I had a crappy morning last Sunday. Nothing soul-crushing or anything like that. Just one of those PMS-induced crying jags that left me looking like a severely beaten crack addict.
Always an excellent time to go out in public.
I wanted to cheer myself with some fancy moisturizer, so I wandered by the Clinique counter at Macy’s. The friendly clerk pounced at once.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering why someone who works at a cosmetic counter has to wear a lab coat. “Is this your only face cream with SPF in it?”
She cheerfully answered my questions while studying my puffy eyes and blotchy skin and probably wondering when I last washed my hair (something I’d admittedly been wondering myself).
“Tell me,” she said. “Have you ever tried wearing foundation?”
The implication was subtle, but it was there – darling, you look like hell.
At this point, I probably could have assured her that under normal circumstances, I look pretty presentable. Assuming I haven’t been doing the sobby PMS thing, I don’t ordinarily sport a shiny red nose and mascara rings under my eyes. While I don’t usually wear much makeup – a little mascara and some lipstick – it’s enough to keep me from frightening small children.
But saying all that would have led to a doubly awkward moment in which in which she felt compelled to console me for my sorrow while assuring me she wasn’t suggesting I looked like a homeless senior citizen.
It was easiest just to let her drag me to the makeup counter, seat me on a plush stool, and begin smearing my face with mineral powder. I was starting to enjoy myself when she asked what I do for a living.
“I’m a romance author,” I admitted, braced for one of the typical reactions I get from strangers – disdain, fascination, or the faint suspicion I’m a sexual deviant.
This woman was delighted. She had some very definite ideas about what my romance author career must be like. She whipped out a staggering array of cosmetic products, explaining to me what would look best on camera for my televised book tours and speaking engagements.
“When you meet Danielle Steele, you might want to consider doing something like this with eyeliner,” she said.
“OK,” I agreed, lacking the heart to tell her the odds of me meeting Danielle Steele are about the same as the odds I’ll ever be able to apply eyeliner without stabbing myself.
She covered me in eyeshadow and blush, eyeliner and lipgloss, even special concealer for my undereye circles. My face began to feel so weighted down I considered resting my head on the counter.
“I know it might seem like a lot if you’re not used to it,” she told me. “But it will look perfect on camera.”
She was absolutely right if I were auditioning for a role as a hooker in a TV drama.
I have to admit though, I like her glamorous notions of what a romance author’s life is like. Who am I to ruin the fantasy by telling her that instead of dashing between appearances on Oprah and Letterman, I spend most days sitting at my computer with unwashed hair and yoga pants? And who am I to admit that when I do sally forth from my writer cave, I generally look OK even without forty pounds of mascara?
But I didn’t say any of this. She was tremendously sweet and gave me tons of free samples and some pretty good makeup tips. I even bought an overpriced lipstick.
I also gave her my business card so she’d have all the details about my book releases. She studied the card for a long time, then looked at me.
“This is a really good picture of you.”
She sounded surprised about that.
It’s the same image I use everywhere, and while I’m wearing only a little mascara and lipstick, I don’t look half bad. Certainly better than I did when I’d walked up to her counter, and certainly no worse than I did wearing eight shades of eyeshadow.
But I thanked her politely and handed over my Visa.
By the time I walked out of the store, I was smiling again. Maybe it was the new lipstick or the pleasure of having someone fuss over me for an hour.
Or maybe it was the thought that while I’ll never be particularly glamorous, I’m pretty lucky to be happy with myself just the way I am.
Well, minus the wrinkles. But I hear Clinque has a really good cream for that.