I hate to shop, but we had time to kill before dinner, and they loved it, and were good at it. What I mean is, my two friends arrived everywhere, whatever the occasion, dressed like they had orchestrated their entire ensemble long before cracking apart their eyelids, while languishing supine in their beds, their limbs germinated, beginning to stretch one after the other, freeing themselves from the covers and reaching towards the start of each new day. Their outfits would be perfect, both faces coloured with skill and precision, and hair fixed yet tussled, like all they did was casually run their hands through it to get ready. And the shoes! The shoes were the centerpiece; the coda; the denouement; the finale; the coup de grace, so to speak, telltaling their sophistication.
Standing next to them, in my mixture of clothing procured from tiny photos on Ebay’s website, I was the hairball the cat coughed onto the carpet. But we were in New York City, so I wore my Blundstones, classing it up a bit. My steady and reliable New Balances stayed home. (Sidenote: I discovered my entire wardrobe is showcased in the short series MAID, the story of a young single mother living in a shelter. She picked her clothing up at the shelter’s “free closet.” She wore New Balance sneakers; clunky sweaters; bland, mismatched tops and bottoms; and even Blundstones. It was like watching myself on screen, minus the long legs, thirty pounds and thirty years, and the kid on the hip.)
But it had always been this way. I was used to it. Growing up, I was Pig-Pen, a permanent dust cloud of barn debris dropping a trail of evidence behind me, or I was wet and reeking of chlorine from all the laps in the pool, my hair green and stiff like stalks of straw. This was my legacy. I was the unkept oddball of the family from the very beginning.
Wandering down the sidewalk, carefully I asked my friends, “Hey, if we happen to see a make-up shop, can we pop in?” I knew the answer already, but I was hoping my query would land furtively, not shaking loose the dormant grenades under our feet, the imminent threat of further explorations of the consuming variety very real. I spotted a Blue Mercury storefront and we crossed the street.
I hadn’t purchased make-up in five years. That was right before I started my new gig in Corporate America. Prior to that, my make-up kit was a gift as part of the bridesmaid’s dowry for my sister’s wedding. If I remember correctly, that took place in 1992. There has been a few random product misfires in-between then and now, so I’ve kept with slathering my face with what must be by now a carcinogenic, the wedding concealer, but only in spots to cover….my spots. (Bazinga!) Every time I take aim, at the bullseye on my face, I think “Take that!,” daring the hot-tub cesspool of bacterial floaters to resist the dab of my cotton swab, dipped in the tube filled with paste the color of roasted sunflower seeds, and wielded like a fire extinguisher painting over flames with shooting sprigs of white powder, momentarily hiding the eruption beneath.
I never realised it before, but now I do. This was my strategy when it came to make-up and wardrobe: Hiding imperfections brandished precedence to highlighting any perceived features. This still holds true. The happenchance of finding myself appearing “pretty” renders me obsessively self-conscious and uncomfortable, like there must be toilet paper stuck to the heel of my shoe and florets of broccoli trapped in the corners of my teeth, but despite my critical monitoring I cannot find it, even though it is in plain sight for everyone else to see.
We stepped into Blue Mercury and I asked for lip stain. My two friends had said this was a must, but that was two years ago, and the last time we were in New York City together. I had stewed and procrastinated long enough for my only tube of reliable makeup to turn pasty, then harden into a kiln-fired brick, and finally, crumble to dust. The girl at Blue Mercury raised her eyebrows and said, “Hmm…I don’t think we have that.” Before I could respond dismayed, a short man skirted past us dressed in black, his index finger curled into a candy cane. “Follow me,” he said.
His name was Augustine. He pointed out a few options for lip color, but patting the chair next to the display case, he said, “Here…let me help you.” Before I knew what was happening, Augustine pulled out a palette of paint and brushes and got to work. When he was finished, I looked in the mirror he handed to me and nodded, smiling. There it was, written on my face. I had plenty of room for improvement, and more importantly, it was actually possible. My two sidekicks, professionals in their own right as I stated previously, clambered for the chair. “Do me next!,” they chorused. Not only did all three of us receive an expert express makeover from Augustine, but when he was finished, we clucked, “More! More! Again! Again!,” until each of us sat in the chair a second time, our faces shining like fresh canvases, and our features elevated into prominence.
During the course of events, Augustine answered the ring of his phone, pressing it between his ear and shoulder blade while he worked. It was his wife. We promptly chattered that Augustine was busy, doing a fabulous job, and how much we loved him, but he might be a while longer arriving home. (I’m sure they both loved that phone call ripe with interruption!) We left Blue Mercury with our pockets lighter and our blue square bags visibly heavier swinging from our fingers. I, myself, spent ten times more than I had intended when I first walked through the door. Leaving, I looked Augustine in the eye and said, “I have never had that done before. Thank you so much! You did an amazing job, and you are really good at your job!” All that I said was true, and because we had a great time, thanks to Augustine, I was happy to spend more, and patronise his location.
Later that evening, unprovoked, other friends complimented my skin, unaware of my stop earlier at Blue Mercury. She leaned in, assessing, and cooed, “It’s so smooth! Perfect, really!” If I could have blushed, I would have, but I was already wearing blush. Liquid blush. Obviously, I didn’t even know that was a thing, and I viewed it skeptically when Augustine pulled it out of the drawer, the same way I dismissed liquid soap when it first hit shelves in grocery stores. “What a rip-off!,” I remember spitting in the direction of the bottles, lined up like soldiers wearing matching labels. But I bought the liquid blush anyway. Every day I smear it on my cheeks, watching the liquid deplete a little more in its bottle, and I think about the thirty-six hours I spent in New York City with my friends. I smile at my reflection in the mirror, despite myself. Some ripoffs are simply priceless.