I was walking through Ross Park Fashion Mall with my dad a few weeks back. We were moving slowly, so it was hard for me to avoid the cute weasel dressed in a too small suit jacket, white t shirt, expensive jeans and soft leather loafers with bare ankles who descended on me besidesthe fly-by night looking skin care kiosk. He thrust a tiny goodie bag in my hand.
“Ooh, I love your mask,” he said, getting right up close to my face. That right there should’ve been enough for me to put up a shield—a back-off barricade or at least a strong right forearm to his throat.
But I let myself be sucked into a conversation with this go for broke salesman. What did I use on my skin? How long had I been doing that? Wouldn’t I just love to try a tiny scoop of this amazing product, right here under one eye?
Before I could stop him, he’d smeared this glop on my face in the area below my right eye and above my mask. “Wait til you see how this tightens up that (he made a sad face) area there. We’re gonna have to do both eyes, right?” he snorted. “I mean—it’s not Halloween!” He chortled according to his script.
Again, I should’ve been pushing my way out of there. Instead I found myself perched on a stool. My dad had not halted his slow trudge but turned around and was now standing a few feet away, watching this tableau unfold.
“So are you married or are you happy?” he asked, working some more of the glop with a little spatula.
“Both!” I nearly shouted and he came back right on cue: “So what’s your secret?” Then he was flipping open a book of photos of other victims, their right eyes taught and alert, the left eyes slack. “Amazing, right?”
Please Dad, say something. My dad looked like he was trying to remember if he knew me.
I’ve always been a pushover. Part of it is not wanting to miss out on a potential experience — bad or good, I ‘m often incapable of saying no. I racked up a considerable amount of credit card debt years ago because I couldn’t say no to a Grand Ole Opry t-shirt. It’s that bad.
Part of it is a defense mechanism. When someone comes at me with a sales pitch, I feel obliged to upend their assumptions. Maybe it’s ego: You think you know me? You don’t know me. I’m not one of your losers in that binder there, who you plucked out from their lives of drabness-past-caring. Buddy I may look tired but I’ve tried every eye treatment, skin cream and dermatological invention known to man, woman or non-binary person (not completely true — those jade rollers seem really cool but just never got around to it) For this moment, I’m partnering with you, okay—you might even learn something.
And the opposite of that — of course kind sir, I am just a player in this game of life, bend me shape me, move me around — what grand design placed this (what’s a word for a cute troll?) in my path — it is my job, my mission to go with it, who knows where this encounter might lead? You might think I’ve been around long enough to know it will likely lead to me with less money and some half-baked gimmick. Pride dented but…a story to tell.
I am my mother’s daughter. I remember accompanying her and my dad to a dim conference room in Front Royal Virginia — my mom was determined to collect this wonderful prize she’d been promised in the mail. Of course with the toaster oven came a pitch for a timeshare in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. No obligation of course! Only it felt like bars closed on the windows and doors as the slide presentation began. I sat next to my mother in the front row,. She wore a terrified smile that turned wicked as the slides rolled on. She willed ice water through her veins so that when the lights came up, she was able to march to the sign up table, grab her toaster oven, turn on her heel and flee for the family station wagon where my Dad was blasting the AC. We peeled out on two wheels. The views along Blue Ridge Drive were glorious…
For years, the family code Front Royal was a kind of safe word to ward off scams, and bring my mother back down to earth from her flights of fancy.I am my mother’s daughter and so there I was sitting in front of Eli, the skin care scammer. “And, let’s just get this other eye — it’s not Halloween, right?” Uh, you said that already. His charm was fading. The eye he’d scooped felt pulled taut, like when you put Elmer’s Glue on your hand. I suddenly found the will to bust out of the force field that had glued me onto Eli’s stool.
“Imperfection is the most beautiful thing of all!” I shouted. I grabbed my dad by the arm. “Keep walking,” I hissed. “Move!”
I dropped my goodie bag in the trash.
“What was that all about?” asked my dad.
“Remember Front Royal?” I said. I don’t think he heard me. But somehow he understood.