Attack of the Cotton Ball

cosmetics makeup brushes and powder dust explosion
Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

The white blob came toward me like a short-range missile launched with pinpoint precision, apparently targeted straight at my left cheekbone. Its approach was so clandestine, so swift, that it had already obscured my vision before I even realized I was in smack in the middle of harm’s way.

Propelled by a petite Italian man’s arm, the enormous, wet cotton ball landed on my cheek with a spinny, swirly motion. I tried to recoil, regroup, retaliate, but it was too late.

“Can I take off your makeup?” the pushy Italian asked.

“What? You just did!” I said with a blend of shock and confusion.

“Ah, yes, beautiful lady, I want to show you ways to be even more beautiful.”

Sweet Mother of Mercy. I was a victim of a full-scale, makeup-kiosk mall assault.

“I don’t…I can’t…I have a conference call.” I was speaking in fragments, unable to form my thoughts into a coherent sentence. It was true, by the way, I did have a conference call in five mere minutes. I had quickly popped into the mall to make an exchange. It was a simple errand. Make the swap and hop into the car just in time to get briefed on a new writing assignment. That’s one of the perks of freelancing — my office goes wherever I go.

But somehow today’s should’ve-been-simple errand had gone awry. Instead of finding myself on the way to my quiet auto office, I found myself standing in the middle of the mall at the wrong end of a cotton ball. Isn’t there a law against that? I mean we can’t just run around willy-nilly, stripping people of their personal property, can we? Tinted moisturizer isn’t free you know.                                              

But back to my predicament. I know what you’re thinking — it’s not like he was holding me hostage with a deadly weapon. It was a cotton ball, for heaven’s sake. But this is where being raised with good, old-fashion Southern etiquette can be a genuine handicap. In other words, I was polite. Maybe even nice.

Had I been raised someplace else, like the Bronx for example, this story would’ve had a totally different storyline. A girl from the Bronx would’ve put that pesky salesman in his place, given him a piece of her mind and made it to her conference call on time. (Without having to sprint through the mall like she was trying to get away with a purse full of stolen jewelry, might I add.) No, the chutzpah-rich Bronx girl would’ve ended up with an apology and a complimentary bag of organic mineral powder as compensation for being mistaken as a sweet southern pushover.

But seeing as how I’ve never even stepped foot in the Bronx, I stood there, not interrupting his spiel because, well, that would be rude. He was talking ninety miles an hour as he cotton-balled my whole face then came at me with an enormous, poofy makeup brush. I was now being flogged in the face with some concoction of powder that would make me glowing, luminous and radiant. I felt like a car going through the automatic car wash. As the dust settled and he continued his pitch, I panicked, remembering my call. So I decided to pay my own ransom.

“How much is it?” I asked. Worked like a charm — he stopped his pitch in mid sentence to announce the price. It was either the amount of money or the gobs of mineral powder I had just inhaled, but something made me cough. He took this as a sign that I was a woman to be reckoned with, so he instinctively lowered the price. I shook my head again and waved my hand in front of my face still trying to clear the powder fog that was dangerously close to penetrating my contacts. Without even knowing it, I was driving a hard bargain.                                       

I won’t tell you the price I ended up paying, because my husband will likely read this some day. But it was significantly less than the original price AND, thanks to my coughing and flailing, I got a fancy makeup brush for free. Even still, it was ridiculous, and I walked away shaking my head and marveling at what had transpired in less than four minutes. I’ve rehearsed all the shoulda, coulda, woulda scenarios. But at the end of the day, I had a dent in my wallet, a blurry face full of mineral powder and the regret of knowing that sometimes I can be flat-out gumption challenged.

It’s been a while since the incident. I have the powder and the fancy brush in my drawer with a bunch of other products I don’t use. Occasionally it catches my eye. I’ve never once applied it. Not that I don’t want to be radiant or luminous, but because it reminds me that sometimes being too nice pays — for other people, that is.              

Ode to Toro

It’s with heaviness in my heart that I tell you about the passing of my dear friend, Toro. My long-snouted companion of 19+ years passed relatively quickly, though not without pain. The grim reaper’s presence was signaled by an unusual grinding and metallic coughing, followed by hiccups and stammering, topped off by a little puff of air and finished with the big kaput.

Goodbye my favorite leaf blower.

His last, pitiful little puff was nothing like the strong wind he was known for in his heyday. He had gone from gale force to barely a breeze in a matter of seconds.

I left the beaten-up old guy splayed out on the deck, right where he was, in hopes that my mechanically-gifted husband might conjure a way to resuscitate him.

When Frank arrived home, I ushered him to where Toro lay helpless, his nose cone still proudly hanging on by the duct tape I had put in place years before. Without any to-do, Frank calmly, and with a surprising lack of emotion, pronounced my Toro dead. Then he threw him in the trash.

“That’s it?” I asked, following him into the house. “You’re not even going to fiddle with it?” He was the king of fiddling.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he said all matter of fact, like a detached surgeon relaying the facts to the shocked family. And with that, my favorite outdoor assistant was gone.

One of the most beautiful features of our old Atlanta neighborhood is the statuesque, mature trees. Our home is surrounded by a canopy of leafy oaks and poplars. The big guys drop enough leaves, acorns and assorted stuff to keep the yard covered, and the Toro busy, seemingly year round.

I bonded with Toro during the nesting phase of my first pregnancy. It was a rock-solid bond that only grew deeper with my second pregnancy and even deeper with my third. Growing a baby is no swift process, so the immediate satisfaction of clearing a leaf-strewn porch, driveway or deck brought me immense, clean, happy, happy, joy.

Shockingly, I have a couple friends who claim there should be a noise ordinance against the peaceful hum of a leaf blower. I still love them, despite their blasphemy. To me, it’s a lovely sound of progress and productivity.

Over the years, Toro saved me from more than messes. He saved the kids from untold accidents, what with the acorns dropping like marbles on the driveway that’s basically an all-sport court for running, scootering, rip-sticking, basketball and anything else you really shouldn’t do on marbles.

Then there was the incident with the snake.

I was working on the back porch, about to pick Emma up from preschool, when I spied the creepiest of all creepies, right there in front of her playhouse. Now don’t go all reptile rights on me, I know they do some good things, like eat yucky vermin in their quest to overcome the whole Biblical, Satan snafu. But still, they were cursed to be our enemy, so my enemy it was.

When I spotted the cold-blooded killer coiled like a cobra right there on the threshold of Emma’s plastic palace, I thought quickly and did what any brave soul would do — I grabbed my Toro. With my heart pounding I plugged in my loyal friend and together we blew that snake to kingdom come, which, in this case, was located at the end of our driveway (determined by the length of my extension cord). The knotted-up, dizzy snake lay in shock, the victim of Toro’s full-throttle power unleashed. It was a beautiful moment.

So goodbye to my trusted compadre. So long you forceful breath of fresh air. Thank you for always giving it your all, until your all was all gone.

All This Time I Thought My Eyes Were Brown

In looking at my first post here and my resolution to want less in ’16, I’m happy to report I’ve made some solid strides, but like most things, it’s a work in progress. In honor of this, what follows is an essay I wrote years ago that’s a fun reflection on the want less theme. I hope you enjoy!

All This Time I Thought My Eyes Were Brown

When I was a child, about the only thing I ever learned from a cartoon was to be wary of coyotes bearing Acme products.

But like a lot of things since the ‘70s, cartoons have changed for the better. These days, some actually come with a nice little takeaway. A smidge of morality that can help little ones set their miniature moral compasses.

One of my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite cartoons is the Berenstain Bears. This is an adaptation of the book series that we’ve had around our house for many years. In case you aren’t familiar with the bear family who lives in the big tree house down a sunny dirt road in bear country, they’re pretty much your typical middle-class American bear family, of the teddy variety. Aside from living in a tree house and having a little extra fur, Brother Bear and Sister Bear are a lot like regular human kids. They struggle with many of the same issues. Chores. Homework. Bullies. Over scheduling. Fitting in. Obeying Mama Bear and Papa Bear. You know, typical bear stuff.

In one particular episode, the cubs get an unwelcome visit from the green-eyed monster. Old green eyes is related, in a lot of ways, to that pesky little devil that appears on your shoulder and gets you to do bad things — only the green-eyed monster is a specialist, dedicated to instigating want. Planting the seeds of envy. Stirring the pot of malcontent. And in the Berenstain Bear’s story – turning otherwise lovely little darlings into sniveling, greedy little stinkers.

Emma chose The Green-eyed Monster episode one morning (video on demand, another notable improvement since the ‘70s) while I squeezed in my daily half-hour on the stationary bike. I look forward to my faux cycling time. Not necessarily for the exercise, but because it affords me a few minutes to make a dent in the weekly accrual of magazines that are perpetually piled on my bedside table.

This is my quiet time to research investments, brush up on foreign policy and get to the heart of our country’s $1.8 trillion deficit.

Kidding.

While there is usually one or two real magazines tossed in the mix, just so the housekeepers don’t think I’m completely shallow, 90 percent of them are retail catalogs — zero editorial content, 100 percent stuff. I just hate to put any of them in the recycle bin without a good once over. After all, you never know when I might stumble upon that thing I didn’t know I couldn’t live without.

Truth is, I like looking through the pages. It’s sort of my modern version of the giant Sears catalog, a.k.a. “The Wish Book,” that would land on my childhood doorstop with a window-rattling thud. The main difference is that today I’ve got a little 2×3 piece of plastic that doubles as a magic wand. With this magic piece of plastic, I can turn anything on the page into a reality that shows up in the form of a UPS package by the front door. Isn’t that fun?

So this is our weekday morning routine. I scan my magazines, alright, catalogs, and Emma watches one of her favorite shows. On this morning, as I half listened to the story, I made a comment to Emma, over the dog-eared pages of my new Anthropologie catalog, “Tsk. Tsk. Looks like Sister Bear’s got a bad case of the green-eyed monster.”

I put the catalog down and watched the plot unfold. Sister Bear was in a tizzy because Brother Bear got a new bike and she didn’t.

I peddled along shaking my head and thinking if I were Mama Bear, I’d take that greedy little fur ball by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. “Don’t you know there are cubs in this world who don’t have any honey to eat? Cubs who would love to have all those Bearbie dolls you have? Just appreciate what you have and stop begging me for more. Now march it up to your room and start hibernating right now missy. I don’t care if it is spring.”

That’s what I’d say. But not Mama Bear.

That Mama Bear is a true saint. Patient. Soft spoken. Wise. Pretty much everything I’m not. In all the episodes I’ve seen, she’s not once shown her claws or growled at her cubs. And she always seems to know just the right thing to say to get Brother and Sister back on track.

Now this may sound strange, but I look up to Mama Bear. Not since Yogi has there been a bear pushing such a good agenda. And it’s not just this one episode. I’ve known Mama Bear for a number of years now, what with three cubs of my own. She helped me gingerly introduce my kids to the somewhat scary idea of strangers. She’s shown my boys how pointless it is to play the blame game. And made them see that even bear cubs get the jitters before going away to camp.

But by far her most ingenious parenting moment was the plan she implemented the time Brother, Sister and even Papa, started loosing their manners. It was a punitive plan, designed to get the family back on a tactful track. And it was true genius.

Each breach in behavior resulted in a punishment. If you were caught interrupting, you had to dust the downstairs. Forget to say “please” or “thank you” and you were off to sweep the porch. Rude noises? You get the pleasure of weeding the garden. It went on.

Thank you, Ms. Cartoon Bear, for the fabulous idea. My mind starting spinning – wow – I could really use this to my advantage. With all the bad manners around here, I could have this house in shipshape in no time. I’ll be like an army sergeant – “Uh oh. Interrupting Mommy while she’s on the phone. Give me two scrubbed toilets.” Oh, this could be good.

I’ve actually found myself in situations where I think, what would Mama Bear do? Maybe I’ll start a new catalog filled with things no one needs and launch it with a WWMBD bracelet. But Mama Bear wouldn’t do that. In fact, if Mama Bear had a leaning tower of catalogs on her bedside table, she would probably realize it was sending her cubs the wrong message and quickly take her name off all the mailing lists. Killjoy.

But back to The Green-Eyed Monster. The message was such a good one that I even snuck it in on Emma’s older brothers. Of course they wouldn’t be caught dead watching a “baby show” but since they’re not allowed to watch any TV during the week (homework and all), I could probably get them engaged in C-SPAN just for the opportunity to stare at the screen.

To put my plan into motion, I slyly asked them to keep an eye on Emma while I took a phone call for work. They were told to do their homework in the living room while Emma watched an unspecified show (The Green-Eyed Monster, of course). If you have school-aged kids, you know it’s absolutely impossible for a child to even get past the “Name” portion of homework when they’re in the same room as a working electronic device. It’s like a transient paralysis, if you will, ensuring that my plan would be foolproof. They’d soak up every second of the show while holding their pencils in ready position and their mouths agape for the entire running time.

I didn’t want to reveal my ulterior motive, so we didn’t discuss the show. But a week or so later, it was evident that my clandestine moral lesson had sunk in when Ben and I made a quick run to Target to pick up party favors for his eighth birthday. I promised him that we’d go straight to the party section. In and out, lickety-split.

Who was I kidding? This was Target, after all, green-eyed headquarters.
Sure enough, the rapid romp-thru skidded to a halt within three feet of the threshold when the 99¢ bins beckoned like a bunch of cheap, plastic little carnival barkers. After a slow mo trek past them, with Ben’s urging, we moved on. But not far. The sight of t-shirts reminded me I needed a t-square to help Alex with a social studies project. This sent us to the art supply aisle, which meant we had to pass the greeting card aisle which reminded me that one of my client’s just had a baby girl so I needed to pick out the perfect card, which reminded me that my own girl Emma needs some new pajamas, which reminded me that I’ve been wanting a new pillow. Ben shadowed me all over the store like the sullen, dutiful child of a shopaholic.

About the only thing I truly needed to buy was a pair of horse blinders, so I wouldn’t be distracted by every chotchke and thingamajig lining the shelf. As we made our way past the small appliance section, the cart instinctively turned (really, can you have too many Crockpots?). “Hold on honey,” I said as I checked out Rivals latest model. My ogling was interrupted by a dash of ice water splashed in my face, in the form of a comment from Ben.

Completely under his breath and mostly to himself, my young son shook his head in disgust, tapped his little foot, looked up at the ceiling tiles and said, “the green-eyed monster.”

“What?” I asked.

“The green-eyed monster,” he repeated cautiously and with a sly grin.

“Oh my gosh! You’re right,” I laughed, shaking the cold water off my face. “You’re absolutely right.”

My clandestine lesson had worked. Only this time, it was on me. Chalk another one up to Mama Bear.

The People v. 40

Cake
Aging isn’t always pretty, but it can be pretty funny, as long as you can laugh at yourself. As I begin my last year in the 40s, here’s a essay I wrote a couple years back about the perils of 40+ trips around the sun.

Here’s the thing. At this very moment you and I are doing the exact same thing. In fact, so is the mailman. The Pope. The guy who poured your latte. The squirrel digging in your container plants. The newborn baby. Even Adele.

We’re aging.

But I don’t want to totally bum you out. The good news is so are the other 7.4 billion people on our planet. So we’re in pretty good company.

I’m thinking about this as I sit in my oral surgeon’s chair, trying to figure out why I can’t pry my mouth open wide enough to eat anything larger than a poppy seed. This is a problem, not only because I can’t properly yell at my kids, but because we humans have that pesky need for food.

The timing suspiciously coincides with my entry into the 40s.

My husband, Frank, is four years older than me. Which means for past few years he’s warned me about the physical changes that inherently come with crossing into the middle of the fourth decade. I’ve laughed these off with a not-happening-to-me kind of attitude, otherwise known as denial.

I don’t mean to sound all braggy or anything, but my 40th birthday came and went and the next morning I looked like I could easily pass for 39 years and 366 days. But it didn’t take long for that mean ‘ole 40 to start her tomfoolery. To prove my point, consider this unsettling episode.

A mere four months after my 40th, it was time for the annual Christmas shopping extravaganza. It’s a long-standing tradition — the first Saturday in December, cousin June and I hit the stores from the time they open till the SUV becomes a low rider from the weight of all the loot. We buy for everyone on our list, including each other. June usually picks something to wear, which I then purchase, wrap and send home with her for a huge surprise on Christmas morning. Myself, I like immediate gratification, so I forego the wrapping formality and begin using my chosen treasure right away. In past years, I’ve nabbed earrings. A great shirt. Something fun for the house. But this particular Christmas, I came home with a new king-sized pillow and a foot massager.

The saddest part is how downright giddy I was about them both.

The thing is, I work hard at staying healthy. I faithfully do my 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week, so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a heart catheter like my mom did at the ripe young age of 50. Oh and, let’s see, my paternal grandmother died of a heart attack. Grandpa too. Maternal grandpa? Yep. Grandma? Stroke.

Now I’m no soothsayer, but even without a crystal ball, I can predict my hereditary demise if I don’t abandon the fatback, deep-fried ways of past generations. All to say, I haven’t had a piece of fried food in two decades. (Swipes of my kid’s French fries and tortilla chips don’t count, right? Work with me here.) And in addition to the cardio, I hit the gym and lift weights twice a week to keep my bones strong.

But even with my virtuous attempts, the temple, as the Good Book calls it, is suddenly in need of some repairs. Not just some spackling and a new coat of paint, I’m talking structural issues here.

It seems that I’m another victim of 40 and her nasty band of bullies. I still haven’t pinpointed exactly when the first act of vandalism occurred. But all evidence points to sometime after July 26th, 2007. Since then, it seems the little rascals have repeatedly entered the temple under a cloak of darkness and deep REM, resulting in visible cracks in the exterior and some shakes in the foundation.

Suddenly, it seems, the entire structure is vulnerable to all sorts of calamity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fatalist by any means. I’m typically a look-on-the-bright-side kind of girl who see her glass half full and a stormy forecast as 10% chance of sun. But it’s a bit of a stretch (ironic word choice) to think of my jaw as 1/8th open.

The jaw thing wouldn’t be so bad on its own, but did I mention that my Morton’s neuroma and planter’s fasciitis are acting up? Two sudden-onset foot ailments the 40-pranksters brought my way. So now, as punishment for wearing shoes I actually liked all these years, my podiatrist (yes, I now have a podiatrist) gave me a list of granny-endorsed shoe brands that put the frump in frumpy. And to add discomfort to discomfort, I’m supposed to wear these hard plastic, ski boot-like contraptions while I sleep. Yea, right. The idea behind these 50-pound gems is that they will keep my feet flexed, which will stretch my calf muscles, which will alleviate some of the fasciitis pain. Yes, there’s nothing like shoving your foot in a bucket of concrete to help you snooze like a baby. But the doctor said to wear them, so being the compliant patient, I did. My bad. Not only did I end up bruised from beating myself silly while attempting a simple roll over, the Velcro strap aggravated my neuroma issues which landed me back in the podiatrist office, this time staring down the barrel of a 12-inch needle that the doc inserted in between my first two little piggies. Not even the births of my three kids prepped me for that torture. I’ll stick with the neuroma pain from now on, thank you very much.

And just be sure I know who the boss is, 40 recently forced me to see a dermatologist. I hobbled in on my neuroma-riddled, fasciitis-plagued tootsies, speaking like a washed up ventriloquist with my paralytic jaw, all to hobble out carved like a totem pole.

My multiple skin biopsies came back as Grover’s Disease. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it so let me fill you in. It’s an irritating, itchy rash sort of thing that typically affects overweight men over the age of 50 that — get this — sweat a lot. All of which, I’d like to note, do not fit my personal profile. Don’t you know 40 and her cronies were slapping their thighs over that one?

I know, I know. Thank the Lord (and I really do) these things are just a nuisance. Ego threatening, maybe, but not life threatening. But it does get me thinking that if all this is happening just prior to the mid 40s line, what craziness is waiting at the half-century mark? Will the temple need new plumbing, a completely new heating and cooling system? Will the foundation crack?

Wouldn’t it be something if we could put 40 on trial and see what she has to say for herself? That would be one heck of a class-action suit. 586 gazillion trillion felony counts of desecration of a temple. If I were a prosecutor (which I’m not, but my friend is, which vicariously gives me all sorts of unsubstantiated credibility) I’d throw the book at her. My opening argument would go something like this.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the defendant is responsible for the hostile takeover and maiming of innocent, otherwise sprightly, spunky, healthy adults. What will the evidence show? It will prove that the heinous crimes committed by 40 and her maniacal gang, have forced countless numbers of innocent victims to wear bifocals and comfort shoes. (The jury gasps in horror.) Our exhibits will further prove that 40 is responsible for planting dimples on all the wrong cheeks, etching deep lines into previously smooth exteriors and is the number one perpetrator of (dramatic pause) flab. We will also introduce experts who will prove that 40 is the cause of a serious condition known in the New England Journal of Medicine as going to pot. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, 40 is nothing more than a cold-blooded, menace to society and therefore deserves nothing less than to be found guilty for her calculated crimes.”

Yep. That’s what I’d say, if only I could open my jaw.