SAN DIEGO — The two women at the next table were sales clerks at a store in Horton Plaza. One sold designer dresses and the other represented a cosmetic line.
One said, "Since you've moved over to dresses, we never see you any more."
"I know. So sorry," said the pretty, dark-haired one. "But we're awfully busy." She laughed. "But I'd come see you in a flash if you could sell me something that would do this." She put her fingers up to her jawline and pulled the skin back and up toward her ears. "Got anything to take off 12 years?"
"Helen, we do."
"Oh, come off it. You know I was kidding."
"But we do ." Her friend named a new product on the market. "You'll see a difference in 30 days. The customers all swear by it."
I haven't a clue as to why I, too, will swear by an elaborately packaged and overpriced cosmetic. There is no rhyme nor reason for it.
I am educated, reasonably bright, and have written a few lines of advertising copy in my time. Yet I am a pushover for the hard sell and soft facts of a serious cosmetic sales pitch. I love to listen to words like cell turnover, triple emulsion, hydra-therapy and cellular recovery complex; to hear the marvelous mumbo jumbo of tyrosin, collagen, allantoin and mucopolysaccarids; to be told how a skin rehydrator and an emollient oil are allergy-tested, ophthalmologist-tested and/or dermatologist-tested, then packaged into one intensive synergetic formula guaranteed to make me younger, prettier, dewy, glowing and as fresh as a morning in May.
There are not enough hours in my day, yet I stop to linger at department store cosmetics counters to try out the testers and then to be sold a lipstick, a blush or an eye shadow or two. Nor can I walk past a counter with a video display--I must stop to watch, from start to finish, the latest scoop on lotions, creams, scrubs, masks or toners. This may be the miracle I have been searching for since the morning after the night I turned 40; the product that is anti-aging, prevents telltale skin damage and lifts slackness.
The voice on the videotape promises me that if I use the product shown on the screen the water content of my skin will increase by 70%--I believe it.
A saleswoman who hides her skin under every makeup product in her line--a saleswoman who looks lovely under her department's pink lights but away from them looks as if she is ready to audition as a Barbary Coast tart--promises me that my skin will look healthy and radiant, and feel smoother too, if I buy the pretty package she holds in her hand. "This balances the skin's biomechanical properties," she says. "And perks up the glycoproteins." I believe her, too.
Once upon a time my mother promised me pretty skin if I removed my makeup each night before I went to bed and if I kept my hands off my face. "Don't pick," she said.
Only yesterday my dermatologist recommended that I eat sensibly, exercise, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of fluids and stay out of the sun.
When I look in the two bathroom drawers full of makeup or gaze up at the six shelves of jars, bottles and tubes, I know mother and the doctor are right; there is not a miracle to be had from . . .
"You swear it really works?" asked the clerk who had moved to designer dresses.
"Helen, I swear. It's endorsed by a famous doctor and it has something in it called . . ." She thought for a moment. ". . . called glycosphingolipids."
They pick up their check, toss a tip on the table and stand up.
"Come on by after you clock out, and I'll slip you a sample."
I wish I were someone who could keep her mind focused on world peace, nuclear disarmament, the rights of man and the cost overrun of the convention center and not be so easily distracted by . . .
I place my fingers at the back of my jawline and gently pull back and lift up the skin.
Is it possible? Twelve years in 30 days?
If I come by her counter and pronounce the word properly, perhaps she will slip me a sample, too.