The look Jimmy gave me was both resigned and calculating. “Almost closed…but if you just need a fill, wait ten minutes, OK.” And I meekly took a seat, knowing I’d delay him by a half hour. But this was the only time I had this week, traffic had been awful and my nails were worse.

Obviously, there was a big apology tip in Jimmy’s future.

Fake fingernails are kinda like heroin: Once you’ve got them, you’ve got ’em for life. Get sloppy on maintenance, and it’ll look like brightly colored beetles are chewing off your fingertips. Or, if you pry the fakes off your real nails, like the beetles finished off the good parts and went looking for dessert.

I wore fake fingernails for years, until I started blowing glass in earnest. It takes about two good gathers out of the daytank to make fake fingernails curl up backwards from the heat, like jellyrolls. So I stopped wearing them…until about two months ago.

But awhile back I had this job interview (and got the job, BTW, I love it)… It occurred to me that a little cosmetic intervention wouldn’t hurt. I shook the dust off my makeup bag, gooped cosmetics all over my face, then thought “I need fingernails!”

So I got fakes, er, “gels,” which are fake plastic nails topped by acrylic resins. The process is kind of obnoxious: The manicurist roughs up your natural nail with silicon carbide sandpaper, coats it with this antifungus stuff, and superglues little plastic “tips” on the ends. Then he mixes up epoxy with resin filler and packs it into the whole nail. He grinds and polishes the resulting mess into smooth and (hopefully) natural-looking nails that won’t chip, peel or crack.

Your nails keep growing, of course, and push the fakes farther and farther out on your fingertips. Every couple of weeks or so your fingertips look beetle-chewed again, so you head back to the nail salon for a “fill,” i.e., to cover the new growth in the back with more resin.

Think of it as a guaranteed annuity for nail salons.

Anyway, good nailmakers are hard to find. After a couple of chi-chi Pearl District salons failed miserably (my nails are thin and practically flap in the breeze, which seems to give the expensive places trouble), I stopped in at the little Vietnamese place about a half mile from my house. It’s not that much to look at, but they do great nails, cheap.

Jimmy owns the place. It has good vibes, with the chatty kind of salon atmosphere you find in small towns and heartwarming movies but almost never for real.

And Jimmy’s the chattiest of all. In the first 15 minutes you’ll learn all about his marital status “No children, no wife. Divorce two year ago. Free. Free. Free. But sad and lonely sometimes.”

And the economy. “No job, no mani-pedi. No jobs in Oregon, no good nails in Portland. Jobs for other people, better than welfare for me.”

“You get the pink-and-white solar nails this time? Eh?” and he waggles his eyebrows at me. “Better for busy ladies who wait too long for fill.”

I glance at my nails (which look like red beetles are about to fall off my fingers) in embarrassment. A “pink and white” keeps the nails the same color as my real nails, so when they start growing out it isn’t so obvious. But I stick to my guns. “Nope, just a regular fill.” He shakes his head and picks up the Dremel to begin grinding.

I gotta admit, it takes a certain amount of fortitude to allow someone to coldwork my fingers. When you skitter a grinding head across a glass sculpture all you do is screw up the glass. When you do that to your fingernails, it hurts.

Jimmy’s girlfriend, it turns out, is a girlfriend no more, and he’s spending most of his precious free time (not much, Jimmy’s in his salon from 9-7, seven days a week) at the gym. “No time for girlfriend, she left. Focus. Fix my brother.”

“My brother, he was at Nordstrom, selling the clothes, but business very bad and they told him they don’t need him now. He has no good English and no job. No money.” He grimaces.

“I work seven days, no time off. He watches TV, lives with parents. This shop open every day and he is closed every day. Angry, sad. You know?”

I nod. “Maybe your brother could learn to do manicures?”

He snorts. “Him? No. Too old. 55 years old. Professional, not like me. No place for him.” He grabs my hand and examines the nails. “Length OK?” and keeps going.

“My parents too old for this, he needs too much money. They are 82, retired, don’t want to worry. I don’t know. Maybe I pay for him to go to college.”

He sighs, and carefully paints the first nail a bright, bright red.