Skin Tips from the Skin Nazi, Day 1: Dermatologist Disco

The doctor squats down on his little 3-legged rolling stool. I’m sitting in a chair across the room and he rolls over to me, stopping when his face is about 4 inches from mine. He peers deeply into my nose and cheeks, as if looking for a speck of very important dust that he has misplaced.

“Not too bad right now,” he says, rolling back to a safer distance.

I am seventeen and this has been going on for years. My mother also peers at me from time to time, stopping me while I’m in the middle of saying something to get up in my face and examine my pores. I hear the one thing teenagers don’t get enough of is scrutiny.

As a kid, my skin was never what I considered “THAT bad.” I was small and sort of nerdy, and the best I could hope for was to be invisible. I cared about my grades. Having perfect skin to impress boys was something that seemed like a ridiculous waste of time as compared to getting a scholarship so I could go to school out of state. If my mom hadn’t offered to take me, I probably wouldn’t have ever thought to go to a doctor. I mean, who cared?

Incidentally, I had the same attitude toward makeup. While most girls were lobbying their parents to let them wear “just a little colored lip gloss,” my mom just turned to me one day and said “so, you want to start wearing makeup soon?”

“Huh? Uh, sure. Whatever.”

But you know. No foundation. Foundation was for sluts.

I never thought of myself as someone that people ever looked at. Even when I was in the front row for every dance team performance because of my height, my coach had to mandate French braids. Otherwise, the team’s co-captain (your truly) would have shown up with some kind of sad, low ponytail. As I recall, one of the few times I felt peer pressure in school was when I was pushed into having “mall bangs.”

I just kept my head down and nose clean and focused on my grades. “I don’t need to be pretty. Who cares about pretty? I want to be smart instead. Smart lasts.”

This may explain why, even at 34, I still think my hair kind of sucks. I’m still a little unsettled by compliments about my appearance. My skin and I have made peace, but only cause it’s done such a nice job of not wrinkling. I don’t mind it being so insanely greasy anymore because greasy just means not getting wrinkles. Still, when a friend complimented my skin and asked me what I do to it, I was a tad taken aback. After a few conversations, I realized that 20+ years of having nightmare skin might have resulted in learning a few things that more genetically fortunate people might not have needed to know until now, when aging and hormone shifts cause our skin to change. In the interest of saving you all (and maybe your teen kids) some trouble and sharing what took 20 years of trial and error, I thought we could spend this week going over some Tips From the Skin Care Nazi. Stay tuned!

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“Chink, Chink, Scrape.”

When I was 20 years old, I shared an apartment with a former Christian recording artist. I would light candles, burn incense, paint things badly and go to goth night. Sometimes, when I went to goth night, dudes hit on me. This story is about the second guy who did.

We make plans to meet up on a weekend afternoon to hang out at my apartment. The plan is to have no plan and just see what happens. This is MY plan at least. HIS plan involves a 90-minute tape of music he’d written.

“Music”
he’d
“written.”

This is the late nineties, when every guy with questionable hair and an eyeliner pencil wanted, with all of his little black heart, to be the next Trent Reznor. This guy is no exception: as we listen to his experimental noise music, he describes all of the various instruments he’d used. Rusty pipe. Rusty pipe #2. Random piece of metal.”Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape…”

I have a cousin who majored in rusty pipe at Julliard.

“Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape…”

I keep waiting for the end of a song, the cue for him to decide that he’s given me a representative sample and for us to move on with the day. After 30 minutes, I’m trying to be subtle about checking to see how much tape is left before the end of side one. “DO NOT let him play side two,” I tell myself, “I don’t care what happens. You will not let him play side two. Fake a heart attack. Fake a seizure. Just don’t let him play side two.”

Side one comes to an end and, instead of flipping the tape, I say something about how that was interesting and hand the tape back to him. I whip out a tape of my own, one of me playing a song I’d written on a piano. A song with a melody and chords and instruments that don’t come from a dumpster behind Krispy Kreme. Roughly 30 seconds into the 3 minute song, he takes my tape from the stereo and says something about how “that’s fine, if THAT’s what you’re into.”

It becomes clear to me what we’re going to be doing today. We’re going to be playing a rousing game of “don’t kill this guy with your bare hands.”

We turn on the tv and start watching some movie or other, and he starts kissing me. It’s that kind of kissing that comes out of nowhere and isn’t part of the moment at hand. Kissing that makes you feel like THIS was the whole point of his visit. As though he had “kiss girl” on a to-do list and he’s just running through it with German efficiency.

1. Play shitty music
2. Dismiss girl as Tori Amos clone
3. Kiss girl
4. Touch girl’s breast…..

I stop him and say something about how I think this is happening at an odd moment. He says that I should just go with it.

Readers, forgive me. I was young, and I’d heard much tell of just making out with people because it was fun, even if you didn’t particularly know or care about them. It seemed like a rather popular thing to do. I figured I’d try it.

But I am bored. He is kissing me with all the horny fervor of a manchild of his early twenties, and I am bored and wondering why we can’t just watch the movie. In later days, I would forgive myself the guilt I felt about having one undeserving guy on the short list of guys who had seen my breasts by repeating a quote from Oprah: “when you knew better, you did better.”

“Wait, stop.”
“What?” he answers, standing up from the bed.

There’s a long pause. I’m not entirely sure what to say, and I’m trying not to just blurt out something like, “this isn’t fun and it feels whorey.” My actual response, as it turns out, isn’t much better.

I stand up on the bed to be eye-level with him, and with all the jaded street smarts of Shirley Temple riding a unicorn, I ask…

“So…are you trying to be my man or what?”
“Huh? I’m just…having a good time.”
“I don’t like having a good time!”

I am saying this to him with arms crossed and brow furrowed, like an angry Puritan school teacher. At 20, I had not yet wrapped my head around the idea that sometimes people have sex with people they don’t know very well.I had been busy studying, playing a piano and hanging out with dudes who were far more interested in progressive rock than sex. I always ended up being one of the guys, drinking coffee and discussing Queensryche. Now here was THIS guy, treating me like guys in their twenties treat girls who are not one of the guys, and I have no idea what to do with him.

He’s not quite sure what to do with himself, for that matter. 30 seconds ago, he was eye to eye with my boob, and now this? I can see his brain trying to process this, this goth chick who asked him to her place to actually JUST watch a movie. I hear the gears turning…

“Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.”

When the scraping subsides, his decision is that I have officially become more trouble than I’m worth. He is out the door within 10 minutes.

I make sure he remembers to take his tape.

Herding Cats

For weeks, Amanda had seen that large, gray cat hanging out near her house. Gray cats are exceedingly good at hiding, but this one slowly got brave enough to come up and watch Amanda garden. One of them would be picking big rocks out of a potato bed, and the other one would be looking on with an aloof curiosity. In time, Amanda would refer to the cat as Ghostie, and Ghostie would have Amanda all figured out. 

 
This is why Ghostie would decide to have her kittens in the crawlspace of Amanda’s house. “We all know how this is going to go down, but I’m going to put up a good fight just so nothing looks suspicious.” Cat pride is strong.
 
When I arrived at Amanda’s house around 6:00, there were four kittens in the crawlspace, one angry mama cat in the cinder block-sized opening, two kittens snuggled up in the shade of a large bush and two humans crouching close by, wielding a laundry basket. The idea is that we have to get all of the kittens into the shed without causing mama cat to desert them. We have to do this before the sun goes down. Also, it’s going to rain soon. No pressure.
 
Snagging the two kittens cuddled in the bush is easy because three of their four total eyes are glued shut with eye goo. They are nabbed and their eyes are wiped clean with a warm wash cloth before they are put in the laundry basket to get back the important business of not particularly caring. 
 
“So, what’s the plan?”
“Use the two kittens to lure mama cat and hope that the other four kittens follow her out.”
“Kittens as bait. Got it.”
 
One more kitten gets curious and leaves the crawlspace enough for Amanda to snag it. The score is tied. Humans:3. Mama cat:3. 
 
Amanda starts to play with the foot of one of the kittens, in hopes of making it meow enough to lure out Ghostie. It works a little, but the tiny black cat is still pretty heavily invested in the business of not particularly caring. What to do?
 
“MEW! MEW!”
 
Amanda’s husband, Travis, has pulled up a video on YouTube. The little white cat on his iPhone screen makes a decent stand-in for the little black cat in the laundry basket. Ghostie shows interest and disappears back into the crawl space several times before venturing out. Kitten #4 follows and is snagged. Amanda crouches next to the crawl space while the two remaining kittens taunt her from just beyond her reach. Ghostie creeps up into the bushes to voice her displeasure with the entire situation. 
 
I pause to wonder if using the term “Mexican standoff” is racist, because I feel like I may need it here. I decide that it is and resolve to not use it. Oops.
 
Through the magic of YouTube, iPhone and hiding, the last two kittens are lured out and put, with a bit of fight, into a second laundry basket. Ghostie watches from the front lawn as we slowly carry the laundry baskets toward the shed. Slowly. So she will follow us. Slowly. So very, very slo-
 
RAIN.
RAIN WITH HAIL. 
 
Amanda and Travis take the kittens to the shed and I, improperly clad in Converse that do not at all enjoy the rain, go to watch the rest of the story from the dry side of the bathroom window. 
 
Travis and Amanda walk around in the rain, searching for Ghostie, who is nowhere to be found. Without her, Travis and Amanda are looking at bottle feeding six kittens every three hours or so. This may explain why they walk around the yard YouTubing and iPhoning their butts off until the rain subsides and Amanda comes in to get food and water to leave in the shed. 
 
Amanda takes the food outside and Travis and I wait for her return. 
 
“You know, I bottle fed kittens once,” he says.
“Oh?”
“Never again, man.”
 
We step out onto the back porch and look across the yard to see Ghostie standing in the shed doorway. The door is swung open and Amanda is inside, holding kittens out toward Ghostie while other kittens climb out of the laundry basket to greet their mom. She is literally herding cats. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do. Do we try to help and risk scaring Ghostie away or just stay put?
 
“How’s Amanda going to get out if she can get mama cat to go in there?”
“Uh…I don’t know. Carefully?”
“We should just run up and shut the door. She’s collateral damage, man.”
“Well, the shed has a window. She could climb out.”
 
We pause, and I look at him with a look that says, “bro, it’s time to trap your wife in the shed.”
 
He starts edging toward the shed and I follow. I run up and bolt the shed door. 
 
All cats and kittens are safe, two humans are soaked, and one of those humans is helping the other climb out a window. Pretty much everybody involved needs a glass of wine.
 
The kittens agree to settle for mama cat’s milk. 

Truth or Dare

“Fine. Dare. Damn it.”

If I knew anything at all about being in high school, I knew better than to choose “dare” in a co-ed game of Truth or Dare. The game was practically invented for bizarrely socially acceptable sexual experimentation. However, I’d been getting away with “truth” for a solid hour and everybody was getting sick of my shit.

We were coming back from a game in some town over an hour away, and the bus broke down. We had no choice but to wait for the cheerleaders’ bus to get back to school, unload and come back for us. In the meantime, those of us on the football team’s bus had no choice but to wait, pray we didn’t end up having to pee in the woods, and amuse ourselves in whatever fashion we could find. I pled an excellent case for “let’s make up a story!” but with a 3-to-30 girl/boy ratio, a game of Truth or Dare was inevitable, even if the team had to make do with the girls who taped their ankles and made their Gatorade instead of the cheerleaders. Any snack in a famine.

By the time we’d switched buses, I’d confessed such juicy details as the circumstances around my first kiss and possibly my bra size. As the new bus got rolling, everyone started feeling a certain sense of urgency. We would be back at the school soon. Something more interesting needed to happen, or we’d wasted the whole “broken down bus” situation. It would have been like playing Seven Minutes in Heaven solely to discuss societal themes in Crime & Punishment.

“You CAN’T pick truth! You’ve been picking truth the whole TIME!”

So, I took the dare, expecting something almost as benign as having to tell everybody my shoe size. I was just a sophomore, small for my age, and had the appearance of a 7th grader. I was not the football manager people wanted to take to the back of the bus and do gossip-worthy things to. I was the asexual little sister.

This would explain my minor shock when this bus of clueless teenaged boys dared me to kiss my crush. They were also sharp enough to give stipulations: at least 10 full seconds, on the mouth. There’s nothing awkward about kissing your crush on a moving school bus, in front of 30 people. Nothing.

There’s also absolutely nothing awkward about biting a hole in his lip when the bus hits a bump.

There’s really, really nothing awkward when he bleeds like a stuck pig and proceeds to address you as Vampire Girl for the rest of football season. I thought it was hilarious in its own terribly, horribly awkward sort of way.

He and I eventually went on a double date to a Mexican restaurant. I think his attendance was largely based on having lost some bet to his best friend, the boyfriend of my good friend. I was mainly in it for the food.

I kissed him at the end of the date.
Nobody bled.

A Life Before LiveJournal Part 2: 1995

This notebook was kept as part of an assignment for AP English, so it couldn’t get too juicy. That said, it was apprently stolen at the halfway point and read by the punk dude who liked to pull my metaphorical pigtails. And so, we continue with whatever stupidity happened before my stupidity went digital…

9-8-95
“Well, Silverchair’s songs are cool, even if they may not be all that talented.”

9-18-95
“I never realized how freaking stupid slamdancing is.”

9-21-95
“Many things seemed futile then, but love and music could save us – and did” (Quote from Anthony Kiedis)

9-22-95
“If you could be anything on the menu at Wendy’s, what would you be?”

9-25-95
“Please excuse my nihilism. It’s the pms.”

9-27-95
“Last night, Jeff and I were talking about who’d we’d annihilate if we could.”

9-28-95
“Orange juice, my love, you are orange and filled with vitamin C. Let me suck you through a blue straw while I watch Geraldo.”

9-29-95
“Satan lives in my closet. He eats my socks. That’s where they go.”

9-29-95
“I have to pee. And cough. But not necessarily in that order.”

9-29-95
“What if life was a Sunny Delight commercial? No one would ever drink ‘the purple stuff.'”

10-2-95
“Nothing sexual. We were both fully clothed.”
(This, readers, is going to be carved on my tombstone.)

10-2-95
“Vampire kisses on a football bus.”
(A reference to an ill-fated game of Truth or Dare in which I had to kiss my crush on the football bus coming back from an away game. The bus hit a bump and I bit him, causing him to bleed profusely.)

10-3-95
“I’ve been a fan of mausoleums for a while.”

10-9-95
“Only dead fish swim with the stream.”

10-11-95
“With a piece of cheese. Keys? No, cheese.”

10-11-95
“My arse interests.”
(A quote from London Kills Me, which had a character named Muffdiver. When I mentioned said character to my mother, she laughed and explained.)

10-12-95 (last entry)
“I guess this is the last time I’ll write about hate, love, longing and music. Ame, look back on this later and remember.”

A Life Before LiveJournal: Book One

When I started digging through the hall closet, I was looking for my gold jewelry. Something stored away that could match the necklace my sister gave me for Christmas, or at least the novelty class ring from high school. I found the jewelry box in a Rubbermaid container with old pictures and five other notebooks. The pictures include images of someone licking my shoe, a friend who died in 2009, and pictures of me wearing some very ill-advised hair extensions. The notebooks, written almost entirely in Pilot V5 ink, contain my life before LiveJournal.

I’m looking down at a small, black vinyl book. Screenprinted on the cover is a music staff with a heart-shaped note, and the script words “my thoughts.” This book was given to me for my 13th birthday and the lock was lost long ago, probably pilfered to be worn as jewelry. My parents probably gave me this as some kind of welcome into teenage life, hoping to help me cope with the insanity of middle school. The questionnaire in the front lists my favorite subject as “math” and favorite song as “Groove Is In The Heart.” The line for what I want to be when I grow up is blank.

What I found was a brain oscillating between schoolgirl crushes and music obsession. A world where L.A. Riots and Operation Desert Storm were footnotes to the bigger question of whether or not to attend a Valentine Dance.

Later, the world became one of escape through letters and Anne Rice books, coffee shop conversation and a raging crush on the local shit-stirrer. I remembered high school being a long, slow march through Hell. It was that, but it was also good friends, midnight movies, lost weekends and hair dye accidents. It was 1,001 horrible first dates. It was morphine-laced, post-surgery phone calls. It was getting up at 4:30 to go to Music Theory class. It was a piano and a typewriter. It was ten of the loudest little fingers you’ve ever met.

11-13-1990
“FUCK EM ALL!”

11-20-1990
“Well, I’m just sitting here listening to my Wham! tape.”

7-1-1991
“PS: Boyz II Men rule!”

8-22-1991
“I wanted to say: I don’t know – maybe because I didn’t have control – and it scared me.”

10-2-1992
“PS: Boyz II Men Rule”

6-8-1992
“I’m watching Arsenio. It’s about the L.A. riots.”

8-12-1992
“He gave me his beeper number.”

8-17-1992
“I got a CD player – it’s awesome. Now I just need to get a CD.”

6-21-1993
“When I moved, the first night I was here, I was overtaken by grief.”

7-5-1993
“I’m not used to crying everyday.”

12-30-1993
“we went out a couple weeks ago with Rob and Meagan to Chi-Chi’s.”

8-14-1994
“I feel like I’m living in a big What The Fuck moment.”

1-16-1995
“Right now I have to settle for traveling in my mind. Mostly with Louis and Lestat.”

4-28-1995
“That was back during my 3rd soul. I’m in my 4th now.”

5-23-1995
“We only speak in conversations on the desk in Pre-Cal.”
(My crush and I would comment back and forth to each other by writing on a desk where we both sat in two different periods. He never found out I liked him. He’s now living in NYC and playing in a punk band.)

5-29-1995
“Sometimes, he sounds like a Wilson Phillips song.”

6-8-1995
“I should just become a Republican and learn to play golf.”

7-21-1995
“There’s a reason why no one puts ‘prom queen’ on a resume.”

Of Coffins and Choke Holds

It’s been a few, and I feel like we haven’t talked. You all know how it is: I type when something’s eating at me and I’ve been sort of too busy lately to have anything eating at me at all. Well, nothing I can share with you. Nothing that would be “constructive” to share with you.

I’ve written a number of things I’ve been referring to a The Coffins. You gather up something that’s been eating away at you, finally say everything that you need to say, wrap it up, nail it shut and bury 6 feet deep. However, the thing about coffins is that nobody else is really supposed to dig them up and look inside. What’s in the coffin isn’t pretty and shouldn’t be unleashed.

I mean, unless I get a book deal.

So, I’m going to resort to story telling again. Maybe one day I will dig up some of the less offensive coffins and flip them open. Or open up this one huge, daunting mausoleum of a subject. Until then…

It’s sophomore year in high school. Our heroine, a small, pale lass with hair recently (and very accidentally) dyed black is walking all of her 61 inches and 99 pounds down the hall to English class. There is a test in her future. In an effort to liven things up a bit, she will use a 20-color ink pen on that test. When she receives her grade, someone will have written “multicolor pens are for 5th graders” in red ink at the top of her paper.

This is not about that test. This is about what’s coming down the hall.

What’s coming down the hall, in the opposite direction of or semi-distracted heroine, is a group of three guys. At the last minute, one of the three guys leaps across the invisible yellow dividing line of the hall to yell “BOO!” in the face of our heroine, just to watch her be startled. Like a nervous cat, our heroine jumps and then continues on to class.

While she takes her test, toggling colors in that 20-color pen (which, in hindsight, looks a lot like a marital aid), she can’t help but wonder who she has become in this first year at a new school. Atlanta Amy would never have let them get away with that. Atlanta Amy would have stood up for herself. Who is this person holding this 20-color pen?

She vows that she won’t let it happen again.

Never being a group to forget a good startled reaction, the boys spot our heroin again just two days later. This time, she has dismounted the stairs and working her way through the human atom smasher that is a crowded high school hall, going to Algebra II. She hates Algebra II. Her attendance is the only thing earning her B for the semester. Atlanta Amy was also good at math.

The group of the same three guys comes toward her again, yells in her face again. Instead of being startled, our heroine has mentally prepared. She’s physically prepared, too. When she saw them, she switched her stack of books into her left arm.

This means that her right hand is free to reach out and put guy #1 against the wall by the neck and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that she is sick of his shit. Guy #2 finds all of this terribly amusing, possibly even more amusing than startling her, until she releases his friend and turns to him with a poking finger and a mouth saying, “and YOU….”

As she pokes, she shoves him to make a hole in the now very amused crowd of students. Wait, teachers may arrive soon and that would keep her from getting to Algebra. She takes advantage of the hole in the crowd, calmly walking off to class, half expecting to be chased down by a teacher or grabbed from behind via her unintentionally black hair. Neither of those things happen. She shows up for another Algebra class, putting a lock on more much-needed attendance points.

She sees those guys together only once more.
They stay on their own side of the hall.