I admit to wearing make-up in my distant youth, not very much because I am essentially lazy. Sending my memory back to college and the dating game from 1963 to 1980, I limited myself to a powdered nose and lipstick. For fancy occasions, eye shadow and mascara. I think I had an eyebrow pencil, too, and maybe I even owned blusher. But for sure I didn’t doll up every day, and nothing was ever slathered on to such extent that I needed makeup remover pads, which hotels love to include instead of something useful.
But as the years wore away, and I moved to a very cold climate where -30C was frequent through the winter and more important issues arose, like plugging the car in or carrying shovels and emergency kits, and because my job was undemanding, so I could wear jeans or sweatpants, I admit I “let myself go.” Sounds like a good thing, actually. I was more concerned that I was dressed warmly enough to ward off frostbite.
But this June I was asked to emcee the Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Canadian Crime Writing. The dinner was held at the Toronto Hilton in a ballroom with 150 people. I would have to put my best face forward for once, even at sixty seven.
I took the redeye from Victoria BC and arrived bleary at 6:15 am. Killing time with my gorgeous cousin Barbie (slim and blonde) and checking in, I had a day and a half before the witching hour. A massage sounded good, even for $100. A few hours later, feeling mellow, I entered a drugstore and made for the cosmetics counter, always at the front, where a professionally made up woman greets everyone, perhaps to warn subtly that shoplifting pricey little items is a crime.
“Just browsing,” I said, and soon identified the cheapest line. In my head, I began adding up dollars. This was very complicated for my sleepless state. I went back to the hotel, had a Korean dinner, and drank a bottle of fifty-dollar zin. I had already found the underground liquor store and always pampered myself on trips.
The next morning I made another foray to the cosmetics department. This time the young lady had figured me out and merely smiled. I perused the lipstick. What colour went with my beige and brown and gold outfit? At a formal event, jeans were out. I have some fashionable “author” outfits, though I skip the décolletage because I had a mastectomy back in 2002.
I examined a few appealing tubes, but at the boggling sight of the concealer, the powder, the blusher, the foundation, and all things in between, I beat another retreat. Time was running out.
Luckily the dinner didn’t start until eight. I made one last trip to Cosmetics around five. This time I was emboldened. “Yes, I need help, please,” I asked the ladies. “Send over your Top Gun. This is an emergency.”
As usual, the woman was turned out like a Vogue model. It had probably taken her an hour to look so natural and fresh, though being twenty three might have helped. I explained to her that this was a one-time purchase. Ten years might pass before I again needed the tool kit. “And subtle,” I said. “I don’t want to look like Cher.”
“Oh, but Cher is beautiful,” she said. Dear girl.
Things went quickly because young “Holly” was efficient and discreet. She told me to buy lipstick that matched my own colouring, light-skinned with hair formerly red-blonde, now dyed light brown. “Heather Shimmer” sounded great. Adding blusher was enough, but I needed a brush. Damn.
“Now priorities enter, Holly. If I had to get the best bang for the buck, what ONE piece should I choose: Eye pencil, eye liner, mascara, or eye shadow?” I bet that she never met anyone like me in Cosmetology School.
The mascara won, some accretive kind good for weeks on end. I thanked her profusely and left with a bill for fifty bucks. At the hotel, getting into the spirit, I found a pal who loaned me her professional eye shadow palette with a blue theme, only one of many that she carried. It had four shades of blue, and four shades of silver/glitter.
Now the moment of truth had arrived. The blusher tickled itself onto my face. Then I discovered that I had not shaved my chin. Secondary sex characteristics. So I did that carefully, so as not to go bleeding to the dinner, although the evening was crime themed and for dessert we removed to a mock autopsy lab with a corpse with cake feet, red-icing organ confections, eyeball lollipops, chocolate brains in a weigh pan, liver lattes, and vials of drinkable blood. The Sugarstars from the Food Channel were filming the event.
Wielding my new weapons, I stood before the mirror at my granite vanity. Without my glasses, overlooking the helpful magnifying mirror, the first thing I did was poke my eye corner with the mascara wand. My eye ran tears and black dye for a minute or so. The eye shadow gave me lots of amusement, experimenting and fine-tuning the dark to light and adding sparkles and silver. So glamourous.
Lastly came the lipstick. That’s when I discovered that my lips, somewhere between 1977 and 2012, had vanished. I’m sure I saw them a few times in the eighties, but after that, it was all a blur. My father had generous lips, but my mother didn’t. In this one area, I resembled her. She drew them on blood red like Loretta Young, who had a mouth like a “hen’s patootie,” Mother used to say. I didn’t quite pull an Angelina, but now I understood the purpose of lip liner.
Hey, everyone told me how great I looked. That’s what women are like. They want to keep you in the game. It was fun while it lasted, but I don’t want to wake up with a stranger in the mirror. On the other hand, I really liked that neat blue palette.