the polish de resistance

Or: my first taste of sticking it to the man by way of self-care.

I’ve mentioned the peculiar private school I attended from kindergarten through third — the one that wanted to be half CS Lewis’ Experiment House and half Welton House from Dead Poets’ Society, except a day school, with young children. We had uniforms, we called the principal ‘headmaster’ and had to stand up when he entered a classroom, we learned italicized writing with calligraphic fountain pens, we attended chapel every morning. Wednesdays were particularly tedious, though that is where I first tasted wine. I’m half convinced it was a timeskip back to the fifties. That’s the place that taught me about Big Brother, by way of its CCTV surveillance, before I read 1984.


When I was in the kindergarten class, a memo circulated: no nail polish. I’m not sure why. I want to say one of the girls in class wore some, but I don’t know — memories of things from that far back are really memories of us telling the story before, so at some point I may have added that as a reason and transmuted it to fact. Although I remember learning how to write the number three there, and that my muscle-memory, fresh with victory over the devious two, kept making twos at first.

Point is, there was A Memo, and my mother did not like this, not one bit. She has a low opinion of conformity, and we already had plenty of that, with the uniforms. (I recall I always had very brightly patterned shoes and backpacks. Hmm. Hair ties too. Hmmm.)

When she got that memo, she told me we were going to do something about it. She then painted my nails with clear polish, and told me not to tell anybody they were painted. The point being, you don’t tell my kid what to god damn do with her body. She didn’t say that part, but I got the gist.

I probably told some of my kid friends, shh, I’m wearing CLEAR. I doubt it lasted long, what with digging in the giant sandpit play yard they had. What I remember most about this was sitting in class, covertly looking at my shiny fingernails as I laid my hand on my desk. I remember the feeling of having secretly pulled one over on the powers that be, and them having no idea I’d done it. The delight of getting away with it. It was delicious.

I developed a taste for that. It’s served me well.

Lately, especially in light of Agent Orange stinking up President Obama’s office, my mother has been asking me if she did a good enough job teaching me not to let the man tell me what to do. If I was going to be good at looking for ways around it. I told her this story, which she’d completely forgotten. Now I’ve told you.

When there’s a trap set up for you
In every corner of this town
And so you learn the only way to go is underground
When there’s a trap set up for you
In every corner of your room
And so you learn the only way to go is through the roof

Gogol Bordello – Through the Roof ‘n’ Underground