A man sweeping up trash told me I was beautiful, and it made me happier than it should, as though I'd been waiting to hear it my whole life.
I climbed slick stairs that delivered me into the guts of New York, the same way that hundreds of thousands of humans are puked up onto the city's streets from the bowels of the subway system below.
I thought of all I have, all the love. I have so many things that are not owed to me. How did I get them? And why don't they make me like myself? How is devotion so much weaker than habit?
I watched a man with a sad face put a giant fake head over his own. He is an unsanctioned Olaf, a man in a suit who pretends to have magically stepped out of a Disney movie and onto the streets of Manhattan, but really he is a low-wage worker trying to make ends meet. I wonder if he hates the children he poses with for cash. I wonder if he has kids of his own and if he hates them, too. I wonder how many jobs he tried to get before buying a costume.
His furry fake head was soaked with rain, the soggiest snowman that ever lived. We met eyes before he disappeared into someone else.
I wanted to cry and cry and cry.
The NYC deli is a peculiar beast. It separates the boys from the men, or rather, the lifers from the transplants. Rarely have I felt more intimidated than when stepping into a New York deli.
First of all, they have everything. I mean that exactly as I wrote it: everything. Want an egg salad sandwich with four kinds of cheeses, pickles, ketchup, hot sauce and salt and pepper? You can have it. Want a tire iron and some sweater lint thrown in there? You can probably have that, too.
What you can't have is a) time to decide or b) indecision. You get whatever sandwich your darling heart desires, but you'd better know what that is *before* you walk in the door.
Most NYC delis have a menu board hanging from the wall with somewhere between 20-200 predetermined options. Salami on rye. White fish on a bagel. You can order those things and be happy. But when you order them, you may get a suspicious look from the guy behind the counter who suspects you're a spy sent in for nefarious reasons. Because most New Yorkers do not order off the menu.
Why would they? There are hundreds of meats, cheeses, spreads, sauces, wraps, breads, vegetables and other accoutrements displayed under fluorescent lights and glass, a smorgasbord of options. Do you really want salami on rye? Or are you only ordering that because it's been presented as a predetermined option in a list of other predetermined options?
My first tentative trips to New York delis were crash courses in decisiveness. They were also stark lessons in understanding that I've never really and truly known what I wanted to eat. I've just eaten what was offered.
For instance, I went to a midtown deli with a friend after a very long night of tequila and cigarettes. We were both barely alive, just walking hangovers, still harboring the stench of the previous night. I ordered a #1: one egg and cheese on a bagel. She, however, ordered egg whites with jalapenos and plain cream cheese on a whole wheat wrap.
I scanned the list of 100+ menu options and saw that no where on the list. Instead, she made up her own sandwich, ordered it with assertiveness, and that's exactly what she got, no suspicious looks included.
That's because that's how you are supposed to do it! Menus are for the weak! But when you've never even considered how you like your sandwiches because you've always just eaten what was offered, this realization is a revelation.
Some odd years into this ride that is New York, I watch with amusement as others do what I once did. My favorite thing is when the guy behind the counter asks, "Whaddaya want?" and some tourist replies, "What do you have?" You can hear the collective sighs of everyone in line over the honking of cabs outside. Me, I look for a chair, because I know there is about to be a show.
In New York you can have what you want, but you'd better know what that is. And don't dawdle. Because there are approximately 2 million people in line behind you who *do* know what they want, and by God, you are in their way.
We touch each other on the train. I can’t stand it when we touch.
Her arm is too soft, his hand is too rough.
Long hair that doesn’t belong to me falls on my bare shoulder. It is a frenzy of spiders. I try to escape my skin, but I am trapped inside. If you listen closely at any time of day, just about anywhere, you can hear the screaming of girls trying to leave their bodies.
His hip is on my hip. There have been hips on my hips that didn’t belong, but that was long ago. It’s all I can think about with every push into the next station.
You aren't supposed to lean into strangers, because it feels like real support. Strangers aren’t for talking to, much less touching. Her shoulders feel like bird wings, frail and pointed, and I can't hold this woman up. I don't even know her.
You’re not supposed to know what a stranger's thigh feels like, but I can feel the extra flesh of his leg melding with the flesh of my leg. I couldn’t pick him out in a lineup, but I can tell you about the softness of his body.
You’re supposed to get to know someone first, but here we are forced to stand, skin against skin, breasts into backs, leg to leg. We will not look each other in the eyes.
[photo: Emanuele Toscano]
A moth took the subway this morning, rode it all the way from Queens to Manhattan. Amongst the bodies, bodies and more bodies, sweating and tense, flitted a fragile thing.
The moth caught eyes. She danced on air, wings beating faster than we could perceive. She was a touch of whimsy, a reminder of the beauty of nature in an otherwise entirely urban setting.
The moth wanted out. We all wanted out.
A beautiful woman with a tired face asks a wild girl-child to please sit. The little girl would rather stand, twirl, spit, jump, defy. With some prodding, she climbs onto the seat backward, her sparkly high-top sneakers dangling off the edge. A fat, bearded man pushes her butt toward the plastic chair like someone trying to make a dog sit.
“Please,” the beautiful woman says softly. The child bears her teeth, one of them missing, and growls.
The beautiful woman has sleek black hair that has been haphazardly piled atop her head, but it frames her face just so, and it is lovely. Deep lines run from her nose to her mouth. Her pretty lips are cracked.
The beautiful woman takes a deep breath, fills her belly with stale subway air. Just as her shoulders relax the little girl darts from her seat. The fat man catches her underneath both arms and returns her to the seat with a plop. The little girl narrows her ice blue eyes, the same color as the beautiful woman’s.
“Please,” the beautiful woman says again. No one is listening.
The girl is holding a stuffed tiger in one hand, a toy cage in the other. She slams the tiger into the bars over and over and over.
“No,” the beautiful woman tells her. “Absolutely not.”
A beat, and then the child lurches forward yet again, her face dirty, feral. The fat man shoves her back into the seat with a single stiffened finger. A red mark quickly appears on the girl’s chest. She seems unfazed, tickled even.
“That’s enough,” the beautiful woman says. She is talking to both of them. Her posture screams that she’s on the verge of giving up, a keeper who just may let her captives go free.
I am learning that my self-loathing is selfish. That first sentence initially had a parenthetical. It said (too slowly) after the word learning. I took it out. My learning is not too slow. Even in writing that my self-loathing is selfish I put myself down. Hating yourself is a hard habit to break.
But it's true: my self-loathing is selfish. It is also a marshy foundation on which nothing substantial can grow. Weeds that strangle can grow there. Suspicion and doubt and isolation can grow there. But it's hard for the good things to take root.
Dismantling the mind you've had all your life and seeing what shakes out is a painful process, but it's mandatory when you've spent 37 years telling yourself how unlovable and disgusting and unworthy you are. And what I'm noticing is how selfish my self-loathing is.
I want to love myself for me because I deserve it, but if ending my self-hatred because it results in hurt for others due to thoughtlessness, then so be it. The way out is through.
This is me to myself, a neurotic person with a tendency toward social anxiety and slight claustrophobia, when I take the subway:
I remember walking down the cosmetics aisle of my neighborhood Eckerd in high school and noticing lotions and makeups that vowed to erase lines or were touted as "anti-aging" and thinking, "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about that yet."
It's now 20 years later and the inner monologue has changed to, "How many firming cremes can I get my hands on and how much do you want for them"?
That's not true, actually. I'm not that bad. I don't have the income to be that bad. But I do do my homework and research what works and what's bullshit and try out things that are within my price range. I definitely don't consider myself an expert on skin care and makeup or anything, but as my face needs (and my face itself) has shifted over the years, I've liked reading about what is effective and a good value.
So, I'm going to talk about what items I'd break your arm over if you tried to take from me. This is by no means the full spectrum of things I put on my person, but instead a look at what I think are must-have skin care items for women in their 30s. (I have ultra dry & sensitive skin, so some of these products might not be right for you.)
Let's start with washing your mug. Some people use those fancy, expensive face scrubbers like the Clarisonic which is supposed to blast a bunch of dirt off your face, but I honestly don't feel like my face gets that dirty. I'm not mopping the floor with it. So, I just use Cetaphil Skin Cleanser.
Cetaphil Skin Cleanser is this creamy liquid with a pearlescent sheen that you just rub on your face. Then you can rinse it off with water or...not. You can also just wipe a tissue over your face to remove dirt and makeup and excess cleanser. That's it. That's the whole process. You basically have no excuse not to wash your face.
I like Cetaphil, and so do thousands and thousands of others, because there's no soap in it. If you have dry skin, I can't recommend this highly enough. You know how if you have dry skin and you wash your face with soap it feels like it shrunk afterwards? Like the skin on your head was reduced two sizes? This doesn't happen with Cetaphil because it doesn't strip your face of its natural oils. This stuff is a miracle, and I'll never not use it. It's $10 and a 16 ounce bottle lasts me well over a year.
Next let's talk exfoliating. Because if there is anything I've learned in my research about my changing skin is that you have to exfoliate like its your job. This part is not optional. If you want your skin to not be kinda dull and blah looking, you have to blast off that top, dying layer of skin cells and get that newer skin to come on out to play. Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Live it, love it.
Now, there are different ways to accomplish this act. You can use a scrub with little granules of some kind or another to grind away the top layer of your face or you can have acids eat it off. I've chosen option B. I let acid eat my face off. And I do it with Peter Thomas Roth's Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads.
The Un-Wrinkle Pads are little round miracles. I love them. They are on the pricey side at 75 cents per pad, but I swear by them. It's probably the most expensive cosmetic product I buy, but they make such a huge difference in my skin.
When I use them consistently my skin looks firmer, fine lines less visible, there is less redness, my pores are smaller, it removes any trace of flakiness and my skin just looks brighter and better. These little gentle at-home peel sessions are the perfect way to a bare face before applying any sort of moisturizer or serum. My face really drinks in the moisture and vitamins after prepping it with one of those little pads.
If the price is a put-off, many women report that cutting the pads in half works just fine for them and that they save a lot of money that way. I'm such an addict of these things, though, that I use a full pad on my face, neck, chest and the tops of my hands.
Read the reviews on these circular wonders. People swear by them:
I'm 40 yrs old I have started to notice the 11 between my eyebrows and they were getting worse I tried everything came across peter thomas on u tube decided to try it and OMG.. 2 weeks I've been using his products and they are gone!!! I'm sure it's all of it but when I added this holy cow my face looks so young again I will continue to try more of his products i found my holy grail!!
I am in awe at how bright, hydrated and soft my skin is after only a few uses. This is now a fave. and I cannot wait to see the results after a few weeks...Love, love and definitely recommend for dry, uneven skin tone and fine lines.
I think the best part about the Un-Wrinkle Peed Pads is how quickly you'll see an improvement in your skin. One use. Not exaggerating.
The next necessity is sunscreen. Sunscreen all day, every day. This is my song. Because in all the reading I've done the one thing everyone agreed upon as the very best product that works 100% of the time at making you look younger is sunscreen.
You probably know this. Sunscreen is mandatory. I like Kiss My Face SPF 50 for Face and Neck.
The Kiss My Face sunscreen is not greasy or thick. It doesn't leave a film of white gunk behind. It doesn't cause breakouts. It's broad spectrum and water-proof and leaves behind no trace, so it works perfectly under make-up. Use it year-round. So good.
Next up: moisturizer. This is where the search can get downright exhausting. There are just so. many. options. It can leave a lady paralyzed.
And, while I'm *sure* there is a better daytime moisturizer than the one I use, Oil of Olay Age Defying Sensitive Skin Day Lotion With Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15, (suggestions please!) I will be using my newly discovered night cream forprobablyever. It's Nivea Creme.
Nivea Creme is everything. And it's so cheap. I put it on at night and my skin is suuuuuuper soft by morning. The skin is plumper almost. Some people would say that Nivea Creme is on par with or better than the very famous, very expensive Crème de la Mer. La Mer costs $150 an ounce and Nivea Creme is 79 cents an ounce.
Oh! And I've heard that the imported German Nivea Creme is even better. I'm waiting to run out of the tin I have before trying that kind.
My next very favorite is a primer. (This is technically makeup and not skin care, but I'm including it in this post anyway. It's more of a prep for makeup, really, and it's about how it makes the skin look, so I'm including it here instead of in my upcoming post about makeup.)
I used to never wear primers. Why would I need a primer? So, your makeup stays on longer if you wear it. Big whoop. It's not worth spending money on. OR SO I THOUGHT.
Turns out the right primer can make your skin look airbrushed. No lie. And my favorite for that effect is Benefit's Porefessional Primer.
I'd been hearing about Porefessional for ages but I also didn't need another item to spend money on. So, I avoided trying it. Until one day when I was at a Benefit counter to pick up a different product (that I'll talk about in the future post about makeup for 30-something skin) I decided to give it a go.
The sales lady/makeup artist put Porefessional on one side of my face but not the other then handed me a magnifying mirror. I was sold almost immediately. But I was still hedging at the price. $40 for a tube of something I didn't "need" until two minutes ago? Ugh. I couldn't commit.
Until she told me they had tiny tubes for $10 that were equal in price per amount as the bigger bottles, so I wouldn't be wasting money on a smaller size to try. That was the deal-sealer. I added the tiny tube of Porefessional to my purchase and now I don't ever want to go without it. It makes for a clean, smooth canvas on which to paint yourself up, and it fills in not just pores, but wrinkles! Use it around the eyes and marvel at how makeup doesn't settle into creases. It's like spackle, but it smells good and costs an arm and a leg.
However! I learned that NYX Pore Filler is an awesome "dupe" at a muuuuuch lower price, so I'll be springing for that soon.
And that's about it. I use other stuff on my skin (like eye creams and masks and crap), but these are the skin care products I hold near and dear to my vain heart.
Now here's the fun part: Tell me what you like to put on your face! Hopefully the commenting section on this here rickety old blog isn't hard to use and we can share tips on what to waste money on next.