The Bad and the Beautiful

I thought the makeup counter at Macy's was my friend. I thought wrong.

I've always shopped at Macy's because we've been great friends for years. After my bankruptcy in 1996, they were the only ones to extend me a card. Even the public library took back their plastic. Yet every time I go to Macy's, I end up feeling abused, punished and manipulated. I mean, really—with friends like these, who needs relatives!?

They invite me over all the time—constantly sending me 20-percent-off coupons compelling me to stop in and pick out something nice, whether I need it or not. Just last week, I stopped in for a Krups coffee grinder. I didn't need one, but it was on sale and I had that coupon.

But you can't cut through to any department of Macy's without being trapped for a spell by the ongoing bazaar of designer makeup counters—all lit with infinity-watt fluorescents designed to highlight my huge pores. Skinny bitches hawk the latest potions, trying to seduce me with a glob of some crap my face needed if I were ever going to be a winner.

Come shrink your pores, peel your skin, radiate your face, exfoliate!

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A lithe Russian gal in a lab smock and a name tag reading "Elsie" catches my eye, luring me closer by dangling a facial cream. She said it smelled like kumquats and I couldn't prove otherwise. As I neared her, she fixed her gaze on my complexion and let out a little puppy yelp, "Ach! Your skin! It needs to look so much better. Too many krinkles."

"You don't even know how old I am. Maybe I'm 80?!"

"Still! Your skin's old. It's gray, like bad road."

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Before I could say "mascara," her partner, Briana, a living Photoshopped face appeared, swung me around, sat me on the cosmetic bar stool and began shining up the dollar signs in her eyes. She dealt out 17 items in rapid motion like a dealer in a poker tournament, began dabbing and asked sadly, "What do you use to exfoliate?"

"Why, did Elsie say something?"

"And the eye bags!" she shrieked.

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I leaned into the magnifying mirror they use to frighten you, while Brianna grabbed something that looked like spackle.

"On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your skin?" she asked.

"Six," I blurted, fishing for a compliment.

"SIX!?" she screamed, incredulous, so loud dishes jumped off their shelves in housewares on the floor above.

"Maybe if we could just get those pores right-size, we can hit that goal."

She pulled out a potion that could make my skin look radiant and luminescent.

"Drinking vodka works, too," I said brightly.

She mentioned that this beauty in a jar rang in at $189, but I wouldn't have to buy it again for six months. I assured her that I didn't have to buy it now.

"I wouldn't insist except that it's Be Nice to Your Pores Day," she continued.

"I'll take them to a movie, later," I promised snidely. Elsie picked out a $36 lipstick called Midnight Hooker. She and Brianna both "oohed" together, I gasped, asking her if she knew that I could buy 36 lipsticks that go for $36 at the Dollar Store.

"You can also use Vaseline for a moisturizer but I wouldn't," she quipped. Suddenly, her English was luminescent.

"Then what's it for?" I asked.

Brianna rang up the 12 must-have items while Elsie wrapped them in tissue like a gift.

"That's $526."

They were like a team of con men and this was their Three-Card Monty scam. Some women call shopping "therapy." This was shock therapy. Intimidated, I handed her my coupons. Brianna grimaced, insulted, and said, "This isn't the toaster department."

I reluctantly handed her my shop-worn Macy's card, which she grabbed and swiped immediately. I thought briefly about the second job I'd have to get to tend to my gray skin. Saved by the bell, it only took five seconds to find out that my card was—oops—declined.

"Sorry," I whispered. Even my friends, the Macys, thought this price exorbitant.

"Do you have another card?"

"Would you take a Humphrey Yogurt card? I'm up for a free four-ouncer?" I joked to cushion my shame.

I apologized, knowing I had let them down, and slumped off, headed upstairs for the housewares department where I belonged, for I couldn't remember the last time a plate had hurt my feelings.


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