Your mom always told you not to bite your nails, but she never told you why. It's a little gross, you figured, putting your fingers into your mouth, but it's nowhere near as gross as sticking your finger in your ear or digging it into your nose. In fact, I can think of at least seven locations on or in the average human body that are more disgusting places to put your finger than your mouth.
Some people, my brother among them, bite their nails too aggressively, or bite them nervously, and end up with ingrown and malfeasant nubbins on the end of their fingers, but I never fell into this camp. I just trimmed my nails to the appropriate length with my teeth. So the cosmetics were not the problem.
I couldn't think of any problem with it, really. My mom had never told me what the problem with it was. I loved biting my nails. Today, I had an epiphany. Today I realized with nauseating profundity the reason why you shouldn't bite your nails. Are you ready for it?
Let me set the scene for you. I'm sitting at my desk, pretty content. I had just gotten my paycheck. I had just finished a festive Happy Holidays chocolate swirl peppermint candy cane, a gift from a co-worker. Unfortunately, that selfsame candy cane had gotten me in a chewy mood. And by that I mean neither that I felt like a plush dog toy nor that I was the wookie first mate of the Millenium Falcon. More like I felt like biting. Not biting like "biting it," falling down. And not like "sucks," or "blows," as in "Ben Gordon bites at defense." Like actually using my mandibles.
So I looked at my nails, found one whose protracting tip had overstayed its welcome, and started nibbling. OK, it sounds more gross now I'm writing it than it did at the time. It wasn't that bad. I started at the right edge, and slowly began working my way across. I trim my fingernails evenly, keeping one long strand intact. And I was just a little more than halfway through the middle finger of my right hand (with probably about 8 more seconds of standard-pace-biteage to go when I heard a noise behind me.
I turned, and oh hello, there's my boss, and with him an important associate visiting the office, ready for introductions. My finger is in my mouth. My boss's cheerful greeting is gurgling to a grinding halt in his. My choices are (1) to remove my finger as is, with a string of attached nail dangling wetly across my fingertip, (2) to make a desperate yank to remove the nail, risking a grievous tear of the cuticle which could yield blood, chaos and crying, or (3) continue the biting and finish the job.
I persevere, accelerating the pace and finish with a flourish. I am about to spit the fingernail out, but think better of it at the last minute, and whisk it off my lip back into my mouth like a frog with a fly. I stand, nod. You could have cut the awkwardness with a knife. In fact, I wish I had. I wish I had eviscerated that damned awkwardness.
The guy offers me his hand! It seems like a reflex, as he automatically responds to being introduced by extending the gesture. Immediately, he tenses. I can tell he realizes his mistake and regrets his decision. But he is polite, and resolute to accept the fate he has prepared for himself. The hand stays out. I think about wiping my finger on my pants, but instead opt for the "pretend everything is normal and forge ahead" approach. I shake his hand. My finger may or may not be a little damp. Actually, no, that's a lie. It's definitely damp.
It is some twenty minutes after the episode that the real, epic awkwardness of the whole affair sinks in to me. It makes me want to giggle and cry at the same time. But I can't do that at work. What can I do at work? That's right. Pick my teeth with staples.