MY WIFE, WHOSE FEET are like delicious little sandwiches, sits down cross-legged on the den floor to paint her toenails.
Now, I'm not even sure why human beings even have toenails. Toenails don't really protect the front of the foot or provide much traction in the sand. They break, they bleed. A toenail is more trouble than it's worth.
But when she sits down with her tiny jar of toenail paint, something in me just snaps. Maybe a tendon. Maybe a brain.
"Want me to do that?" I say.
"Huh?" says my wife.
"Paint your nails," I explain.
"Seriously?" she gasps, sending warm air across the room. In the corner, a house plant quivers.
From what I can tell, she always paints her toenails a fire-engine red, I think to attract off-duty firefighters. She doesn't know that I know this about her. She thinks I don't study her.
"So why red?" I ask casually.
"I'm a Cardinals fan," she insists.
"St. Louis?" I ask. "Or Arizona?"
"Yes," she says.
So I crawl down onto the hardwood floor, where she is about to paint her nails, and she recoils slightly, as if I'm about to romance her, which couldn't be further from the truth. I am here to do a job. That's it.
My wife is still sort of stunned by my interest in her toenails. She looks at me the way she did a couple of Christmases ago when I bought her some big, hoopy earrings, the kind they wear on MTV. (I thought they'd make her feel younger.)
And I never really had a foot fetish, specifically. To me, every part of a woman is worthy of a fetish: the lips, the hips, the elbows, the snout.
"This come in a latex?" I ask, studying the nail polish. It is blood-red and thick as cake batter.
"This is all I have," she says.
"I have some Sears Weatherbeater in the garage," I say.
"I just love this red stuff," she says.
Now, there are a lot of things in life I kind of regret:
* I regret inadvertently selling my first car to a suspected drug dealer. (It was the late '70s; everyone was a suspected drug dealer.)
* I regret not paying more attention in high school French (blame Debbie Sundry, the prettiest sophomore who ever sat right in front of me, blocking half the blackboard).
* And I regret skipping the entire 12th grade just to go water skiing.
But I do not for a moment regret painting my wife's toenails. Ten little showgirls. A chorus line of opportunity.
"Me help," says the 4-year-old.
"Not now," I say.
"Can we make pancakes?" the little guy asks.
"Not now," I say.
"Tuesday," I say.
Fortunately, I've done a lot of painting in the past. I've probably painted a dozen houses, inside and out. I am the Rembrandt of the three-bedroom ranch. Plus, I've seen "Bull Durham." If Kevin Costner can paint a toenail while half-stoned, so can I.
Nail No. 1: I start by doing the edges, the way you'd paint a utility room. Evidently, this is not how most women paint their nails. When the laughter finally subsides, I move on to Nail No. 2.
Nail No. 2: "I have never seen anyone paint nails like you," my wife giggles. "Me either, Daddy," says the little girl. "You're still up?" I ask. "Dad, it's 4 in the afternoon."
Nail No. 3: What I'm noticing is that the nails get progressively smaller. You warm up with that huge, honkin' big toe, then work your way down to the more difficult toes. The last three are virtually invisible -- little pinpricks of light, about a pixel in width. "You know who looks good for 50?" I ask my wife. "Janis looks good for 50." "Just keep painting, Butch," she says.
Nail No. 4: I pause to watch highlights of the Appalachian State-Michigan game, which is one of the more remarkable upsets ever. I ended last season with Boise State and begin this one with Appalachian State. Is college football great or what?
Nail No. 5: My wife is asleep now, which is good, because for the life of me, I cannot find her little toe. Think of the worst menu you ever read in the darkest Italian joint and that's me trying to find her little toe. I use a flashlight. I MapQuest it. Can't find it. After 10 minutes of looking, I come to the conclusion that her little toe has left the house and gone out for a drink.
"Guess I'm done," I say, finally putting the ridiculously little cap on the ridiculously little jar.
"Dad, she has another foot," the little girl points out.
The things you learn about a person.
Chris Erskine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.