Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Winged Cupid painted blind

On some level I’ve accepted that it’s spring. This (obviously) isn’t on any level that requires any of the physical senses to render a judgment – it’s still cold and grim and I don’t hear much cheerful tweeting or observe any enthusiastic budding going on. I have yet to taste the season, but it certainly doesn’t look very appetizing, what with its thin layer of post-snow, tattle-tale grey detritus accessorizing the bleak and remorseless landscape – but I have purchased a pair of shoes.

These aren’t just any shoes either – clobber to put space between me and the pavement and to protect me from the elements – these are shoes of hope for a better tomorrow and faith that it’s coming soon. Maybe not Friday – maybe not even next week – but soon.

They’re beautiful. Strappy and stilettoed, with a sexy band that wraps around my ankle giving me that skinny, delicate racehorse look. (I think I’ve established that I could run the high hurdles in heels. True story.) Providing me with approximately 3 and a half inches more in height than God in his infinite wisdom saw fit to bestow upon me, all in all, wearing them around the bedroom and admiring myself in the mirror, I have to admit I look a bit of a dish.

From the knees down anyway.

But I never would have purchased them had I not begun to believe I might actually be given a chance to wear them. It’s the springtime ritual – like a gardener setting up his soil for a summer of grass and growing; clearing out the weeds, raking off a winter’s worth of rubbish and twigs, and spending an inordinate amount of time down at the garden centre, ogling seed packets and bedding out plants.

For me it’s more like pruning and clipping away at my body like an ornamental hedge, upping my work-out routine, moisturizing the bits that have remained dryly hidden so long, and considering a bold new lipstick that might startle during a more austere season. And of course, finding that one perfect pair of summer sandals that will perform the miracle of turning me into a virtual living advertisement for good times reborn.

For women of a certain age (ie: the “new 30”) as spring hoves into view and clothes change length and density, the discussion inevitably turns to cosmetic procedures. As predictably as a nipple slip from a slipping celebrity whose career needs a “look at me” jolt, after a certain point in life, you’ll notice everyone (including those who vowed… at the age of 19… to grow old gracefully) begins talking about things they’d like to get “done”.

Most of my crowd is still at the non-surgical stage; miracle creams having proved non-miraculous, the latest trend is to injectables, transferables and blasters. Injectables (botox to halt wrinkles, collagen to pouf and puff) transferables (take fat from hip ‘A’, insert it into crease ‘B’, and blasters (lasers that shock veins, spots and blots into submission) are the pre-surgical, impermanent youthenizers of choice. Everyone knows someone who’s had it done, dallied or flirted with a procedure or two, or is saving up for a course of treatments guaranteed to turn back the clock an hour or so.

It’s pricey stuff. For three or four months of a crinkle-free brow you might be paying a thousand dollars or so for a few hits of the botulin toxin. For collagen or fat injections designed to fill in various wrinkles, lines and crevices, you’ll pay over the odds for a similar period of smoothness. It may seem silly and vain and ridiculously expensive to pay for procedures you hope no one will notice except to remark on how rested you look, but if no one and nothing save a few poisonous microbes are sacrificed in the name of beauty, where’s the harm?

It’s when you see examples of plastic surgery gone horribly, hideously, over-the-top wrong; those who’ve grown not old, but petrified, without a hint of grace or subtlety, that your 19 year old self re-emerges to become instantly lovingly reacquainted with your delightfully, naturally softening and slackening muscles and skin.

I saw such a creature recently. With (non-surgically) widened eyes I gazed upon the effects of countless surgeries, procedures and alterations and heaven knows how many thousands of dollars. So much surgery was apparent (and remember, all I could see was all I could see – if you get my drift) that the cumulative effects actually tipped the balance in the other direction, rendering the lady ludicrously distorted into almost cartoonish relief, putting the finest possible focus on all that was elderly. Was she 75? 85? Impossible to tell – she was ageless in the most unflattering way possible.

From the tips of her deliberately careless hairdo (her windswept-looking locks frozen stiff in mid-breeze) to the tips of the sharp and pointy crimson-lacquered nails glued to her withered crone-like mitts, the woman was jaw-droppingly impossible to glance away from. Her utterly immobile face stretched as taut a quarter-bouncing buck private’s barracks blanket, her cheeks so smooth a baby’s bottom would have suffered by comparison. Two small slitty eyes peered out from under the carefully arranged fringe; confused-looking cloudy marbles that seemed as surprised as anyone else that a human was somehow operating inside the thin and lifeless shell. One could almost imagine going up and tapping her on the forehead – hello? is anybody home? – but not, for the fear her casing would literally crack open.

Situated just south of a tiny sharpened beak were two enormously inflated pendulous lips, the weight of whatever filler filled them pulling down the lower lip until the shiny innerside was visible above the bolster-sized protrusion. Taking sips from a water bottle every now and then, she carefully inserted the entire neck in between her lips – maintaining her perfectly made-up mouth? taking exquisite care not to put pressure on the frail and full-to-bursting skin? – and slowly glugged a few swallows, before just as carefully withdrawing the bottle from deep within. It was like watching a snake consume prey.

She touched herself every now and then with the utmost care. Only the tippy tips of her fingernails gently probed an errant hair, or oh-so delicately settled on the corner of her mouth to brush away an infinitesimal speck of lipstick. Like butterflies who taste with their feet, she seemed to be sampling herself with these sensitive little grazing fondles, finding much to please herself it seemed, with every lightly glancing stroke.

As you have no doubt gathered by now, I was experiencing an entirely inappropriate fascination with this stitched-together waxwork, whose appearance startled all, but drew me in with repellant curiosity. Didn’t anyone ever say no? Couldn’t some of that money been pressed into service improving her eyesight? For only a mirror with the attitude of the one hanging in Snow White’s wicked stepmother’s boudoir could possibly have informed this lady that her efforts were not only not in vain, but superbly flattering.

The supermarket queue moved forward and the lady and her companion paid and moved on and I eventually cranked close the open drawbridge that was my mouth. The checkout clerk caught my eye with an eye-rolling smile and a headshake. One of those special simpatico moments with complete strangers where nary a word need be said. I too paid for my purchases and set off for the parking lot, the sighting of the surgically de-hanced woman beginning to fade as my roving eye caught newer sights and my mind leapt on to other thoughts (what’s for dinner… where are my keys… an unending chorus of “I will Survive” embedded by the muzak goons at the supermarket) so when I rounded a corner in the parking lot and came upon the lady and her companion I was startled all over again.

He was just opening the passenger door to hand her in, when he stopped and tugged gently (of course) on her arm to pull her back to him. She returned to his embrace and lifted her face to what quickly became an unnervingly hot smooch. Encircling her tiny waist with his arms, he only stopped the kiss to turn his face down and sideways to press his lips passionately (and again, gently) to her neck.

Her outrageously poufed lips spread wide in a smile and she closed her eyes in what looked like an authentic swoon. He pulled her closer still for a moment, then gazed down into her eyes, kissed her lips once again, then (gently – okay?) helped her into her seat.

I felt as perverse as a Peeping Tom and embarrassed that I had witnessed what was so obviously a very private and intimate moment.

It was shockingly, movingly beautiful.

Spring can do that.

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