)

Shots of cortisone were injected in the sides of my heel. My foot was tightly wrapped with tape which felt really good for a day or so. But after the first shower the tape began to slump. I didn’t live with a pediatrist, so reaching and winding was impossible all by myself. Immediately I was back to dealing with painful foot.

For awhile I wore a boot velcroed around my leg. It was built up under the arch, so as I walked the boot rocked back and forth. I went hobbling and rocking around Walmart for months. I had never heard anyone complain about planter fasciitis- ever. Once I started wearing this boot though, people came out of the woodwork-while waiting in line at the cash register, camping at a state park, enjoying the boaters’ Christmas party- saying they had had it once, how awful it was, how long it took to heal. Even my GYN was suffering with it- in both feet. I quit complaining and changed  our conversation to gardening.

As you can imaging, I wasn’t hiking or taking any walks with my dog for a couple of seasons. I was gaining weight and so was Petra.

About six months into this, I signed up for an archeology field trip. We had to walk up this little hill to a pueblo ruin site. River rocks and pottery shards were strewn everywhere. I could barely make it up this incline while trying to avoid shattering antiquities. I stopped and started to cry. When will this end? Will it ever end? I want my life back.

My friends didn’t know what to say.

This ended up being a nine month ordeal. I never go bare foot any more. My flip flops are next to the bed so I can slip them on if I need to get up during the night.

You never know if there’s a pebble loitering in a dark shadow on the way to the bathroom.

Saving My Parts: Part 2

composite drawing grants

                         Drawing of rock covered with petroglyphs



Oh those cute little pinkies of yesteryear. If nothing else stood out, I was sure my feet were very attractive. They have a high arch which forms a graceful curve-not the flat Elmer Duck kind. The toes were nicely spaced with no corns or deformities.

In high school I had a boyfriend that I thought was perfectly put together ‘till one day we went swimming. And there on each foot his little toe resided on top of the fourth toe.  A substantial turn off for a 16 year old.

The only drawback to having a high arch was the difficulty of shoving my feet into cowboy boots and of course the white Go Go boots of the ’60’s. I once saw a photo of Marlene Dietrich even wearing a pair. That’s how ‘in’ Go Go boots were.

Shoe salesmen use to say back in the 50’s-a time when somebody actually helped you-, “Some day that arch is going to give you problems.”  Then with each pair of shoes I tried on, he would walk me over to this chest high machine, have me stick my feet into a slot and an x-ray of each foot would appear on a screen. I’d look down into the viewer and there  they were,  my pinkies with the edge of the shoes outlining them. I could watch the bones move around as I flexed and wiggled my toes. This was ‘state of the art’ technology to  show if your shoes were going to fit properly.

I’m thinking that the radiation may have caused the future downfall of my feet, not so much the arch.

I continued to feel I had great sexy feet right up until my first foot surgery. I showed them off by painting my toenails different colors of red, Candy apple and Iridescent orange, the color of merthiolate. (Blue, green and black weren’t available back then.) I flaunted them by wearing flip-flops all summer long whether hiking, camping and going to parties.

After turning 60 though, I began noticing the second and third toes on my right foot were separating, making the V sign. What was causing this? Surely it wasn’t from years of wearing flip-flops. Besides, the first and second toes straddle the thong-not the second and third.

Every so often a sharp stabbing pain would stop me dead in my tracks, usually when I was hiking on a rocky trail but even shopping in a grocery store. As the pain started occurring more often, I became obsessed with where I was placing my foot, hoping to avoid that painful jolt.

Eventually it became time to visit the pediatrist. After a couple of x-rays and his thumbs pushing against the ball of my foot, I was told I had a neuroma. A neuroma? What’s a neuroma?

Well, the bones had been irritating the nerve between my toes-which caused the nerve to develop a protective callus to surround it-which made the nerve fatter-which caused the bones to get squeezed together more when wearing shoes, which irritated the nerve even more-so then more callus formed, and eventually the bulky nerve created a sharp pain when the foot was in an awkward angle. Looking back it couldn’t have been the white bucks we wore- the shoes Mother approved of. But maybe it was the Capezios, those black and red flats I squeezed my feet into during my four years of high school.

So after a few shots of cortisone that only worked for a short time, I went under the knife. Some tissue was cut out and thrown away and a padded insert was to be placed inside my shoes.

I no longer got that shooting pain but a new defect was emerging, once more spoiling the appearance of my fabulous feet: the third toe started crawling over the fourth toe. I have to say it looked pretty weird. I tried taping the second and third toe together so they would lie flat on the same plane. I knew no one would notice because I was using this clear tape, brand new in the band aid section-a real improvement over that old sticky white adhesive kind.

Shortly after coming up with this invisible solution, I was meeting a friend for coffee, sporting my new Reef flip flops straight from Santa Cruz. Before she even said hello, she peered down at my feet and asked, “How come your toes are taped together?”

I just had to accept that taping looked weird, too.

Saving My Parts: Part 1

Oh the Shark BitesTHE TEETH

It’s a good thing I’m retired because trying to save my parts is becoming a full time job. There’s the teeth. More dentist appointments, cleaning and x-rays. Brushing and flossing-using a tiny brush to get under the three bridges I’m sporting. I keep floss in the glove compartment so at a stoplight I can make use of the time, otherwise wasted.  When the light turns green I just let it hang there till the next red light where I can finish the job. Because my windows are slightly tinted I feel sure no one could possibly notice.

Remembering my old Uncle Ollie’s teeth frightens me into taking better care of the ones I have left. I certainly don’t want to end up with horse teeth like his. They were long with receding gums and  each one was stained a dirty yellow. His mouth was always open as he breathed noticeably in and out. A repugnant, sweet odor filled the air around him, making me keep my distance.


Several years ago it became the rage to peroxide your teeth. Your dentist could do it for a handsome sum of $250. It was even encouraged. My friend Kit, who’s my age, said her dentist was after her to get her teeth whitened. It would make her “look younger.”  After several persistent discussions on his part, she finally said, “If I get white, sparkling teeth so I can look much younger, what can you do about all these wrinkles?”

Then at my salon I started hearing the hair stylists and their assistants stressing over how white or not so white their teeth were. They’d go over to a huge mirror and make a big sneer, inspecting each tooth for signs of yellow. I thought this was insane.

Late that summer several of us were car camping at a trailhead in the Colorado Rockies. The next morning we were standing around the Coleman stove sipping French roast coffee and discussing the ensuing hike. I suddenly became aware that we all had those stained, yellow teeth. Since I had known everybody for at least 30 years, I guess the yellowing had been coming on gradually. I just hadn’t noticed.

As soon as I got back to civilization I went straight to Walgreens, bought those strips, folded them over my teeth, clenched my jaw and drifted off to sleep. I did this for 14 days, the uppers first, to see if it really worked- and it did- and then another two week regimen for the lowers.

I now have pearly white teeth with plenty of wrinkles.

Ridicule Drove Me to the Razor


Six years after I had given up shaving my legs and pitching the razor, I started dating Alan. He had a wispy disorderly beard and a sparse ponytail. Being a graduate of Columbia in business administration and an executive in New York City, he had been used to wearing Brooks Brothers Suits, conservative ties and wing tipped shoes. By moving up the corporate ladder he missed the whole 60’s hippy culture. Being a Mensa scholar doesn’t guarantee one is up on the latest.

At the same time I had been living in Berkeley, a few blocks from Peoples’ Park, experiencing the student protests, the Oakland cops and the National Guard cordoning off streets making it impossible to get home from work.

In the early 1970’s he dropped out, moved to New Mexico and tried out a less prosperous life style. In ’74  I moved to New Mexico to get away from the Bay Area fog and the mobs clogging the freeways in route to the Sierras every weekend.

We originally met at Sierra Club traveling in a van to Lake Powell where the Park Service was holding a hearing on land use issues. His scraggly beard and ponytail and my hairy legs and armpits caused an attraction that lasted for some time. When he was over being a late blooming hippy and needing a few more toys, he shaved off the beard, got a haircut and found a respectable job running YCC camps.

It was then I started giving some thought to those hairy legs of mine. One day in July-it was 99 degrees- I was browsing in a fabric store looking at material for a new blouse that would match the shorts I was wearing. A little girl walking past me, looked down and pointed to my legs and said in a rather loud voice, “Mommy, Mommy. Look at her hairy legs!” That did it. It was time. I bought a Gillette razor, went home and started shaving. After completing leg number one, I somehow wasn’t ready, phychologically, to complete the task. Purging my calves of that soft, sensual feeling was hard to give up. So I went a couple more weeks before I denuded the left leg.

Now days at 66 I don’t care so much about shaving my legs. Bending over in the shower for that amount of time or swinging my leg up into the bathroom sink makes my back cranky. And afterwards the skin feels uncomfortable, though a good amount of lotion can help. I feel I can go a few more days without shaving-maybe a week or so-before it’s too noticeable.

Besides, who’s looking anyway.

Hairy Legs: To Shave or Not to Shave…

DSCN8227In 1970 I went on a commercial raft trip down the Grand Canyon. There were more than 30 women on this trip and very few men, mostly river guides. Didn’t look like I was going to meet the man of my dreams this time. It was a ten day trip in July- broiling hot during the day. Because the canyon walls soaked up the sun all day, they radiated heat all night. Sleeping out in the open, a sheet, stitched together, is all one needed, basically to keep the mice and scorpions from walking across your bare skin at night.

This was the first year the Park Service required outfitters to have a toilet system. Years before that, people had been going  behind every rock and bush-right up to the canyon wall. No campsite was exempt.The TP and haufens  were still there, petrifying in the desert sun. An unquestionable scent still remained, wafting here and there, especially at night.

After several days on the river, I would see these women get up at the crack of dawn, heading down to the river- toiletries in hand. I thought they were bathing in the cover of darkness. But no. They were busy shaving their legs, perching on rocks as they dangled their feet into the water.

This was just after the ‘60’s, right? so I, who had burned my bra a few years back, thought, “How silly. They could be hiking up the river or sitting on a rock, feeling a cool breeze blow against their face, or watching the sun working its way down a canyon wall.” That time of day beautiful pinks and oranges appear and reflect in the mirrored surface of the river.

This got me thinking, what a waste of time shaving my legs was. I threw my razor in the trash and for seven years I just had hairy legs. And they were quite hairy. I loved the way it felt when a breeze blew against them. It’s such a soft sensual feeling. Men have been experiencing this and we didn’t know it. However, I wasn’t completely comfortable about their appearance. The only skirt I wore in all those years came down to my ankles.

I did, though, save a lot of money on panty hose.

At that time I was teaching First Grade. Dress standards were beginning to change.  It had just become ok for teachers to wear pants instead of skirts and dresses. Jeans were out but pant suits were acceptable. I rushed out and bought a new wardrobe of ugly two piece, polyester pantsuits, a pale yellow and a washed out blue.

Well, I know six year olds. Wearing my old dresses exposing razor free legs would get them started saying things about my hairy legs. They were already commenting about a few hairs on my upper lip, informing me, “Teacher. You have a mustache.” This alone got me to start a painful regimen of electrolysis.

I got out the Yellow Pages and looked under Hair Removal. There on San Mateo Blvd. near my school was Electrolysis By Sophia, convenient for an appointment after work. I went in looking forward to an unnoticeable mustache, not realizing how much this was going to hurt.

As I lay on my back she swung a powerful magnifying glass over my face. A bright light focused on my upper lip.  I was to hold against my chest a matchbox sized metal devise, covered with a wet rag and attached to a long wire. This was to ground me or zap me while she inserted a needle into each pore, frying each hair follicle. Wow. Did that sting. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes as tight as I could, waiting for my 15 minutes to be up. My face was then swabbed with some astringent, which stung even more.

When I got into the car I pulled down the vanity mirror to see my new look. What I saw was little red pinpricks, some of which were bleeding. By the next day it looked like a case of the pimples. Now what were the kids going to say?

To continue with another child’s honest words, one morning during show-and-tell, Debbie, a shy first grader, got up and told us excitedly that last night she stayed  at the Blue Sky Motel and her parents were going up to a cabin in the mountains and they were going to get rich and they were going to pick her up after school and they were moving to San Diego.

Turns out the police found the missing, kidnaped Doctor. She was tied up in a cabin in the  Manzano Mountains. and a week or so later a couple from Albuquerque were arrested in San Diego.

I wasn’t going to expose my legs to that kind of truthfulness.

My Aging Thighs Deceiving Me, Part II

A real thigh shocker came after I decided it was time for me to start stretching every day so I could remain young and flexible.

For my birthday a friend gave me a book on yoga postures. What caught my attention was the Salutation to the Sun, a sequence of stretches I could do first thing in the morning and feel I got most of the muscle groups. I started this routine in late fall and continued into the spring. Because it is fairly cold in my house I had been wearing my sweats. Then the warm weather hit in May. It was now “shorts time.”

Warning! If you’re over 30 and you’re doing “downward dog”, never, and I repeat, never look up at your thighs in that position. Your skin hangs down like a deflated balloon, exposing creases and wrinkles you had no idea were there. And then they all jiggle in a most shocking and unflattering way. This realization caused me to change the wardrobe in my exercise drawer. So now, when I go to Curves or do stretches even at home, I always wear black tights—the tighter the better.

Some aging you can make disappear from view.

Having this experience got me thinking: “What does my face look like when I’m looking down at someone?” you know, like CPR or something. I quickly got out a mirror, put it on the floor, got down on my knees and took a peek. Not a pretty sight. Horrifying might better describe it. Hmmm. Hopefully could I remember if I was ever in this situation to hold my head up and look straight ahead as much as possible? Just in case, perhaps I should always keep a paper bag handy.

Another event happened one day in my late forties. A spider vein showed up on my upper thigh. Again, “What the hell?”

Of course I was devastated. My great thighs, ruined for life.

The next dermatologist appointment I promptly asked what is it and what can I do about it? Well, a little vein breaks and it spreads out. If you press down on the area and move your thumb in the right direction, all the little weblets disappear—until you let up on the pressure and the blood comes roaring back in.

I thought about getting rid of it. I could spend a lot of money for a small surgery and be stuck at home, vein free. Or… I could wear shorts when hiking or canoeing. The sun could do its part to camouflage the disfigurement, and that fix would be free.

I chose the later.

Bite Me copy-1 copy     “Bite Me” photograph by Sondra Diepen