When I was a kid I collected toenails. I liked the big ones the best, the ones like warped dry planks of wood, so I let my toenails grow long—long enough to cut holes in my socks—before I chopped them off. Every two months or so I harvested my toenails. The best crops I cut from my big toes, of course, but my little toes yielded peculiar curled nails that added class and personality to my collection. I enjoyed watching the toenails on my little toes grow. I looked forward to harvesting those nails. The toenails from the middle three toes on either foot were ordinary, normal sized nails but they certainly added bulk to my rising mound of toenails. Oddly enough I reaped bigger and more interesting crops of toenails from my left foot than from my right foot, although the left foot was harder to get to because of the way my body is shaped.
Nobody in my family knew about my collection of toenails. I put the toenails in a 12-ounce Mason jar that I kept hidden in my closet. I daydreamed that scientists would someday discover a miracle drug to something gruesome like cancer or polio. It’s prime ingredient would be toenails. Toenails. Toenails. Toenails. I’d have a head start. By then I’d have a big jar full of toenails. I’d sell my toenails and make a lot of money. It would be a strange accomplishment, but still my mom would be proud of me.
After two years I had collected about a half-inch of toenails in my jar. One day I was talking to my friend Marty. He lived down the street in a house that was dark and sad inside. He had a small bedroom in the back that he shared with his little brother. Marty had a secret he wanted to show me. We were alone in the house. He unscrewed a panel in the wall. It was his secret hiding place. He reached in and pulled out a jar almost half full of toenails. Marty had been saving toenails for almost four years. I didn’t know what to say. I took the jar from his hand and looked at his toenails. Marty watched me. He was smiling with pride. These toenails were his secret, his accomplishment.
What do you think, he asked?
I laughed at him. What are you doing with these nasty toenails? Are you crazy?
I couldn’t stop laughing. Marty wanted to explain, but I wouldn’t let him. I knew already what he would say. I was ashamed for him and I was ashamed for me. Big tears welled up in his eyes. I went home and flushed my collection of toenails down the toilet. Marty and I never spoke about the toenails again.