She looked at me intently. “You have beautiful eyes,” she said. I blushed and stammered uncomfortably, feeling like a right idiot as I replied. “Thanks … it must just be the light.”
There isn’t a much more uncomfortable place for a man than a beauty salon. Besides, of course, the dreaded prostate examination by a female doctor, which ranks right up there in the awkwardness stakes.
“Would you trust me?” she asked.
Now there’s an interesting question. Number one, I don’t know you, not from Andile, and number two, well, no. No I don’t. Because I’m clearly out of my depth and my gender comfort zone. I can’t see a single piece of equipment I recognise and can talk about.
The little white outfit and the running water melodies playing in the background. The hushed tones of the other white-clad beautician ushering another victim into the cubicle next door, all the while smiling reassuringly at me. No, I don’t trust you. Alarm bells are sounding in my head, I’m thinking ‘flight’.
I’m as open and firmly in touch with my feminine side as the next ex-hard-core endurance athlete. The term beautician sounds acceptable. Barely. It sounds like bike technician if you say bike technician really fast. But when you insist that it’s a derogatory title and that ‘beauty therapist’ is more correct, you’ve lost me to the other side.
A therapist is different. A therapist implies lying on a leather sofa and telling a stranger about my early relationship with my mother’s breasts, and how that relates to my love for my bicycle, which is, incidentally, a ‘she’.
I broke into a light clammy sweat, grateful for the patterned shirt I was wearing, which would hopefully hide that fact. But then I felt the beads break out on my forehead too, and my head was filled with thoughts of my cricketer friend Justin, who regularly ‘pushes a bead’. He was going to make my life a misery for ever stepping foot inside a beauty salon.
But then my thoughts turned to the impending baby – his, not mine. It’s an amazing thing, perspective. I thought of that poor bastard Justin changing nappies and suddenly I found my voice.
“What do you want to do to me?” I asked meekly.
I had come for a freebie, a test to find out how badly the sun had damaged the skin on my face through years of triathlon training abuse. The results showed that the overall skin age was a year younger than my actual age.
I felt like I had just won an Ironman, pummeling the sun into a distant second place. But I realise now that it was an intricate set-up, a ploy to disarm me. She had other plans with me. Richard the test dumbass.
Apparently beauticians – let’s just call them what they are, shall we – have a bad rap concerning IQ. But let me tell you that the rap is just a calculated diversion. She lured me in, schmuck bait. I was circling the drain. It all seems so clear when I look back now.
“If I tint your eyelashes a little, your eyes will stand out even more”, “and you will look absolutely stunning,” she said. “I won’t charge you”.”
Another two consecutive blows: kapow kapow! The male ego, and another freebie. I wasn’t even a moving target. We are such a dumb and gullible gender at times.
“Will it be noticeable?” I asked.
“At worst you might look like you have a teeny bit of eyeliner on, but only if you look for it, and besides, it fades quickly,” she said. “We’ll use a colour that will blend.”
But it was the final, clever, calculated line that clinched it. “Your eyes will be a devastating force of nature. Women will crumble.”
I swear that plinth still has the indentations from my fear-filled fingers in it. I clasped hold with a grip that only Rafa’s tennis racket might fully understand. But I let her have her way with my lashes.
Ten minutes later I was on my feet, feeling decidedly normal. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said, grinning from ear to ear like I had just been handed the baton by Bradley Cooper.
But a very loud and dramatic exclamation ensued after only one glance at the innocent little mirror, “What have you done to me?!”
She called her assistant over, the Batman gambit. By now she was giggling uncontrollably and I was in a panic. It was the same panic I felt that time in Standard 9, when I was caught driving and wheel spinning our school combi in the St David’s car park whilst waiting for the teacher and for the last tennis match to finish up.
The vice-head of the school had come marching out of the building towards me and the stalled van in the dust. Yup, it was the same panicky feeling.
My eyelashes were black. Pitch black. Blue pitch black actually. To help with the imagery, let me tell you that I am fair in colouring. It wasn’t a plausible combo by any stretch of the imagination.
“Can we reverse it?” I whispered hysterically. “I look very gay, like, screaming queen meets drag queen, gay.”
“No, but it will fade quickly, and after six weeks we will need to do it again,” was the reply. “Why though? You look stunning!”
In that awful moment I realised that I was going to spend the next six weeks behind a pair of very dark Jackie Onassis style sunglasses.
I picked up what remained of my much bruised ego, and left the salon to reassurances that I looked “fantastic!”
I had no idea how to accept what I saw in the rear view mirror; I was just so grateful that I had a day to fix the disaster before I would present training to approximately fifty people who knew me. Colleagues.
Despite being told that I couldn’t wash it off I raced straight to the bathroom. Never tell a control freak what he can or cannot do! But before long I realised that both Breeze and Dove were no match for the blackness. This was a job for something a lot stronger.
I rummaged under the kitchen sink, pushing aside the bleach which I figured might cost me an eyeball, and gleefully returned to the bathroom with the Clean Green. I scrubbed, I rubbed, I pulled my lashes, and I rolled them between my fingers. Not a single pantone difference.
Then Keryn popped past my house…
I can still hear the words, her chastising tone. I felt like a little boy of four all over again. “What were you thinking?!”
All I wanted was for her to tell me that it wasn’t THAT bad. I wanted to be back in that other place when I was four. That place where I got to be comforted against my mother’s breasts and the ills of the world would abate.
But no, no such luck. Keryn wasn’t throwing me a lifeline. I wasn’t four, there was no mom, and there were no breasts.
The next day I leaned over my eldest, who is seven, to put her seatbelt on. Wherever my head moved, so did her eyes. “Are you wearing make-up, Daddy?” she asked quizzically, her eyes wide.
One day I hope that she will forget.
The pre-training managers’ meeting went badly. I walked out of the room, my face a furious shade of my favorite wine. The peals of laughter followed me all the way upstairs to my auditorium.
I turned the lights down low, grateful for the kickass PowerPoint I had created. Any excuse to divert attention — no coffee for me, no usual greet-and-mingle routine.
Almost three hours in, and I thought I’d gotten away with it. A knock on the door, and the managers from the earlier meeting entered, walked purposefully down the middle aisle, and presented me with ‘something important’ which I needed to read straight away. They stood there solemn and serious.
There was complete silence in the room. One hundred eyes trained on my face. I burst out laughing when I realised that I was looking at an advice guide on make up removal.
I still bear the self inflicted scars of ridicule.
Come to think of it, ‘therapist’ is a perfect title. A therapist has the ability and understanding to be able to manipulate both mind and emotion. We trust that it’s for our own good. Sometimes it’s not!
I was suckered by my own vanity …I still like to blame that therapist!
Never trust a beautician.