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"Hands Have a Voice of Their Own"

(Continued from The Miami News page)

Once together and still, hands remain suggestive of character, rather than precise. An odd-shaped finger, a bitten nail, a callous, a scar, the rough texture of skin, the adornment with rings, the application of polish -- or the absence of these -- can indicate an occupation, habit, hobby, experience or perhaps a facet of personality. The hands of a variety of persons show that information gained from their condition is more telltale than definitive.
 
THE ADORNED HAND
 
Elisha Verdon and Wendy Beck have similar-looking hands; small, pale, with medium-length fingers that seem long and slender because they have long fingernails. Both women wear rings, apply dark red polish use some skin softener on their hands and say their hands as such enhance their femininity.
 
Verdon, 23, a strip-tease dancer and resident of south Miami Beach, says she spends $15 for a 3-ounce bottle of mink oil twice a year to keep her hands soft. She keeps her nails long and polished "more than anything else, because a man would rather see them that way." Her hands are important for "touching people, like my boyfriend. You can say things without words with your hands, show affection." In a way, she says, she views her identity through her boyfriend.
 
Beck, 26, a bookkeeper and resident of Coconut Grove, says her husband first made her aware of her nails. "He likes long, tapered fingernails." So, when her nails break, she has them "sculptured," a process in which a manicurist mixes a chemical and a powder and applies the paste to the real nails. The paste dries to a hard semi-clear substance that looks like a fingernail and is sanded down to an oval shape. It costs $35 to have 10 nails scupltured at the salon she frequents. 
 
"You don't want to walk around with four long nails and one stump," she says. "Long nails look more sophisticated. You have a more finished look when you have a color on them." She wears Revlon's "Blackberry." She says it is an "earth color" that goes with a lot of her clothes.
 
Verdon's polish is a dark metallic plum color, "almost like blood. Maybe I've got a vampire thing in me. I had a vampire act once."
 
Long nails. "They make your jewelry look better," Beck says. "They make people notice your jewelry. Notice my jewelry? I have to get some jewelry." Beck wears a ring on each hand, a wedding band set with diamonds on her left hand and a large diamond engagement ring on her right. What does this mean? "That my husband doesn't intend to buy me any more rings."
 
Verdon wears five ringts: The two on her left hand, a diamond chip and an opal in a rhinestone setting, were given to her by her 9-year-old son, Jason, who lives with his godparents on the west Coast. A light blue sapphire on her left index finger, she says, was left for her in the box office of the Gayety Burlesque Theatre where she was working. "I don't know who it's from. No note with it." The "Mexican fire opal" she wears on her left third finger is from a friend, "and the silver and the stone came from a mine he owns." On her left ring finger is a three-opal ring from a friend of hers in her home state of Hawaii. "It was given to him by his great aunt."
 
"Jewelry tells a lot about a person," Audrey Jones, 26, a hotel front-desk manager, says. If you looked at hands like hers, she says, you would think, "this person is single, happy, free and no problems." If you look at the ring she wears on her left hand, she says, you will see it is not an engagement ring. It is rose-shaped with a small diamond in the the center -- her class ring. She bought it when she was graduated from Miami Northwestern High School in 1970. "As I've grown older," she says, "I've noticed that I don't want the same thing June, John, Ricky has." The ring on her right hand is about 10 years old, a gift from her mother. "It has seven loops and a heart on it. It's 18-karat gold. It means I love you seven days of the week. It's very sentimental to me. I never take it off."
 
Jones is very close to her mother. It was her mother who used to say she was going to cover Audrey's nails and withhold her allowance if she contineud to bite her nails. "I used to bite them so bad the tips would swell. Finally my doctor said if I bit my nails, I would die. He frightened the heck out of me, so I stopped biting them." That was when she was 12. 
 
"Now when I look at them, I think I'm being bad because they need manicuring and polishing. They're in rough condition because I don't have time to take care of them properly and I cannot afford a manicure. All day I'm busy on the phone, opening up the cash register and working adding machines. My nails break constantly from that. If you have nail polish onyou have to stop and ifle your nails and I don't time to stop and dress up a nail. It looks very bad when polish is chipped, so I just don't wear it. Polish is a form of makeup, for when you're going out someplace."
 
THE NAKED HAND
 
Pianist Frank Natale's hands are bare. Although he is frequently in the public eye at the Deauville Hotel on Miami Beach, he wears no polish on his fingers, which he files about once a day. "When I play I like to have my fingers naked," he says. And if he were to play wearing clear polish, he says, the lacquer would chip. Uncomfortable. "I like 'em natural. Hands are such an essential part of a person's make-up I like to see them just the way they are, without jewelry. Sometimes jewelry accentuates a hand, but sometimes, if hands are characteristic, they don't need accentuating."
 
Vladimir Horowitz, he says, has characteristic hands: "slender fingers, muscle-y, bone-y." Many surgeons, he says, have characteristic hands. "A surgeon's hands are very similar to a musician's hands. They've got control of their hands. They're steady. Usually if your hands are in good shape, you're in good shape."
 
Natale, 46, frequently kneads his fingers as he speaks. "It keeps the circulation going." And two or three times a day he soaks them in first hot then cold water. "It limbers up my fingers." 
 
He would never dare do anything to jeopardize his hands, he says, such as changing a tire or using a meat slicer. He is careful with knives, he says, when he cooks. And he has a "kind of second sense."
 
"You can almost tell how a person is going to shake hands with you. Some people think they're cracking nuts." And he'll tell them, right off, "please, my hands." he says he is leary of "big, masculine tough types, guys who slap you on the back."
 
Karl Green, M.D., 38, is an orthopedic surgeon who happens to specialize in, among other parts of the body, hands. He is not so careful about his hown hands. He has a friend, another surgeon, who bought a radial saw for about $300, used it once, and sold it. But Green himself does things that mess up his hands. A few weeks ago, as he was skin diving, several spines from a sea urchin were imbedded in his hands. But this will not stop him from chasing octopuses with his camera under the sea because it's "peaceful there, quiet. They can't reach you by beeper, by phone, by page, by anything."
 
He has, however, gotten away from working on car engines, "not so much from fear of permanent damage" as from concern about going into the operating room with cuts, infections, or casts The bulk of his hand patients, he says, are injured while working on cars ("caught in the fanbelt"). Another common hand injury, he says, is from lawn mowers.
 
He says people don't get particularly upset over hand injuries. "They truly believe that everything can be fixed in that area of the body. And they figure they've got 10 fingers, so if something goes wrong with one or two, no big deal." But a cut could be a big deal. we have two main nerves in each hand; they branch out from the wrist and run down the inner side of each finger at just about the place where our joint creases end. Cut a nerve sometime and you might lose the feeling in as much as three and a half fingers. "A hand is totally worthless if it has no feeling," Green says.
 
 
 


The hands of a killer, a hand surgeon, a blind man,
a bookkeeper, a pianist speak...
 
There have been times in Hale Johnston's life when he could not feel the pain in his fingertips because the pain was so severe, constant, for days, weeks at a time. He got used to it, just as thousands of other fishermen have done, and do. They soak their hands most days in bleach and water, which takes some of the pain out. Despite this, shrimpers suffer the most, what with the shrimp slime eating at their fingers. "They would be raw, blood-shot-like," Johnston says. Johnston, an inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who asked that his real name not be used, stared at his hands. They have healed after having been in prison, but out twice on parole, since 1969. They have meant "everything" to him. He does not know how to read or write, was reared on a farm, was not allowed to go to school because his father needed him home. "Them ol' hands made me a lotta money." On a 30-day trip shrimping he made about $3,500. "In three or four hours I could make that much gambling," he says. "Raised up with moonshine and whiskey," he has shot dice and played poker since he was about 10. "If I didn't have no hands, I couldn't do nuthin."
 
They have indeed, meant evertything to him. They put himin jail. He called the law himself. She was blonde, about 115 pounds, 36 years old. Johnston was 45 back then. Theywere drinking on his boat, The Valley Gold...A man from another boat comes down and has a couple of drinks with them. Canadian Club. He leaves. She decides she's going down to visit the other guy's boat. Johnston's telling her she has no business on another man's boat, what with him having brought her to Florida from Texas with him. "A woman drinking is the meanest orneriest thing in the world." But she's going. And he's not going to let her. She come at him with a butcher knife. "I, really, I didn't intend to kill her. I was just going to choke her to make her believe to leave the knife." He has his knee on her arm, the one with the knife. He has his thumb and fingers pressed up against her throat, in the spots where you feel for swollen glands...and he "smashed."
 
"She just went limp, so I turned her loose. I seen she was dead, so I went and called the cops...I'm not sorry, not really. She was on pills. I thought mabye I could straighten her out. She's better off now."
 
Johnston has large hands, with long ginvers. They are 55 years old now. There are scars -- one, about an inch long, on his right index finger. "My Dad done it with a pocket knife. I still remember it whenever I look at it. I was about 9. Back in Oklahoma. Stabbed it. Because he couldn't hurt none of his equipment. He knocked the lights out of his truck, but he didn't hurt it none. Something'd go wrong, he'd get me. Whooo. Blue streaks all over. My sister, Anna, she'd get me in more trouble..."
 
Hands -- a main source of information for Tim Hendel, whose hands are soft, with the exception of a "bit more fleshiness" under the tips of his index fingers. "I take braille for granted," he says. He has always been blind. There is not much expression in his face when he speaks. But his hands move. He plays with his fingers during parts of a conversation. "I'm told by people that it makes me look nervous," Hendel, 33, says. "I've tried to cut down on it in order to not convey a wrong impression." His hands move quickly, get excited when he gets excited, animated. His hands appear to show what would otherwise be on his face.
 
Hands express.
 
Hands may reveal truth when an individual's words and eyes and outward appearance cannot or will not. They communicate conviction -- "I am somebody," or "I am somebody because somebody loves me." "I am nobody," or "I dont' want to be known."
 
They reflect involvement, detachment, resignation, defiance. They reveal age, race, sex and caste when we would rather they did not. In harmony with, or in contrast to, thier owners, hands can disclose, deny or try to disguise what is truth -- intentionally, but more often subconsciously, perhaps because we've just never noticed how eloquently our hands can and do speak for themselves. 


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