Step Away from the Eyes

I picked up some bad fiction the other day. By that, I don’t mean I purchased it. I mean I actually picked it up, read a few paragraphs, and put it back down. The author began their chapter with a bit about some character’s eyes. Green-gray pools of mystery. Black doorways that held a hint of deception. Seductive golden jewels belying a quiet sadness. That was enough for me.

We can do better than this, people. I know it’s fiction, but nobody spends that much time staring at their own reflection in the town sheriff’s steely gray gaze or sitting in the coffee shop cogitating the corneas of the hipster college kid drinking a chai latte. I know, I know–window to the soul and all. Nevertheless, it’s cliché and overdone.

The nose has smelt just as much as the eye has seen. The femur probably has some good stories (soccer balls and coffee table corners and such). Imagine the ingrown tales a toe would tell. Why eyes?

If it were any other body part, we’d realize how goofy the obsession with eyes can be.

Lona sneaked a glance a Ronald. His smile broadened, but there was something in his ears that gave her pause. Maybe it was the holes, the way the dark recesses of his ear canals pulled her into their waxy depths. She wondered what it would feel like to get lost in those ears, to lie beside him in the moonlight, wanting so desperately to find a Q-tip. His ears told the story of his life: unattached earlobes, fleshy and pink–a cherubic child. A piercing on the left–he’d been a rebel, once. Cauliflowered cartilage on the right side revealed he’d most likely stuck his head in a laundry chute or a coal scuttle. The salt and pepper bristles peeking out–no loving woman to care for him, to buy him a personal grooming appliance or shame him into finding a pair of scissors. Those ears haunted her dreams. 

Photo Readiness

I had to have my photo taken this morning for a publication. Some people might be excited by that. I was not.

I used to enjoy being photographed. I still like having pictures taken with my family, of course. They’re usually sweaty hiking photos or all of us mugging for the camera.

But something the rest of the world is going to have to look at, even for one issue? Blech. When it comes to publications, I’d much rather see my byline than my face. As I’ve aged, the proportions of my face have changed. I used to be able to smile normally. Close inspectors might have discerned the overbite and accompanying weak chin that I cannot ever unsee, but I could grin and be okay with those things.

Something’s changed with my face in the last few years. Smiling no longer comes naturally. Oh sure, I still smile constantly. I’m a smiler. But the “photo smile?” It’s hard to produce. It feels concocted. Perhaps it’s because the fat pads that used to adorn my cheekbones have begun to slide down my face like the Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazi. I can’t be sure. But I have to work at smiling now.

This morning as I was doing my hair, I practiced my photo smile in the mirror. What I saw straddled the line between creepy clown and woman-who’s-just-inhaled-caterpillar. I tried closed lips. I tried smiling with the top teeth showing. I tried smiling with all of the teeth showing.

That was when I noticed the chip.

When I was 22, I fainted in the shower and hit the tile floor, hard. In addition to the concussion, I woke up with a corner of my front tooth missing. Luckily, I found a dentist who did a great job of repairing it and I went on my merry way through life, until last month, when I bit into a chewy kale-chia bar (yes, it tasted like kelp and regret), the composite broke off. I’d gotten 16 years out of it, which is a nice long run for a tooth patch, I’m told, and I got it fixed within 24-hours.

This morning, as I grinned at myself in the mirror and tried to talk my weak chin into making a man out of itself, I saw this newest chip.

To my credit, I maintained my composure. I figured, what the hell, I’ll kill two birds with one stone by foregoing the smile. The chin, the bite, the chip, the idiot smile–problems all solved. I’ll be a serious writer, looking appropriately miserable, as we all tend to be.

To pull off a really good serious face, you need a solid pout. To accent that solid pout, you need lipstick. I think. I don’t know–I don’t wear lipstick. For some reason, it mixes with my saliva and forms a pink band of goo on the inside my lower lip. If you’ve ever talked to me at length, you might have noticed me not-at-all-subtly dragging my thumbnails across my bottom lip. It’s not a nervous habit; I’m windshield-wiping away the lip goo, but I’m trying to be casual about it. And now I’ve just written about it so the jig is up. Anyway, I don’t own lipstick, so I knew I had to stop at CVS on the way to the photographer to buy some.

I read an article that said your perfect lipstick shade is the same color as your nipples. It made sense to me–what matches the nips matches the lips. The problem is finding that shade in the store. I don’t know what your town is like, but in Wheeling, we generally frown upon those who take a boob out in the makeup aisle. In the past, I’ve tried casually peeking down to determine what color scheme I should focus on, but within the darkness of my shirt cavity, I can’t get a solid gander at what I’m working with, areola-ically speaking.

This moon jellyfish comes in both glossy and matte finishes.

Today, I knew I needed to be clever. After all, we live in the technology era. Every one of us has a camera. Why not make use of it and capture said nipple for in-store comparisons? Yet here arose still another problem: lighting. What type of lighting was best for photographing a nipple to bring out its true color? I walked around my house for a while, looking in different rooms at different lighting conditions: window, overhead, plant growth bulbs. Each cast a different kind of light. At the window, my skin was pink. By the shefflera, it looked orange. Next to the kitchen sink, it was purple. I wished the photographer was there to advise me.

I found hundreds of nipple shades on the shelves at the store. Maybelline nipples. Revlon nipples. Glossy nipples, glitter nipples, purples, reds, and blues (if that last one applies, you might see someone about your circulation). Since nobody else stood nearby in the makeup section, I got my phone out and pulled up the photo.

I have to admit to being taken somewhat aback when the image popped up. I’ve got a big phone. It’s a 7-inch screen. If anyone else had been nearby, they’d have spotted it. Seven inches is a big patch of skin. And despite the efforts of the great Renaissance artists, the thing by itself, divorced from the body, just isn’t all that cute.

My goldfish pond is really cold.

Cameras dotted the ceiling. I didn’t know how much a security viewer could see, but I was running low on time, so with picture in hand, blazing on its brightest setting for proper study, I went from kiosk to shelf, searching for my perfect shade. I held each tube that caught my eye against the photo, squinting and rotating the phone. I found a promising color for $11, but balked at the price. The $9 shelf offered up some good shades, but nine still seemed a lot to spend on a one-time use. So I took my phone over to the $2 lipstick section and held it up against the Wet n Wild tubes, a brand that has offered low-quality products since before I was old enough to wear them.

And there I found it. My perfect shade. The shade that would adorn the lips that needed to close to cover the chip and hide the shark-mouth. Thank you Wet n Wild, I said, for your inexpensive-yet-accurate representation of the American nipple.

The checkout line stood several customers deep. I took my place between a trio of backpackers–not homeless but clearly rugged travelers making their way on foot–and an older man buying a bottle of Jim Beam. A woman at the checkout counter was confused; the cashier tried to help her swipe her card as we waited. I shifted my weight and grew impatient and nervous. All this lipstick baloney wouldn’t mean a thing if I missed my appointment.

“I hope they call another cashier,” one of the backpacker guys said.

I turned around and replied, “I know, I’m going to be late.”

Another one asked me, “Hey, do you know what time it is?”

I pulled out my phone to check.

The thing about smartphones is that they always return you to your most recent screen. If you last visited Facebook, the phone brings you right back to Facebook. If you were reading CNN, there it is, waiting, right where you left off.

And if you happened to be looking at a close-up of your own left boob with the screen set to maximum brightness, that photo is ready and waiting when you hit the power button.

There it was, smiling out at the world. And at the dudes in line around me.

I smashed the home button with my thumb and the image vanished into the ether. Nobody said anything.

There are moments when we’re faced with the choice to explain our behavior, to try to excuse the thing we’ve just sent out into the world or to shut up and own it. I wanted to look these people in the eye and tell them that I was having my picture taken and I had a weak chin and my smile made me look like I’d eaten an inchworm and my tooth chipped because the only food I’d had in the car was a chewy kale bar and I really needed a natural shade of lipstick and I didn’t want to expose myself in CVS.

Instead, I stared at my feet, bought my lipstick, and got the hell out of there.

In the car, the clock indicated that I was about to be late, so I ripped the wrapper off the lipstick tube and applied it, pleased to finally have the process finished.

I stretched up to see my mouth in the rear-view mirror. Pink lips puckered back at me. Cotton candy pink. Poochie-pink. Power Puff-pink.

This was not the shade I had been looking for. I hadn’t matched my lips to my skin; I’d matched them to My Little Pony. Grabbing a stray napkin, I put the car in drive and scrubbed at my mouth until my lips hurt. I had to get every molecule of pink off,  lest anyone see the photo and assume I was sporting Strawberry Shortcake headlights under my shirt.

I glanced in the rearview mirror as I pulled out of parking lot. The backpackers waved.