The truth about saving face.

July 7, 2009

The man, the stranger, he reaches across the counter to point at your face.

“I can help you with that,” he says.

You’ve just filled this guy’s gas tank. Each gallon cost him 49.9 cents. That’s because it’s 1969 and Canada is still a year away from going metric. A year away from screwing up a lot of things you studied in school. A year away from instituting a measuring system that, based solely on number values, means you are somehow lighter. Taller. Longer.

You’re working at Brookswood Shell. That’s what the owner calls it. You call it Brookswood Hell. It’s your first real job because seven years of picking strawberries will never show up on your employment applications. As if every blistering day you scrabbled on your knees in the dirt, every rotten berry that exploded between your fingers, every bird’s nest, every garter snake, every ripe, red missile that thwaked! into your back — none of that ever happened.

The owner of Brookswood Shell understands car engines and brake lines and carburators and spark plugs. He does not understand people. He does not understand you.

He cannot comprehend how a 16-year-old kid does not know how to drive, why a kid would rather spend his time perusing hockey magazines instead of cruising Fraser Highway between the A&W and the Dog and Suds.

On Sunday mornings, when it’s your turn to open the garage, he greets you at the door to his house wearing only his underwear. He shoves the keys into your hand while doing little to control the family dog — a German Shepherd thick with muscle and hate — which eyes your crotch and bares its fangs. Like it’s had scrotum before and has developed a taste for it.

The owner heaves a tire iron in your direction one afternoon after someone — most likely you — failed to properly tighten the wheel nuts and so the tire nearly fell off while the vehicle was being driven.

The tire iron bounces once on the painted concrete floor before skidding into your boot. Your feelings are hurt more than your foot, but you never forget that incident. You remember it, in fact, every time you use the key to open the pop machine on a hot, dusty evening and help yourself to its chilled contents.

The man, the stranger, is pointing to your acne. He’s indicating your zits.

“I can help you with that,” he says. And then tells you about the wonders of washing your face with Phisoderm.

You’ve fought the pimples for years. Ate your mother’s raisins for their iron, only to be told off for snacking on her baking supplies. You slathered your face with skin-tone Clearasil, which makes you look like you’ve just dipped your head in mud. One night, your community football coach shows up to collect your equipment and you have to quickly scrub the goo off lest anyone think you’re wearing makeup when all you want is for the red menace to go away.

So you try Phisoderm. And it works. Because taking care of  your face is the most important key to maintaining a good complexion.

Your face, after all, is the first thing people see. It’s your calling card. A shiny pink resume. It’s a CV with eyes, nose and mouth.

It’s your first impression.

And it’s all you got, baby.

Your hair? It disappears one strand at a time and you don’t even notice until one day you’re looking at an old photo and the thought comes that you haven’t had to worry about a straight part for years.

Your waistline? You try on jeans you swear fit just last summer and suddenly you’re sucking it all in and struggling with the button and cursing the dryer because you just know all that hot, tumbling air is specifically designed to shrink clothes.

But your face? It stares back at you every single day without fail. Sometimes, when the light is right, you catch a glimpse of a younger person who looks vaguely familiar. Someone who still possesses cheekbones and dimples, someone whose features have not shifted and sagged with age and snacking.

You need to protect that face. Preserve it.

And so you try them all: Melaleuca, Nutrimetics, Body Shop, Avon, Jan Marini, EmerginC, Circadia.

Cleanse, tone, day cream. Cleanse, tone, night cream.

Every day. For years. Even as you acquire more face because you have less hair.

And in that great sweeping expanse — that field of skin that now stretches from the bottom of your chin to well past your ears — there is not a single blemish to be found. No blocked pores. No blackheads. No whiteheads.

Because, during a long, dry summer way back in 69, you took a stranger’s advice.

Thanks, mister.


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