vanity

You Have Beard Like Man

There is a nail salon down the street, exactly three miles from my house in a white colonial-style strip mall, intentionally designed to look like it’s not a strip mall.  There are upscale shops, for the most part everything upper-middles need to function smoothly:  grocery store, camera shop, book retailer, ice cream parlor, toy store, Pei Wei, and a nail salon.  Having a decent mani-pedi is an imperative in a charity gala-driven town like Saint Louis, where every weekend it seems one auction fundraiser or another is aiming to overshoot their previous year’s goal by that magical ten-percent.  And so, given the abundance of open-toed shoe events, we have nail salons on every corner.

These establishments are not truly salons, which implies a certain degree of sophistication, no, they are testaments to the sheer business prowess of the resident Asian community.  The one closest to my home is primarily Vietnamese.  Some speak perfect English and remember your and your children’s names and chit chat like old friends; and some go out of their way to pretend they do not see, hear, like or understand you.  My favorite is a young, charismatic girl who dreams of breaking out of the faux pampering factory and being a teacher.  I refer everyone to her, even though she nearly ruined a perfectly good open-toed shoe charity auction fundraiser night for me.  I forgive her.  Completely.

Three of us heading to the same event decided to mani-pedi together and were lined up in a row of vibrating thrones.  The husband of one of my friends surprised us with a carafe of cocktails, which we giddily gulped and then became loud and silly, and maybe a bit inappropriate.  It was then that our fate was sealed, judgements sufficiently impaired.  My nail friend leaned in close to me, and between clicks of her gum said, You have beard like man.  The look of horror on my face let her know that, no matter what, she had me.   She sat back and smiled.  I do not have beard like man!,  I protested, instinctively covering my chin with my newly softened hand.  Hmph, come with me, and off she marched to the room of slathering and follicle ripping.  My friends were protesting, they had beards like man, as well, apparently, which we knew was ridiculous, but our confidence was clouded by contraband martinis and like lambs we were led to the waxing slaughterhouse.

I had heard of stories where your skin and dignity are stripped in a regrettable expression of vanity, but until this moment I had not counted myself among the victims.  My favorite girl told me to relax and asked me questions about my daughters and their school, to make her seem less threatening, I presume, while she stirred the hot honey pot with an extra large popsicle stick.  In seconds she had slathered my cheeks, my jawline, my chin, my upper lip, or my beard, with burning goo and ripped it off so quickly my lips stretched out and slapped back together, jiggling cartoonishly.  My skin was in shock.  It tingled and buzzed, heat outlining the abused area, my heartbeat coursing through it.  Stunned, I emerged from wax room one to be met by my friends.  With similar expressions, and shiny red skin beards, we laughed because there was nothing else that could be done.

My husband found this mildly amusing, another melodramatic incident where I was forced to suffer publicly.  When he inspected the aftermath, tears rolling down my cheeks, he wondered aloud with incredulity, Why didn’t you just say, no??  I decided to not speak to him for a while.

This particular night was a hot one.  Our event was in an historic bowling alley upstairs in an old building, a small space with lots of overhead lighting, wooden everything, and no air conditioning.  It was still well above ninety degrees when my husband opened the door for me, my poor cheeks throbbing in the summer humidity and all I could do was pray the lighting was dim.  At the top of the stairs, the bright fluorescents bore down, like stepping into a tanning bed.  Vampiric desperation scurried me to the darker side of the bar where I sunk under my husband’s silhouette, rolling a cold beer bottle along  my roasted cheeks, which immediately began to itch.

A few passers-by stopped to say hello and it went something like this:  So nice to see you!  You, too!  How are you?  Great, I just had my Beard Like Man waxed and I’m in excruciating pain, how are you?  Over and over.  That I looked like an oily fifteen year old boy with raging hormones was certainly embarrassing, but feeling the need to explain my shocking appearance to acquaintances was flirting with the too-much-information boundary rule.  I violate that one a lot.

One of my fellow-denuded friends had the sense not to show, an option that never even crossed my mind.  But salvation arrived with the other, who dragged me from my protected perch under my husband’s shadow and into the ladies room.  What soon became apparent to me is that when you are not alone in suffering it becomes much more tolerable, heroic even, and the ability to laugh in the throws of calamity can assuage a whole lot of discomfort.  We stared into the images in front of us, red inflamed bumps dotting swaths of shiny pink rice paper, and we laughed.  As more entered the ladies room, we recounted our story, which grew more dramatic and harrowing with each retelling.  We had drinks brought to us and continued with our ladies room monologues for a long time, until an ally popped in to say our husbands had been looking for us.  We said good bye to our not-as-traumatic-as-they-were visages and headed into the sea of charity goers with newfound acceptance, having brought self deprecation to a new level.

The moral of this story is threefold.  One, when someone sells you something on a blatantly false premise, and your ego suffers greatly for it, do not expect sympathy from your husband.  Two, if you find yourself in a challenging position, find a good friend who will laugh with you.  And lastly, when someone with hot wax at their immediate disposal says You have beard like man, just say NO.

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Gray Is the New Black

I don’t want to have gray hair.  I feel young, for the most part, and I still make mistakes and laugh at fart jokes and want to dance all night.  I always thought that by the time my hair grayed I would feel gray too and I’d be wise and all-knowing and people would travel from all over the world to seek my advice on any range of issues, and that I would have grandchildren and a garden and drive a Cadillac and eat a lot of oatmeal and clip coupons and go for long walks holding hands with my husband while the sun was setting.  But, I don’t feel any of that and I don’t do any of those things.  And, instead of gray, I feel more like bright green with sparkles.

The dilemma is figuring out what parts of aging to embrace, and what parts are unjust and are to be challenged.  If I start dying my hair, will I then need liposuction, a personal trainer, a gluten-free diet, botox injections and a wardrobe overhaul?  Because that’s a lot.  If I dye my hair, will it be like painting one room, where before all the other rooms were perfectly fine, but now they look awful and you can hardly even stand being in your house?  Or, will it be like when you buy one new piece of furniture and suddenly realize how gross and outdated everything else you own is and you just want to go live in bungalow somewhere in the Caribbean? I don’t know if it will be like any of those scenarios, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it could be the pinnacle of a very slippery slope.

As a skier, I enjoy slippery slopes very much.  But here I feel like I’m poised on a precipice upon which I’ve never stood before, and I’m looking down and there is nothing below but cloud cover, it’s a temperature inversion, hiding every detail of the vertical. I could stay here, but I’m alone, alone and gray.  If I jump into this unknown, it could be a wild ride with hidden consequences and obstacles and I could end up looking like a total freak when I reach the bottom, marred by branches and ice crystals and lasers and needles.  And, I really hate to admit that I may be vain.  I’m okay with aging, but I don’t want to be unattractive, and I don’t want to look like I’m my friends’ mother when we have girls’ night out.  I can just see it: a handsome young waiter approaches our table, the six of us all dolled up and feeling fabulous, ordering wine and salads and laughing about something insensitive our husbands said right out of the Husbands 101 manual, and he says, Hello, ladies, I can tell it’s a special occasion, perhaps a birthday? He winks at me and pours a vanilla Ensure into a martini glass and sets it in front of me with a maraschino cherry on top…  

There is the option of going all out and embracing what is inevitable, that by the time I feel as old as I am I’ll probably be too old to get my ass to the salon to do anything at all with my hair, which I’m sure will be long and swirly and insane.  I could preemptively dye it all gray, or white, and come up with some story about waking up one morning and looking in the mirror and holy crap I turned white!  I could feign astonishment, and cultivate a New England snobbery accent, like a 1940’s actress, and call everyone dahling and start smoking.  I’d have to get silk pajamas and robes and a daybed and more furs, lots of furs, and walk around the house with a rocks glass filled with ice that clinks as I glide around avoiding my own trail of smoke telling everyone to shhhhhhh.  I would have to ignore my children, too, this woman doesn’t sit on the floor and pay Uno, she taps her fingernails on the new piano during the children’s three-hour daily lesson as a metronome.  And I’d have to stop cooking because silk is highly flammable and I’d be really skinny because I only eat ice and nicotine, and I’d burn up quickly if I caught fire, which means we would need a housekeeper who can cook.  And I’d need a driver for obvious reasons.  And some other things that I can’t put my finger on right now.

So, I guess my options are rather limited and both seem to require a lot of effort and financial commitment.  In the mean time, I’ll drag myself to the store on the other side of town to surreptitiously buy some brand of matchy-type color in the hair aisle and cover it up in my basket with a large bag of cotton balls that I don’t need.  And then I’ll go home and spend all morning reading directions and prepping and brushing and dying, telling myself that it’s not vanity I’m servicing here, it’s my inner artist who has been for years starved of a proper canvas.  And then I’ll rinse the darkness from my hair, careful not to let it linger on the white tiles, lest it stain and forever serve as a tattle-tell of my cosmetic deception, and then, voila!  I will have erased Father Time in one small way; but I look at my hands and my eyes and my boobs and I realize that the hair is where the deception stops.  He is winning this game of moisture and gravity; but I’m not competitive, I play for the fun of playing, and when it is no longer fun, alas, I will surrender and let him drape me in gray, because gray just may be the new black.