Monday, February 22, 2010

Skin Deep: The Facial Part II


When we last left off, our heroine was stalled at the grim intersection of facial and paralegal services. 

***

The outer office lady directed me to sit down in the big dentist chair in the vividly illuminated office. The chair did not swivel,  it did not recline.  She handed me a hair band. It wasn't torn from a package or lifted with tongs from a steaming vat, and that made me a little uneasy;  my dread of acquiring head lice, a condition our messy house and cold-water-only washing machine are ill-equipped to handle, is reaching phobic proportions.

The receptionist cum aesthetician turned from a row of apothecary jars and came toward me with cotton balls soaked in vinegar. She rubbed their astringent dampness on my cheeks until I puckered.  Then she loaded up with cream a fist full of tongue depressors, applying it adroitly to my nervous mug with the grace of Edward Scissorhands, clicking away at my epidermis with wooden digits.
Maybe I could have, in more compassionate new-age lighting, accepted comfortably her rapid and well-meaning chopsticking of my neck and chin, but in full-spectrum inquisition lighting, it was difficult. I felt like my skin had been sent to the principal and she had some strange ideas about correction.

Still, my skin is a neglected organ. I might as well admit this now; I don't wash my face.  At least not the way the marketing department at Estee Lauder might like me too.  In the shower I might blast my grimaced expression under the stream for a few minutes, or even use my leftover shampoo hands to give it a quick hidee-hoo, but I do not own a proper cleanser, nor do I follow up with toner.  What I do do is moisturize.  I'm crazy in love with moisturizing.  First on my list of things I'd take to a deserted island is some kind of lotion.  I can't go a day without it.  Really even an hour.  I grease up like I'm going to swim the channel at every opportunity and if I don't,  I really get quite manic.  I am as dry as archival documents in the Library if Congress.  If I don't self-correct I will fly apart in a cloud of crumbled ash.  I have lotion in every location I visit regularly.  By the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, by my bedside, in the door pockets of the car, at the shop.  When I get out of the shower I apply baby oil to everything from the neck down until I resemble a sea bird rescued from the slick of the Exxon Valdez. This is what I do to take care of my skin and I know its not enough. Any cosseting of my hide is welcome. Even if its manifestation is clicking like a swarm of cicadas around my delicate eye-tissue.

There is ruckus in the outer office and I can hear that Sara has returned. She's blowing hard from the hurrying. There's a man's voice out there too, and she is barking out orders in a way that gets the two of them, cotton balls and man-voice, moving.  Sara appears, her mouth announcing itself from the doorway with an orange lipstick so insistent I want to change lanes.  Sara, incidentally, is huge. Really, excruciatingly fat. 

Sara's husband is wearing a zippered fleece garment, the back of which is covered with strands of hair that have come loose from his scalp and been drawn by the Polartec's static properties to land and cluster like migratory seals at the spring mating ground of his shoulders and collar.  He is dashing around filling basins and mixing tonics. He is marching to Sara's drummer.

Sara wheels up to me on her desk chair and begins inspecting my face at very close range.  I feel self-conscious about my breath at this range, but more so about the fact that in order to get this close to me, to close the distance between my skin and her eyeballs, she has to push her belly against me and lean in, folding my knees into her corpulance.

There is a particular area of fat on a woman that I believe the ladies magazines call, "Muffin Top".  Its the area between the pubis and belly-button. My sister's old boyfriend always called this pussy-belly, and thus, so have we, my sister and I.  Sara is pushing her pussy-belly against my legs so deeply that I am left with only two choices.  I can either jump up and run away like a terrified Woody Allen, or just sort of relax into it and accept its maternal comforts like the flabby wings of a beloved grandmother wrapped around me.  That's what I do.  I try to think of it as a replacement for the warmed blankets they give you at the Aveda salon. 

Sara is talking fast, fast. She's assessing my skin and asking me about my habits, my products, the way I feel in a wool sweater, if I still get my period, where I'm from.  Its all happening so quickly, and I'm shackled by her belly roll, so I answer the questions as completely and honestly as I can, omitting  nothing of my skin's neglect, or the many times I've moved, or my political affiliations. If she'd wanted names, I'd have given you all up. 

Meanwhile, she clucks and shakes her head over the dryness of my poor face.  Her hands reach for and dig into various tubs and viles and from them she applies layer upon layer of cream, lotions, gels, serums - all of them from a line she developed when she was a chemical engineer. That's right, my facialist attorney-at-law has an engineering degree from CASE.

The more I reveal to Sara and the more she aggressively cares for me, the more connected I feel to her, not only because my knees and the lower part of my thighs have been assimilated into her abdomen, but because  I see that we are sort of alike.  She's a door-knocking Democrat, transplanted into white Ohio from the Middle East. She's had about fifteen careers.  She lives in a development not seven minutes from me, and she thinks everyone in her neighborhood has the intellectual curiosity of a mollusk.  She detests organized religion, and cringed every time 'W' appeared on television.  Sara and I are making each other laugh. I tell her about how I joined a play-reading group when I first came to town and the director gave all the best parts to a child commercial actress whose talent had been recently validated by her appearance in a local ad for a chain of Raised and Glazed, and who, at twelve, was the most experienced thespian in the room.  My potential cast mates went silent when I auditioned with a monologue I'd written that included a line about blow-jobs and smoke rings being two of the "additional skills" on my resume...crickets...cough...
I told her how I had ridden my bike home from the group at astonishing speed,  tears flowing horizontally off my cheeks in the wind.

More layers of moisture are applied. She gives me some enjoyable dish about a now dead politicial figure she went to CASE with back in the day.  A black woman who disliked white women. There was shoving involved. My pores soaked it in.

Sara's husband is smiling as he does exactly what she tells him to do.  "Wring out the washcloth. Hand me the cucumber balm. Get out the vitamin C gel. " But his is not an obedient idiot smile, but one so full of love for this demanding, opinionated, rhino of a woman that I see how deeply he cares for her just by his mild expression. I get it. Sara's unapologetic self-confidence is infectious and has healing properties. As she scolds you, and you succumb to her vaguely grotesque being, you are absorbed by her, and you begin to soften.  Your pores take her in with the cream and you feel more flexible, more confident yourself, more full of love.  Its not easy to like her, but suddenly you feel sure you could love her too.

When she's done, its like I've had drinks with a good friend. I feel loopy and loose, rolfed and purged. And my skin! My skin shone like a rubber plant after a misting. I was as taut and plump as a school girl, every cell of my dermis having been penetrated by Sara's miracle potions, her good humor and intelligent wit.

My facial made me feel more connected to my community than I've felt in months.  And the age defying effects were noticeable.  Vildy, who wouldn't notice if I shaved my head, actually commented, "Wow, your skin really does look good."

I'm telling you, you all need to be bossed around by Sara for an hour.  Your skin will never look better.