I was lying in a darkened room, naked as a newborn, swaddled in sheets, as a woman named Alana, wearing a purple turban, came after my face. This is called a facial, and it's something you're supposed to have if you're today's I-care-about-my-body kinda woman.
"It's a very nurturing thing," one friend said. "It's a very self-pampering thing," said another. So I made the appointment. I mean, who am I to think for myself?
"I'm going to apply an enzyme to your face now," said Alana.
Whoo! Aren't enzymes something secreted by internal organs like the pancreas?
"Excuse me," I said, "but where does this enzyme come from?"
"Oh, this is a vegetable enzyme," said Alana, a licensed cosmetician. "Like papaya."
I relaxed as she covered my face with the cool, soothing essence of papaya liver. For all I knew, she could have been using peanut butter and jelly.
Then she massaged my face and neck and did something to my acupressure points that caused my meridians to feel pretty darn good.
The purpose of a facial, Alana said as she peeled off my papaya, is to get rid of "the dead cells that have been accumulating on your face." While Alana admitted that some of the cells may have fallen off of their own accord, what we were looking at on my previously unfacialed face was a 40-some-year accumulation.
It's a shattering thought. You walk around putting on a brave front. You smile. But who knows what evils lurk?
"Close your mouth," Alana said as she scraped my face. And I obeyed. I didn't want to eat a salad of dead cells.
Then Alana shined a bright light on my face and put a powerful magnifying glass over it. We can only imagine what she saw.
This started what is politely termed the "extraction" portion of our program, wherein Alana began squeezing around my nose. I thought of the Emily Dickinson poem, "I Died for Beauty."
"Have you been eating a lot of dairy?" Alana asked as she extracted God-knows-what from the tip of my nose.
"Maybe a little," I answered.
"I can tell a person's diet from their skin," she stated emphatically.
I imagined her squeezing out whole cheeseburgers, baguettes slathered with Brie, entire bags of barbecue-flavor rice cakes. Could she actually see onion bagel with a schmeer?
"OK, now I'm going to put a little DNA/RNA on your skin," she said.
Yes, I thought. But whose?
She left me to relax with the DNA of Fred or Ethel or Papaya X sinking into my roto-rootered pores. I lay in the darkened room for 10 minutes, eyes padded, meridian points tingling, dead cells dangling, and nothing to listen to but some New Age tape that sounded like classical Musak. But I could hardly be expected to relax wondering what would be left after the death mask was removed.
When she returned, she washed my face, she washed my dead cells and she washed my sins away. "Now you can look at your new face," she said proudly. I thought of a scene from an old Claude Rains movie. You know--when the bandages come off.
Nervously I approached the mirror. The same old ugly kisser stared back at me.
What a relief.
Alice Kahn is going on sabbatical. She will resume writing her column in January.