Sunday, June 10, 2007

Confession of a lapsed New Yorker: my new, improved face

In fairness to Judi, who rightfully resents having assumed the persona of "L.A. Woman" and all that encompasses (the blondness, self-absorption and superficiality), I'm acknowledging that Judi looks, feels and sounds more like a New Yorker. True, she has a huge home, gardener, trainer and a navigation device in her car that tells you how to get where you're going, but where she's going is likely to be a writing or book group. She's no bimbo. She kills at Scrabble, reads newspapers and though she gets up three hours later than I do, she's the first to finish the Sunday "NY Times" puzzle and claims not to google any answers. The truth is if you're trying to figure out which of us had extensive cosmetic repairs done on Friday, it was the New Yorker. Yes, there's work done in New York that doesn't happen on Wall Street!

How did I find myself in a cosmetic clinic? It started with a torn earlobe. Ouch! Though I've had pierced ears for some forty years, I was never told to remove the earrings before going to sleep, which is why a hole was in trouble. Where we live - in the West Village - you can buy penis-shaped pasta, books on gender issues and dominatrix outfits, but there's not a lot to spruce up a woman's appearance. In our neighborhood most spiked shoes are large sizes as they're bought and worn by men, so I had to shlep my earlobes to the upper East Side, which was still easier than going to Beverly Hills or Bangkok.

The New York Aesthetic Consultants Clinic provides free cookies and coffee, but that's not the reason for my frequent return visits. There had been complications with the earlobe procedure that required additional attention. While waiting, I looked at an array of pamphlets, all featuring photos of smiling, unlined women and promising that wrinkles could safely disappear into the universe. I bit, both into the cookies and pamphlets. "What would you do with this face?" I asked the doctor once he'd finished stitching up my earlobe.

He handed me a magnifying mirror, and pointing to two, vertical lines surrounding my mouth that brought to mind Howdy Doody, said, "Restalyne." I'd expected he'd be more ambitious - okay greedier - and propose everything Michael Jackson had ever paid for. "We can plump those up," he said, his moderation earning my trust.

"It's not permanent and it doesn't seem risky," I told my husband, who was helping me grapple with the decision. Would I feel shabby? Superficial? Less authentic? My fear, however irrational, was that cosmetic enhancements automatically cut into IQ points. "How is this different from coloring your hair?" Martin reasoned. With his encouragement, I went ahead and gave it a shot, which actually meant many shots. There were perhaps six or eight prickly, painful injections on each side of my mouth.

"I don't think it did anything," I complained to the nurse snapping pictures two weeks after the Restalyne had been injected.

"If you're not pleased, don't do it again," was the doctor's advice. They claim Restalyne lasts six months but I got a much longer run and didn't go back for more until two years later, at which time I had them toss in a bit of Botox.

The clinic has an incentives plan: the tenth procedure gets you a $350 discount. They learned from American Airlines, and I'm a mere three painful improvements away from the free taco. To commemorate becoming a senior citizen, this week I treated myself to a major overhaul: Sculptra for sagging cheeks, Radiesse (longer lasting than Restalyne for those mouth-framing lines), Restalyne to flush away the squiggly lines above my lips that look like unpaved, country roads on a map and Botox to deal with my eyes and forehead. Don't be fooled by the luxurious sounding names. They all involve needles and the numbing cream doesn't do enough. All the while, I was ironically staring at a Monet print, blue and yellow sunflowers reminding me we could have gone to France -- twice -- for what I was spending. After sitting with an ice pack on the bruises, I went home on the subway (yes, using my newly acquired, senior reduced fare card), certain a cab driver would have headed directly to a battered woman's shelter.

Martin, who's scrutinizing me in an effort to figure out how I'll look once the intensely purple spots fade, is, to use a currently overused expression, "cautiously optimistic". The contours of my face have changed (for the better), but I'm not unrealistic. Surely I'll still be able to get the senior rate at the movies and walk past a construction site without the work stopping and everyone shouting out obscenities.

The changes aren't dramatic, but maybe that's the desired effect. However great the temptation, I'm not going to divide the number of wrinkles that have been minimized into the cost. I was told to come back for more Sculptra and cookies in a month.

To come clean about the bi-coastal divide, I lived in LA for twenty-two years and moved back to New York in 1991. The only things I miss are the terrific friends I made, the Santa Monica Farmers Market and the sushi. I've been accused of being overly negative about LA, but a friend recently allowed that cities do have different values, explaining, "What matters in New York is what you know, in LA it's whom you know and in Boston, regardless of how old you are, it's where you went to school." That got me off the hook. And if my concession to vanity has done nothing else, it's leveled the playing field of our blog, demonstrating that New York women can be just as self indulgent as those in Los Angeles.

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