I Was a DoD Beauty Queen


A few weeks ago I went home to the US for leave. Months in the desert had left me looking pretty rough and I decided I needed some work. This was a mistake, folks. A terrible, terrible mistake. The Department of Defense doubtless does many things well, but beauty is not one of them.

There’s background, of course. There always is.

When I turned forty my older friend Kim took me out to lunch. Over oyster po’boys she leaned forward, cut her eyes around the restaurant like she was about to slip me an 8-ball of cocaine, and hissed “have you gotten the… you know… hair on your face problem yet?”

I was seriously freaked out. Because, I mean, hair on my face? What was she talking about? Was this what I had to look forward to in the second half of life? Why had no one ever warned me? Because believe me, I did not sign up for that, and if I suddenly started sprouting whiskers then someone at Universe Headquarters was going to get an earful until the problem was resolved.

In the three years since then I’ve definitely developed some peach fuzz on my cheeks. It’s not a lot, but I’m starting to look like a thirteen year-old boy. A thirteen year-old boy with crows’ feet. I decided to have my face waxed. You can’t be too careful: today’s peach fuzz is tomorrows’s mutton chops.

I’d been assigned to tiny Camp Buehring for a month before I flew home. I had no access to civilization during that time. There’s nothing around Camp Buehring but sand. Sand and camels as far as the eye can see. It looks like Mars only with camels.

Camp Buehring has a PX the size of a convenience store, a Taco Bell, a KFC and a Panda (because nothing says “Army Strong” like a diet of sodium, fat, and highly processed chemicals). There’s not much else on the base but there is, surprisingly, a spa. I made an appointment for a wax, a haircut, and a pedicure.

At the spa I was assigned a “personal attendant” who was going to take care of all my beauty needs. She was a Pacific Islander, and spoke almost no English. She was also over six feet tall and looked and talked a lot like Andre the Giant. In my mind I christened her “Igor.”

Image this person wants to rip burning wax from your soft flesh

Igor led me to a cubicle and pushed me onto a table for my facial wax. Igor liked to talk to herself. She began spreading hot wax all over my face while crooning to herself “HOT paste… HOT paste… HOTTTT paaaaaste…” She dripped some wax on my shirt, and she dripped some wax in my hair, and then she laid cloth strips over my face, yelled ”Cruciatus!” and ripped it all off. It hurt about as badly as you’d expect it to hurt when someone rips all your facial hair out by the roots.

Next, Igor led me to the hair portion of the salon. She didn’t wash my hair, which is understandable because this is the desert and water is at a premium. But she also didn’t comb my hair, which was windblown and tangled and now full of hardened facial wax.

What she did do was to plaster my bangs down with water, take a pair of scissors, and whack them all off in one swift movement, about an inch above my eyebrows.

I stared at myself in the mirror, transfixed with horror. “My bangs!”

Igor nodded, clearly pleased with herself. “I make purty.” And throughout the rest of the ordeal she crooned to herself “I make purty. I make purrrrty! I make PURRRTY!”

She shuffled around me, wheezing and making random scissors-stabs at my dry, tangled head. Halfway through it I threw up my figurative hands and started to laugh. I mean why not? You can’t make this stuff up. The damage was already done. And, as my sister pointed out to me later, a bad haircut lasts six weeks. A bad haircut story lasts forever.

When Igor was done hacking and sawing at my head she took a round brush and a blowdryer and did this with it:

Image the librarian glasses come free with every haircut

I’m not kidding, that is really how my hair looked when she was done. And when I looked in the mirror I saw that my face was reacting to the wax job by doing this:

Image I’m not really blond but if I were I’d look happier about it

I looked like Captain Kangaroo with cystic acne.

Igor walked me back to the lobby. And when I made my entrance every jaw in the place dropped. Silence descended. Magazines fell from hands. There were a few audible gasps. Someone muttered “dear God.” Proudly, Igor marched me to the pedicure station.

You know how a regular spa pedicure involves a massaging chair and calf-deep tubs of bubbling, scented water? Well, a desert pedicure is different. A desert pedicure is a folding chair, a broken Homemedics foot bath containing a liter of tepid water, and a bottle of Betadine solution.

Image in the desert we call this “beauty juice”

I can’t even talk about it. My toes were still stained brown when I got off the plane 3 days later. I’m just glad I didn’t opt for the Brazilian wax.

I’m back in the desert now, and nearly back to normal. I have peach fuzz on my cheeks and bangs in my eyes.

Feel free to share your own bad beauty sessions in the comment section. I’d like to know I’m not alone out here.


10 thoughts on “I Was a DoD Beauty Queen

  1. dave

    I got sick of shaving once; so i had this korean lady wax my face. It hurt very badly and ended with me drinking a beer at the ‘cross the street bar at 11am.


  2. Bern_

    Ok, I got one for you! I go into this barber shop and this old CB is the barber, (I’d just gotten back from Russia.) I told the CB that I wanted a Marine Corps high and tight. He asks me how high, and how tight? I tell him HIGH and skin tight. OK! This guy with his girl are in there and saw me before I got my hair cut. After I get out of the chair, I have (I kid you not) a completely shaved head with what truly appears to be a 1/2 inch thick fillet minion on top of my stark white shaved head. The dude and the girl GASPED and left the shop after they saw me! I drove to DeLand to have my old barber fix my head. I kid you NOT, He dropped his shears on the floor and said “WHAT THE HELL MAN?” I said don’t what the hell me, just FIX it John! John fixed it. and life went on. The CB that screwed up my hair latter on became one of my dearest friends and one of the best barbers that I have ever known!

      1. Bern

        I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you… CB’s or SeaBee’s = U.S.N. Construction Battalion. They’re some pretty bad ass sailors, truth be told. They can build or fix ANYTHING and do it YESTERDAY when right this instant would have sufficed.

  3. Kenny

    I can recall my first and second Army Haircuts, (or is that Hair’s cut?). The first one, is the one every male endures from the shears, and has come to be a traditional initiation into the Army embarkation (sp) process. I had shoulder length hair, and I ended up looking like a peeled onion afterwards. No surprise there. One notable memory, was that we were all joking and yukking it up outside the barber shop, Talking about giving up our prized adornment, and the last of our civilian dignity. Everyone was different, and had braced themselves for the tradition with courage. Later when we were all back outside, I didn’t recognize a single person from an hour before. Everyone looked nearly the same, and since we had only known each other for a few hours, spent the next few hours, getting reaquainted. What was later, most notable, was the price. I had four to six inches of my Absolom locks sheared down to about 3/16th, for a buck thirty. That’s $1.30. You’re damn right they charged us! Here’s where the irony of it gets really strange. Two weeks later, they marched us back to the barber. By this time, I probably had about 3/8th of an inch on my head. They shaved me back to the customary 3/16th, but this time charged me/us $2.50! To this day, the arithmatic of that has sent my brain into a spin. . . . . . . .but it always makes for a good barber story.


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