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.”
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:
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:
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.
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.