The odd-fingered man

Some time ago, in one of my dreams, I encountered a man whose fingernails were on the bottoms of his fingers. It was an otherwise unremarkable dream, considering that I remember nothing else about it. The man with the fingernails on the bottoms of his fingers was, I believe, only a minor player in whatever activity I was engaged in when I met him.

I’ve written about many of my dreams, which have involved celebrities (Jim Belushi, Richard Nixon, Treat Williams), places (my late grandmother’s house, Burbank airport) and odd experiences (expecting to meet Diane Arbus, decades after her death, in an art gallery).

I don’t know whether my dreams are more or less unusual than most people’s, and I wonder if their bizarre content has more to do with my mind itself or simply my ability to recall what’s gone on in it after I wake up. I also wonder if the extensive battery of antidepressant and antipsychotic medication I consume every night nudges my dreams into peculiar places. I understand that dreams help us open ourselves to, and explore, feelings we can’t or won’t consciously. But what legitimate subconscious meaning could there be in moving an avocado tree from one side of Richard Nixon’s swimming pool to the other?

Whatever their deeper meaning, in any case, the fingernails on the bottom of the man’s fingers stuck with me. What must it be like to live that way?

For one thing, when you shake someone’s hand, the other person will feel the little smooth pads against the bottom of his own hand, causing him to think you must have lost skin from your fingertips in an acid-bath accident. He will be imagining what circumstances might have caused the acid-bath accident while you’re saying your how-do-you-do’s, and you’ll have to repeat it all after he regains his presence-of-mind.

And when you wave hello or goodbye, people will see your nails where they don’t expect to see them. You will look like toddlers do when they’ve been finger-painting and hold up their hands to show you the paint, especially if you wear polish on your fingernails. People will be startled by the fingernail placement so that they forget to wave back, and you will assume that many, many people you encounter are rude. “What kind of a person doesn’t wave back when you wave at them?” you’ll think. You will develop a sour outlook on humanity.

If you spend any time at all on a computer, the fingernails on the bottoms of your fingers will cause considerable awkwardness as you type. They will slip across the keys, making you aggravated at the constant need to go back and correct your errors. You will also make a lot of noise as you type, thereby annoying your office mates.

You may not be able to use a smartphone or computer with a track pad. On the other hand, you might be very good as a counter person in a fast food restaurant. Fast food counter people seem to revel in their ability to enter orders by clacking their fingernails loudly against the touch screens.

You won’t be able to scratch itches by simply flexing and extending your fingers. The placement of your fingernails will require you to move your entire arm, from at least the elbow if not the shoulder. You will look to passersby as if you are cradling a baby, but since you will have no baby you will make people uneasy about you, which in turn will contribute to your overall dark attitude about humanity. Over a lifetime this extra-exertion itch-scratching will mean the burning of quite a few more calories than if your fingernails were on the tops of your fingers, as most people’s are.

Now that I think of it, I really wish I knew more about the man in my dream whose fingernails were on the bottoms of his fingers.

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