“Is there a reason for your wearing only one sock?”
The source of this question was a plump bespectacled old lady sitting next to the checkout line terminus of the Methodist church thrift store in perpetually thirsty Lander, Wyoming. I smiled and then located the subject of her inquisition: my feet. My left was hidden in a thin wool sock, of thigh-high potential, pulled up, or rather, rolled down, to my calf. It had red and yellow horizontal stripes. My right foot was naked, showing my big toe in all its unapologetic, ugly grandeur to the unfortunate viewing public. Both feet were loving the gentle and breezy embrace of my Olukai flip-flops. I raised my head and looked through the probable widow’s horn-rimmed prescriptions. I said, “Yes, I’ve got a split in my toe that hurts like…” I paused. Though not technically in a place of worship, I was under the roof of an affiliate, and being one very much in the habit of not offending sensibilities that didn’t fucking need it real bad, I adjusted my metaphor from H-E-double-hockey-sticks to “the dickens.”
“So I moisturized and am protecting it in hopes it’ll heal, quick,” I continued and concluded.
A woman in line in front of me who had until then been engaged with the grandmotherly register-jockey in a discourse attempting to discern the proper chronological order of the late Lutheran minister and the late Lutheran minister’s wife’s death dates, ceased her painfully speculative speech. She turned and said to me, “Honey, they’re called cracks, not splits. Splits are when you drop something on ’em and they bust like grapes. I get cracks all the time.”
I thanked the gossip and took her place at the front of the line just as soon as she left it, trying all the while to ignore the fact that she was purchasing teal lingerie, second-hand teal lingerie. I slid my desired items—two cassette tapes: Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and The Who’s Who’s Next—across the counter. “That will be twenty cents, please.” The old hen wielded her manners like a seasoned socialite of post-Sunday-sermon shit-shooting sessions: deftly. I produced a five-dollar bill, apologizing for the absurdly heavy denominator I was hoping to pay with, but explained it was the smallest I had. She smiled and said, “Don’t worry son, just think of it as Christmas in August—my present.”
“Oh wow, thanks,” I said, and thought, as I left the born-again goods vendor, “I like geriatrics. They let you be you, and sometimes they even help, like kids do, but they also know enough to take naps when they start to feel cranky without being told.”
Then I thought, “Fuck, it’s hot as shit,” because I was back outside and even though it was Christmas in August, the weather wasn’t playing along.
 In eighth grade I was so fortunate as to enjoy a particularly persnickety osteochondroma. As I currently understand and recall, somewhere while attempting to absorb the bumps and bruises of life, I failed. I broke that right big toe like a twig, in half. Upon hitting puberty that big toe made painfully apparent that it was no longer willing to conform. A bone, one half of the twig, pushed my toe nail up and peaked out from under my skin. It exposed its nerve endings to the environment and enticed my parents, my doctor, and, by default, me, into having it resculpted as soon as the surgeon’s golf schedule could accommodate. Apparently, that schedule was so jam-packed that the surgeon thought it would be prudent to tackle the toe correction in three, yes three, separate anesthetic, scalpel swinging, afternoons. Lucky me.
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.