On Nail Polish and Pizza

After a bit of an unusual childhood/teenagerhood, I spent a lot of my senior year of high school and freshman year of college hacking away at a list of things I’d never had to learn that are rote to your average young adult.

I’d never used a microwave before, for instance. (For the record, really mean it about the metal. Also, generalizing from “well, the other containers I put in the microwave those other two times didn’t get hot!” is a terrible plan.) Or matches/lighters. If anyone has hints or tricks on that front for someone with either a mild phobia or silly fear, toss them thisaway. (The first time I attempted to light a candle, I set my thumb on fire. Turns out nail polish is flammable. Have sneakily avoided all kinds of fire since.)

The thing is, it was rarely just a single task that I wanted to know, like, how does one paint their nails? I didn’t actually want the specific information about getting the smelly stuff on your nails and only on the nail parts–though seriously, how does one do their right hand?!–I wanted the set of all the knowledge you get from trying it at age twelve and screwing up and being told you need to take it off because it’s too chipped. It’s knowing which colors are considered professional and which aren’t and whether or not it matters if your nails match your clothes (it seems impossible to do, but teen magazines kept assuring me it’s a thing). So it never was “how do you paint your nails?” that I was asking, it was “how do I get all of the knowledge you have from painting your nails without screwing up a simple step and looking foolish in the process?”

At this point, few normal things reduce me to stressful bafflement, or require me to google around. (Shoutout to WikiHow!) Few things, that is, until last Wednesday, when I realized I had no idea how one places an order for delivery. Or whether one can pay with a credit card. Or if one does it far in advance of when you needed the food. Or how much to tip. It’s all solved now, but geez, I have no idea how I’d be doing without people writing nice articles like How To Order A Pizza Over The Phone.

[Of course, the best laid plans and all that, and the pizza arrived an hour later than I’d scheduled it.]


  1. says

    If you’re going light candles with any frequency, get one of those long-nozzled lighters with a trigger. The things that fit in your hand were designed to be a cheap way to light cigarettes in any weather. They’re very good for that, lousy for much of anything else. Ditto for paper matches, minus “in any weather”. Fine for lighting a cigarette, where someone is drawing on the thing to get the air moving properly, lousy for a candle, where it has to warm the wax on the wick until it burns. A wooden match will light a candle or two, though anything other than a taper requires getting your fingers close enough that you could get burned.

    All that isn’t just you, by the way. Even people who know what they’re doing get burned by using technology for something other than what it was designed for.

  2. carlie says

    Great exaxmple. I somehow got a bug up my butt a few weeks ago to paint my nails. Now, I have not done this in approximately 18 years, and the total number of times in my life I’ve done so is probably less than a dozen.
    And yet, I somehow thought I could do this.

    I was wrong.

  3. besomyka says

    You know, I’ve had some of those same experiences but in a different context. My therapist said that transitioning can sometimes be like being a teenager again. Trying different styles of presentation, re-learning social queues, etc. I sometimes feel like I just delayed a lot of that, because when I was of the age in which other people were busy doing that, I was in a mental hole. I never *tried* anything. I never became myself, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, I think I grok it. I can totally relate to “I wanted the set of all the knowledge you get from trying it at age twelve and screwing up and being told you need to take it off because it’s too chipped.”

    • says

      I had similar thoughts on reading this – being trans can also mean having kind of an unusual youth and missing out on a lot of things we feel we should have been included in. Although for me, once I did start exploring whatever I wanted to explore, there wasn’t so much of a worry about not doing it precisely right or messing it up. Why? Because it seemed pretty clear that society already regarded simply being trans as basically the biggest screw-up imaginable. So who was gonna be disappointed? Nowhere to go but up!

  4. Anthony K says

    I second Stephanie’s suggestion for the long nozzled barbeque lighters. I light a lot of, er, things at home, and you’d be surprised at how handy they are.

    The problem with matches is sometimes one of quality. Years ago, when you could still smoke in restaurants here, I worked at (and started smoking at) a restaurant that would hand out cheap paper matchbooks emblazoned with the company logo. The problem is that these had a tendency to flare and pop when you struck them, which sometimes caused the head to explode and send flaming chunks that would fly every which way, but more often than not right back at your finger or thumb and embed themselves between the edge of the nail and the digit where they would quietly burn.

    So, yeah: it isn’t just you.

    Also, I’d like to make a suggestion for your list of things a young adult should know if you don’t mind: learn to change a tire if you don’t know already, and try to learn before circumstance forces you to. It’s not terribly hard, it’ll come in handy whether you’re a daily driver or occasional passenger, and it’s a lot more fun learning to do so when it’s on your schedule, rather than at 3 AM on the side of the road in the pounding rain while your folks/friends/loved ones are waiting for you at the bus depot. Best of all, you’ll feel so damn capable.

    • Ysanne says

      Yes to all of this.
      Also, there are different types of normal, palm sized lighters:
      There’s the cheapo generic type with an ignition wheel that you have to turn yourself, which can be a bit difficult to operate and quite uncomfortable since it gets hot when the flame is burning. One step up is the kind where the wheel has its own little lever thingy, doing the job that could hurt your thumb; that’s much nicer to use. You still want to be careful what angle you hold it at, since flames typically point straight up (except in wind), so if you’re trying to reach down into some narrow container to light something at the bottom, chances are you’ll burn yourself. Finally, there are the nice but expensive rope burner lighters, they’re basically like a tiny blowtorch, with no wheel to turn and a flame that you can point whichever way you need it.
      Personally, I prefer to light everything with my crème brûlée blowtorch. :-)

  5. lochaber says

    I didn’t really have access to a microwave until I went off to school. So of coarse I was sticking eggs, AOL CDs, bits of metal, soda, etc. in them.

    here’s some neat things to do with them:

    As to matches/lighters, I still have trouble with the paper ones. Sometimes it helps to fold the lid of the match book over the friction strip, and squeeze that with two fingers while you pull the match out with the other hand.

    I rarely use matches though. If you can get them easily, strike-anywhere matches can be rather amusing. :)

    For lighters, pull the little child-proof thing off if it has it. Or something like a zippo, or piezo electric ignition type can be easier, since you don’t have to coordinate two separate actions. Just don’t use zippos for say, smoking out of a pipe or something – they don’t burn as cleanly as butane.

  6. Cate B says

    I feel the same way about nail polish … and hair dryers…and makeup. I feel like all the other girls were pulled aside sometime in 9th grade for a special class on how to do Girl Things and I missed it somehow. So as a result, they have this huge body of accumulated knowledge and skills that to me will always be baffling and foreign. (And I often despair of ever catching up!)

    P.S. Re: nail polish on the non-dominant hand, my roommate says to put vaseline around the nail bed, and then you can just wipe it off (along with mis-applied polish) when done. Huh.

  7. Kierra says

    We always had a long-nozzled lighter and used egg-substitute instead of real eggs, so I had to ask my mom to teach me to light real matches and crack real eggs before I went off to college (never really got the hang of the match thing). Despite my mom trying to teach me the make-up, hair styling, nail-polish stuff, I was never really all that interested (thankfully I work in a field where no one gives a crap about most of that). So now I’m just worried that any girls (or non-stereotypical boys) that I have will end up deprived due to my lack of knowledge in those areas.

  8. Stella says

    I learned a lot of things as an adult, too. As with changing a tire, you’ll get better results if you avoid outside pressures and don’t have a time limit. Learning new stuff can be useful and satisfying, even if it’s something simple you’re sure everyone else knows.

    I am nearly blind, have limited use of my hands and have frequent tremors. I decided a little over a week ago to try to learn paint my nails again. I am now lacking only a final coat on my right (dominant) hand.

    I am lucky that most polish comes off my skin without using vaseline. Sometimes I need to soak in warm, soapy water for a few minutes first.

    I use a base coat first. It’s well worth the extra time and money. A base coat gives better final results and can make removal easier. It also protects from staining from dark colors.

    Use multiple, thin coats. I use a total of five coats – two base; three color.

    Let each coat dry completely before applying the following coat. I avoid fast-drying polishes; they just make a gloppy mess for me.

    Forgive yourself if you make a mess. Polish does come off of skin; not so much acrylic carpets or clothing.

    Good luck,


  9. lorn says

    Making a list of specific tasks you want to learn and researching each one individually is one way of learning. On the other hand you could become an all-purpose learner. Pretty much every task anyone might want to know, and many that you wouldn’t want to know about, have one thing in common, somebody already knows how to do it, and they want you to know how to do it.

    Lets take something simple like ordering pizza. The pizza place is paying someone to get their name and number out to people who might want pizza. So you start with a pizza place and a phone number. We assume you know how to talk and use a phone. So putting it all together you call the number where a helpful employee of the pizza shop answers.

    But you have never ordered a pizza before and the process is a mystery. No problem. Just tell them you don’t know how to order pizza. They will walk you through the process. And if, by chance, one company isn’t helpful try another. The pizza shop want to sell you a pizza, and they want you to call back and order more pizzas. They want the buying experience to be comfortable and productive. They have an active interest in teaching you and you getting a pizza.

    Likewise, pretty much every manufacturer and supplier wants you to find happiness and success with their product. Most provide extensive guides and directions on when and how to use their product. Read and follow those directions carefully. There are often further detailed directions and technical guides available on-line. Most provide this training and education free of charge. They do it because they want it all to work out for you. They want you to be a happy customer.

    Always read the directions and any warnings. There are really good odds that the bottle of nail polish, and or the package it came in, had a warning on it telling you the liquid is highly flammable and to keep the wet varnish away from open flames. Likewise every microwave I’ve ever seen came with a manual. A manual which tells you, among other things, not to run it with metal objects inside. Of course commonly seen microwaves are so much alike that once you know the basics you can pretty well work all of the similar types.

    This might come across as condescending but I’ve seen lots of injuries and thousands of dollars wasted simply because someone didn’t follow the written directions.

    I watched as $5000 of high tech paint was applied over a wet surface. I even went over at lunch and read the directions on the cans that said the surfaces needed to be clean and dry. I was working on an unrelated job but wasn’t surprised when the stuff was bubbled up and falling off in a couple of days. A week later they called in a sandblaster to take the paint job off and then paid to have more paint applied.

    I worked with a guy that got injured because he didn’t read the directions on some new machinery. He was confident he knew exactly what he was doing, right up until it all went south. I hear a crash, then a few seconds, and he comes around the corner holding his lacerated hand. Ten hours and twelve thousand dollars later he comes out of the ER, bone set, skin stitched back into place. The next day we sit down with all the operators and go over, in great detail, the instruction manual. Yes, it took a couple of hours. Cheap, if it avoids another injury.

    Read the directions on products you use. Just doing that alone you will be better informed than most people. Manufacturers want you to stay safe and get the most out of what they sell. Yes, most manuals are boring and inane and written by semi-literate dolts. But they usually have some important information to impart and often tips on how best to use the product.

  10. Jeff Engel says

    Especially if you cannot conveniently use a long lighter device for starting fires, it can be handy and safer to keep the match or cigarette lighter upright or only slightly tilted, and tilt the (e.g.) candle to get the wick into the flame. If you’re starting, say, a camp fire with matches or a short lighter, it’s better to have the tinder stacked up with open spaces in between logs and underneath, and some paper or twigs or other easily lit stuff underneath, then light a longish stick or rolled up length of paper, so you can keep your fingers, hands, nail polish etc. a good distance from the lit end and start the fire itself with the lit end of that stick.

    If you _do_ have a nice long lighter, you’re pretty much set short of sticking it straight down and lighting it up or tossing it in open flames.

  11. says

    I learned how to make Kraft Dinner in the microwave in university. Microwave cooking has a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t starve to death back then.

    Fifth-ing the barbecue lighter advice. Cigarette lighters are only good in a pinch, and even then, good luck NOT burning yourself when you tilt it to light a candle.

    (Kraft Mac&Cheese, yankees.)

Leave a Reply to Stella Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *