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The Price of Elegance 

Wednesday, Feb 9 2000
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Martin Carrillo used to draw a cartoon character named Knute Knarley, usually called Mr. Knarley, on other people‘s doors. Mr. Knarley was a gleeful, disembodied, piratelike head, somewhere between a skull and a light bulb in shape, and Dick Dastardly (Penelope Pitstop) and Mask Man (Thank You, Mask Man) in countenance. Of his dozens of deeply disturbing facial features, most admired was Mr. Knarley’s earring: an identical Mr. Knarley in miniature, dangling from the host Knarley‘s earlobe. If you dared to look closely, you’d discover that Mr. Earring Knarley in turn hosted Mr. Subsequent Earring Knarley. And so on, ad microscopium.

The towering Carrillo was a high school football star who‘d come to UCLA to play football; instead he became a dedicated Mr. Knarley artist after receiving a shotgun shell to the lower back (and matching wheelchair) over summer vacation. From his four-wheeled portable art studio, Carrillo’s Mr. Knarleys quickly replicated and overpopulated the Dungeon, the semi-underground dormitory basement of Dykstra Hall.

Almost 20 years later, I have yet to see even one person with a replica of his own head attached to or dangling from any part of his body. But I have seen something similar, and similarly bizarre: caricatures of fingernails glued -- get this -- onto actual fingernails.

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On January 28, the Los Angeles Times, a prominent local advertising agency, published an article about two popular artificial-fingernail-making goops: methyl methacrylate (MMA) and ethyl methacrylate (EMA). While both goops stink to fuggin hell, only MMA‘s Materials Data Safety Sheet mentions such side effects as abnormal liver or kidney function, nervous-system damage and reproductive problems. Having smelled this shit, I was not surprised by such warnings. What did surprise me was the first phrase of the article’s first sentence: “Last year U.S. women spent more than $4 billion on artificial fingernails . . .”

Four billion dollars. Four hundred million per nail. In one year. (The article didn‘t mention how many billions of dollars were spent by U.S. men, or, for that matter, how the unreferenced study had determined the spenders’ genders.)

Setting the article aside, I felt fortunate. Not just for having the freedom to set aside such an article, but for having been born with my nails already done, with no need to pay twice the annual GNP of Eritrea to finish them. I recalled driving past a store called Elegant Nails and assuming it was a high-end hardware store -- silver brads, platinum screws, that kind of thing -- something for hifalutin do-it-yourselfers whose toddlers wear Gucci colognes, and porcelain veneers on their baby teeth. Then one day I was going for a walk and realized what the place was: a fingernail salon. Elegant fingernails.

What a fool I‘d been.

And now it was so obvious: a salon wherein one gets one’s fingernails . . . improved? Which certainly explained the disembodied 6-foot cartoon hand -- with two-foot blood-red fingernails -- on the storefront window. Elegant fingernails. Boosted by the pride that comes only from such discoveries, I poked my head in the door and took a deep, deep breath. Of perhaps the most toxic scent ever.

#“Inhalation of Tetraboxium oxide may cause internal bleeding. If possible, remove victim to fresh air and administer last rites until the victim either dies or signs a legal waiver freeing you from liability.” Interactive Learning Paradigms, Incorporated, invites you to Create Your Own Unsafe Material Data Sheet (www.ilpi.comfunmsdsindex.html). Simply fill in the form and select various pop-up parameters to generate a detailed report suitable for posting in the workplace. When you‘re done, try your hand at the Toxic Trivia quiz (www.ilpi.comfuntoxicindex.html), a collection of agreeably illustrated, multiple-choice toxic questions, puzzles and games.

#Long Painted Fingernails and Money (www.nccg.org213Art-Customs.html), a section of the New Covenant Church of God’s Sermon 213: “The World‘s Customs and Practices in the Light of True Revelation,” is divided into section A, “The Origin of Long and Painted Fingernails,” and section B, “The Origin of Money.” Excerpts: “We are all equal in Christ and we should neither be idle nor vain. Long fingernails are therefore incompatible with Christian standards of morality and modesty and the saints are counseled to keep their fingernails short.” “Money was first introduced in the world by Nimrod, one of the world’s most evil anti-christs.”

Beautiful Photo Fingernails (www.nashville.net~memoryfingernail.html) sez, “Wow!!! Now you can show off any photo on any fingernail you like! Just send us your picture, and we will send you a sheet of decals in a variety of sizes to fit any size nail.” (Or fingernail.)

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