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August 26, 2008


*with apologies to Steven Levitt, who probably never envisioned such nonsense …

**and to anyone who doesn't like looking at gross foot pictures. You might want to skip this post.

As soon as I took off my shoes following the Headlands 100, I knew that both of my big toenails were doomed.

They bothered me a bit during the race, but never to the extent that I felt the need to stop and deal with them on the course – so I made an ongoing decision to just power through those issues and deal with the aftermath, um … afterwards. Call it a rookie mistake. In the ensuing weeks, both of the nails started to wither, and they've had that “dead on the vine” look for many days now.

The right one was the first to fail, coming partially detached, and prompting me to finish the job after I came home from work earlier this week. In the midst of my pulling and wrenching, my 7-year-old daughter strolled into our bathroom, which led to the following exchange:

Daughter: What are you doing?

Me: I’m pulling off my dead toenail.

Daughter: Cool!

Me: I know – it’s totally cool. How many of your friends have ever seen the back side of a big toenail?

Daughter: Hey! I’ve got an idea: you should put the toenail under your pillow, and see if you get money for it, like when you lose a tooth.

Me: You know what? … That’s a fantastic idea. How about if I give you the toenail, so you can put it in your tooth blanket tonight? Let’s see if we get some money.

So that’s exactly what she did. And to our shock and delight, the next morning she found a dollar bill wrapped up in her blanket where my toenail had been. My lost toenail became my daughter’s financial gain – and after she explained as much to her 4-year-old sister, the younger sibling now wants to get in on the act once the other toenail falls off.

Luckily, before it disappeared into the fairy ether, I took a picture of my foot sans big toenail (don’t act like you didn’t expect this):

In regards to the photo, allow me to answer a few inevitable questions:

1) Yes, I shaved my toes for the photo. This should shock exactly nobody.

2) It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as you might think. The sensation is more of a mild downward pressure, like if somebody were lightly stepping on your big toe – that’s what it feels like all the time when I’m wearing shoes.

3) So far, it hasn’t prevented me from running or swimming, but my cycling shoes are a bit uncomfortable because of their narrow toes. But that shouldn’t be a problem, since I don’t have any triathlons coming up for … oh, wait. Bugger.

Those questions are the easy ones to answer; more challenging are the ones my two daughters are considering for the potential return of the Tooth and/or Toenail Fairy. This recent development has turned their comprehension of the whole fairy system completely inside out.

Accordingly, my 7-year-old is currently compiling a list of questions to tuck in with the next toenail, chief among them:

Dear Toenail Fairy –

Are you the same as the Tooth Fairy?

It seems like a simple enough question - however, for my daughter and me, it’s only a conversation starter, as these follow-up questions illustrate.

If so: how did that occur? Is it part of your regular job description, or did you improvise when you saw the tooth pocket filled up? Is collecting toenails like cross-training, or simply a moonlighting gig to earn a few extra body parts on the side? Which are more valuable: teeth because they’re cooler looking and last longer, or toenails because they are so rare (albeit somewhat disgusting)? And should we call you by a different name?

If not: that means there are separate Tooth Fairies and Toenail Fairies, right? Who decides what kind of fairy you’ll be? Is there a regular rotation, or are there tryouts and a selection process? Is it more prestigious to be one type of fairy instead of another, or is it a classless society like Fairy socialism? If there’s a hierarchy of positions, does more extensive education and/or training improve your place in the pecking order? Do you have to pay your dues as a Toenail Fairy (assuming those are the lower rungs) and climb the corporate fairy ladder before being promoted to a Tooth Fairy? Is there some kind of Fairy CEO in charge of the whole conglomerate, or is the system completely deregulated? And why don’t you pay as much as the Tooth Fairy?

OK … so I took a bit of literary license with the wording of some of those queries – but trust me, these are the discussions my daughters and I are having lately. To them, it's some sort of fairy riddle, hidden in a fairy puzzle, wrapped in a fairy enigma.

I haven’t the foggiest idea what any of the correct responses are, but I know one thing for certain: time is running out on my other big toenail. And when it finally succumbs to its own mortality, it will be tucked inside a blanket pocket alongside a note demanding some answers.

The clock is ticking.


Anne 8/27/08, 5:16 AM  

Can the Toe Fairy be a close cousin to Tooth? What if they go to school bragging about all the bling they've bought with Dad's toenails -- will this start a new trend in Carmel Valley? Will it eventually get the attention of Extra! or Inside Edition and spread across the nation? Will nail salons start offering special packages for French manicured big toenail extractions? What kind of monster have you unleashed, Donald?!?!

Makita 8/27/08, 5:54 AM  

OMG! This post is awesome! With a daughter myself - who is passionate about fairies (so much so, besides a few stuffed animals, fairies are the only 'toys' she plays with!) - this cracks me up! My DD actually lost her own toenail earlier this summer when it got caught under a door at the Fitness Center. She was really worried about it until I told her I had lost my big toenails (and a few others) a few times. I wish I had thought of the 'toenail fairy'!

stronger 8/27/08, 7:48 AM  

Your toenail fairy paid way more than my tooth fairy ever paid!

Deene 8/27/08, 8:26 AM  

the Fairy Godmother is the CEO of course! we occaisionally get a visit from the dish fairy to clean up the kitchen.

Backofpack 8/27/08, 8:42 AM  

Sounds exactly like the conversation would have gone at our house when my boys were younger. Those notes they leave...that's pressure! The right answers, the altered handwriting, ohhhh... you'll have to post the answers for all of us to see. Plus, think how rich I could be if I'd just put my nasty nails under the pillow...of course, they haven't had a chance to grow back properly before being re-injured, so I guess it's a moot point.

21stCenturyMom 8/27/08, 9:19 AM  

Contrary to what Stronger said, given the size differential between tooth and toenail I think the toenail fairy was a tad cheap. This would suggest that toenail fairy is a lesser position than tooth fairy. I hope that goes at least a little way toward clearing up your fairy questions.

Good luck at Big Kahuna. I almost signed up for that but decided on the rival race (Folsom International) instead.

Fe-lady 8/27/08, 11:53 AM  

Had I only known there WAS a toenail fairy, I could have paid cash for my daughter's college tuition instead of getting out a student loan!

(P.S.- some of them grow back kinda weird and bumpy, but that may only be on my feet!)

craig 8/27/08, 2:13 PM  

The great thing about this post is that it's clear you have passed on your curiousity and thoughtful approach to life to your children.

Teaching them to be curious is one of the greatests gifts we can give them. It's important that children learn not just to accept matters as they come but that they learn to understand the reasons behind them and see how they connect with the rest of life.

The toe nail I lost didn't come off in one piece. I lost it in chunks over several days. Or maybe I just didn't do enough wretching.

Journey to a Centum 8/27/08, 3:19 PM  

The problem here it seems it that you run to fast! You apparently broke the "speed of toenail". Having foolishly done so you should not be surprised to have lost a couple of nails.

How fast is the speed of toenail? The answer varies by individual. It's certainly not anywhere close to the speed of sound or the speed of light. In fact it has such a wide range that it is seldom mentioned in physics books.

To avoid lost toenails just drop your pace when your body starts to shudder as you approach the "toenail barrier".

I'm working on a patent for the design of a running shoe called "X19". They are still undergoing some wind tunnel testing. Perhaps I can eliminate lost nails forever!

Anonymous,  8/27/08, 5:45 PM  

You shave your feet? Ah man! Why didn't you tell us that before we started running with you?

angie's pink fuzzy 8/27/08, 8:38 PM  


that is hysterically awesome that you guys are having those conversations.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 8/27/08, 11:09 PM  

Your daughter is brilliant, and if other kids have come up with this idea, you are probably the first to blog it. In light of this, only a buck? Come on, she deserves more than that!

momo 8/28/08, 7:34 PM  

ah, see, we are even more alike now - toe pictures. :-)

Rainmaker 8/28/08, 9:52 PM  

Wow dude...just wow. Imagine if during our run together you had broke into deep thought about fairynomics?

I think I might have just kept on running and checked you right into the hospitol a short ways down the road.

Hilarious post though!

Downhillnut 9/16/08, 5:57 AM  

Sounds like your kids are ready for the Artemis Fowl series of books (never kidnap a fairy - they don't like it). I don't think there's anything in there about a toenail fairy, but there's a very credible explanation of how Santa can deliver all those presents in one night without anyone seeing him.

I keep telling my kids that there's a laundry fairy, and if they leave out enough money for her she'll bring them fresh clean clothes. It's not working...

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