Pimple. Zit. Pizza Face. Moonscape. Crater Face.
Pustule. Bleb. Eruption. Blackhead. Whitehead. Carbuncle.
Camedo. Papule. Pimple Pus.
The bane of my existence all senior year long. Before and after too.
I heard those words, I thought those words, and I felt those words every time I forced my self to look in the mirror, especially in the morning when I cringed at what the dawn’s early light would reveal on my face: how the landscape of my face had changed overnight, usually for the worse.
What new Mount Everest had thrust itself forth through the earthy crust of my face.
What new Marianas Trench lay about to be revealed beneath some scabrous patch about to slough off during the day.
Or what new Mount Vesuvius was about to spew forth with just the least bit of pressure from my fingers or on an unwilling but yielding facecloth.
I was sure I would die, and I was sure I had terminal acne – that would take me out, as surely as in Viet Nam a mortar shell plastered Ronnie Campbell to the turret of his tank, a bouncing betty disemboweled Ray Israel, & a booby-trapped basket of dragonfruit blew Mike White to smithereens.
My death would not be as swift as theirs, but I felt it would be certainly as sure.
But ever so much slower.
In retrospect, it seems callous & shallow of me to compare my acne problems to the mindless deaths of friends of mine in a mindless war in Southeast Asia, but when I was 16-going-on-17 during my senior year I felt compelled to deal with my daily issues head-first. Or in my case, face-first.
Yes, I knew some guys’ faces looked far more pitted, purpled, scabby, & lumpy than mine, but then there were those too whose faces were smooth and clear and soft as a baby’s butt. I should have seen my face as half-clear not as half-clotted. But I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t see it that way. It was my face.
I only had to look at it though when I dared or chanced to look in the mirror.
Truth be told: I looked at my face a lot during the average school day. I feared whiteheads in droves would rear their ugly little white-pus heads to dot my rashy skin while I innocuously slinked along the halls at school. Rife with pustule paranoia I slipped into at least one boys’ bathroom between classes as I passed from one classroom to the next to nonchalantly slide my face across the mirrors slyly on the que vie for the newest dot rising to the occasion of my face.
So all day long, I knew every day at school – each day I dreaded, all 5 days of each & every week – I feared how I carried my face before me and how others had to look at it all day long.
And I had to look at their faces looking at my face. So I knew.
I was sure, from the occasional grimace or look of sympathy, that I was certain to end up in the Pock-Marked Hall of Shame.
Without a doubt, I worked like it was my job to fix my face; I even worked overtime on it.
I sought out whatever drugstore remedy I could afford, buying on the sly when I had enough pocket money, and trying at home for whatever sure-cure remedy I had shelled out what little money I could accumulate without asking my mom for some. And no double-your-money-back guarantee ever returned me my money: I tried once, writing a long detailed letter, only to receive a curt reply that I had not applied the product as directed and thus did not qualify for double my money back. Or any money back. Just a coupon for 25¢ off my next purchase.
Some much for the 60’s end-all, cure-all, be-all zit crème de la crèmes.
I might have been born yesterday, but I wasn’t born in the dark.
I also tried picking up on the sly any tips I overheard at school: in class, homeroom, or the locker room – to no avail. I didn’t hear much, didn’t learn much, didn’t feel any much better about what I thought was only my everso personalized individual one-of-a-kind dilemma. Others, mostly guys, seemed as reluctant to discuss the problem as I was, except for the baby’s butt guys who loudly and vociferously ridiculed and mercilessly laughed at some unfortunate soul who fell into the purgatory category of those sufferers of the priceless adjectives, phrases, metaphors, idioms, & clichés describing our plight. My Plight.
Only the girls seemed less up-tight about ‘unsightly blemishes,’ probably because they had the distinct advantage of make-up. No wonder, some wildly enterprising ad agency whiz-kid came up with the product name – CoverGirl. Probably had a sister.
Or maybe it was because girls hit puberty about 2 eons before boys do, so they’re “all clear” by the time they’re women in high school when the boys-to-men process is just beginning. For me it certainly was. Just beginning. I would still be 16 for 2 months at the start of my senior year.
Seems like I was forever playing catch-up with the rest of my class.
To complicate matters my peach fuzz was molting into genuine hair. Not yet beard, not yet a shadow, not even a smudge. Just some random occasional dark slender hair, about 1 for every thousand or so fuzzes that fell off.
My Sunday School teacher, Terry Heyns, when I was in 9th grade said he knew how to help me shave my peach fuzz: just put some cream on my face and let a cat lick it off.
I think he thought that was supposed to be funny. Or that he was being amazingly clever.
Terry was still my Sunday School teacher when I was in 12th grade. And along about the end of September when my face was certainly a no-man’s land for a beard and the peach fuzz had mostly disappeared to be replaced by single solitary sprouts very there & here, I discovered that shaving – with lather and a real blade – only exacerbated my skin, irritating & causing new pimples to appear overnight in droves to replace the few missing hairs.
Bright person that I thought I was, I reasoned that cause & effect was the heart of the problem: shave the few hairs and wake up the next day with exponential pimples.
Ergo, I deduced: shave infrequently, only when necessary, or just not at all – for as long as I could. And so I did, quit shaving.
Then a couple Sundays later, in the middle of Sunday School, Terry stopped his lesson – mostly reading verbatim from the Sunday School Quarterly, except for whenever some passage jarred his memory and we, his captive audience, all 4 of us, found ourselves seat-belted in the Terry Heyns Time Machine and taken back to the Glory Days of Terry Heyns playing football for the PBSHS Golden Tornadoes, circa 1958.
Terry also had the distinction of having served in This Man’s Army for a tour of duty in South Korea, stationed adjacent to the Demilitarized Zone. We were supposed to be impressed, especially when the Time Machine transported us to those halcyon days of yore.
Some days the trips in the Time Machine were some times preferable to Terry’s droning monotonous reading word-for-word from the quarterly. Barely.
Why he never let us read once in a while is beyond me. We all could read better than he could, even though he had an A.A. degree from Palm Beach Junior College, which we also visited on occasion courtesy of Terry’s Time Machine.
In addition to the ego trips we took with Terry every Sunday, we had to deal with the conflicting image of Terry live, in front of us, there on his folding chair, with lots of Terry hanging over the sides and the back of the chair, and over his belt. He was maybe 6 feet 1 inch tall and probably that too around his personal equator, at least as his belt lapped his middle. The other image in competition to the real one before us was the virtual image of Terry displayed on the flat-screen of the Time Machine: Terry, slim trim and svelte in his Golden Tornado football uniform (he was a very down lineman of course); Terry, smart snappy and G.I. Joe-ish in his corporal uniform (making the world safe from Communism); and Terry, lithe cool and hip at PBJC (one of God’s Great Gifts to Women) where he met, squired, & mated his wife Carol.
Every Sunday was Halloween in Terry’s Sunday School class: it was truly trick or treat.
So, on the Sunday I slid into my folding chair ready to begin my own Sabbath ordeal, Terry noticed my sparse here & there hair growth; he caught us all off-guard when he nattily observed of me, “So, Carlie – are you trying to grow a beard? Or just thinking about it?”
With Terry, nearly every comment directed at someone, especially those of us he felt he could intellectually bully, all in the name of Sunday School Teaching & Spiritual Formation, had a barb in it. That was his kind of humor. It bordered on sarcasm, usually followed up with, “Oh, we’re not laughing at you, Carlie. We’re laughing with you.”
He probably had Proverbs 26:19 edited out of his Bible: “For as the madman who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man who deceiveth his neighbor and saith, ‘Am not I in sport?’” As recorded in the King James Version of the Bible.
And when I lamely replied to his quip, “Uh, no, Terry – when I shave it seems to irritate my skin. And I sort of break out more . . . ”
To which he heartily rhetorted, “Why don’t you just try washing it?!!” Then he chortled himself until he broke out into a coughing spasm that made him look like Santa Claus’ bowlful of jelly.
When he caught his breath and quit coughing, he next offered, “It looks like you just need to keep it cleaner. That’s all it takes – just better personal hygiene.” And then he bored his beady eyes of coal at me, to see how I was taking it.
I was mortified, of course, to have everyone in class, all 3 of my classmates there that day, 2 of them girls, staring at me, at my face, as if they were determining how right Terry was in his estimation of my personal plague. I even sort of remember them seeming to edge away from me on their folding chairs, in our little circle, leaning away from me and towards him.
Which gave him the thought to rev up the Time Machine to take us all back to about a 2-week period in the July between his junior & senior years at PBSHS, when he had the worst case of acne he’d ever have. “Not near as bad as Carlie’s though,” he was only too kind to point out, merely for comparative verification I’m sure. Still, it was his personal trauma and cross to bear for those 2 weeks, so that he could learn to empathize with others less fortunate than he. And empathetic he was, he was sure to point out to us from time to time, 2 or 3 times each Sunday.
“Really, Carlie, you should just learn to wash your face twice a day, in the morning and at night time, like I did – and it all went away, for me. You just have to be disciplined, Carlie. Can you be disciplined, Carlie?”
I made him no reply. I was inwardly seething. He was just old enough, I know now, to be construed as a male authority figure.
“Or maybe, Carlie, there’s some other, deep, hidden reason for why your face keeps breaking out – and never gets better. Is there?”
And he was supposed to be my Sunday School Teacher & Spiritual Mentor. Who on earth thought it was a bright idea to turn him loose on us every Sunday morning, for year after year on end.
Why couldn’t Warren Hussey have been our Sunday School Teacher. Or Roy Merritt.
They were probably too smart to do it, to want to do it, to be talked into doing it.
Eventually, my mom noticed that I was becoming obsessed with how bad my face looked, no matter how nonchalant I tried to act about it.
One afternoon early in October, with my 17th birthday approaching, she came home from work and told me that the owner of the Dutch Oven, the little diner she waitressed at up on Federal Highway in Deerfield Beach had told her of a home remedy for curing acne.
I was ready for anything at that point; I was willing to try any thing that would cure what so ailed me.
Except for Frank’s remedy.
Frank was not just the owner of the Dutch Oven, he was the short order cook and his wife, Lorene, was the other woman who waited the few tables and the horseshoe counter with my mom. There was also this guy Amos, some Navy buddy of Frank’s from the Big One, WWII, who worked as Frank’s set-up man in the back and did all the grungy clean-up and grunt work that would have been beneath Frank to perform.
I didn’t really like Frank. I thought, 1, he had eyes for my mom, and 2, he had this really sick sense of humor that was borderline off-color and definitely made Terry Heyns look like an altar boy. Frank was also the perfect age and demeanor to be a male authority figure for me, and 1 I would have loved to clash with. If he’d only not been my mom’s boss.
I didn’t have to worry about being around him much: wherever mom waited tables she never wanted my sisters or me to visit her at work or hang around there, unless it was an absolute necessity or a life-&-death emergency. Like if my dad had shown up out of the wild blue yonder, as he felt so favored to do every couple/three years or so: that was his way, how he liked to do it, as if he was Frank Sinatra or something.
In 9th grade I could have swung by the Dutch Oven every day after school on my bike ride home; it wouldn’t have been but a few blocks out of the way, would have only added about 5 or 10 minutes to the ride home.
But I didn’t like seeing mom at work. That was a side of her I had a problem with; she had to be this kind & courteous, subservient & obsequious woman-servant to total strangers. I hated that. And I felt wildly uncomfortable seeing that side of my mom that I never saw anywhere else at anytime or around anyone.
Kowtowing is still what comes to mind.
Tough part of it was, if she didn’t show that side of herself at work, we wouldn’t eat, have a place to live, clothes to wear, or much of an existence above poverty level.
So, I put up with it. Mostly ignored it. And hated to be reminded of it.
Another reason I resented Frank muddling our lives.
Since Mom though had suffered to hear Frank’s suggestion and felt obligated to at least encourage me to try it, I also felt obligated, more for her sake, so that she could report back to him that I did try it.
And I did.
The Protocol for Frank’s Sure-Cure Urine Therapy for the Total Eradication of Unsightly Blemishes was simple.
I was to collect my first urine of the morning in a cup; I had a special designated Pee Cup in the bathroom, that my sisters were sternly advised to “Leave it alone!” As if they needed any discouragement from tampering with it.
Next I was to let the urine cool to room temperature. Then I was to take clean, sterile cotton balls, dip them in the urine and dab it on my face – all over, even the unblemished spots, as if there was a square foot of my face that bore any semblance to a baby’s bottom – finally, let my face air dry.
That was it. No washing off or adding anything else. Just apply a liberal soaking of my urine – it had to be mine – all over my face, and then set off to face the world: with a face covered with zits soaked in my very own urine.
What was I thinking?!! Obviously, I wasn’t.
Frank had been very specific about that, my mom said, that it had to be my own urine and it had to be from the very first urine of the morning, when it was bound to be the strongest. As if I needed to be told that: my nose for the following few hours kept me updated on the accuracy of that assertion with nearly every breath I took, whether or not I inhaled expressly through my mouth. There is no tamping down the scent of strong fresh urine applied that liberally and closely to the nostrils.
It was inescapable.
If that weren’t bad enough, I was to repeat the procedure at bedtime, careful to use the morning’s leftover urine, which had been sitting out all day in a hot Florida bathroom steeping and fermenting just so that I could repeat the liberal soaking procedure on every square foot of my face.
And I slept that way. With my face all slathered over & coated in piss.
Of course I didn’t sleep always on my back; sometimes I’d roll over to sleep on my stomach, which put my face in contact with my pillow, then I’d roll over again and put my hair in contact with the pillow, so that by morning after rotissering my head on the pillow from my shoulders up waves of stale urine surely had to be emanating like heat waves off of a hot asphalt highway in the dead heat of a summer’s noon.
After a few days of that regimen, I’m sure all the flies in North Broward County had their Garmen’s locked on my house and wherever I was sure to go as I left for school, sure as Mary’s little lambs followed her to hers.
Actually, after a few days of that, I just gave it up. After 5 days, exactly. I started on a Tuesday morning, but on Saturday morning, I woke up to give it 1 more day’s application, but I could tell that not 1 less zit seemed to occupy the battleground of my face. If anything, they seemed more firmly entrenched. How could they not be: I’d been fertilizing them twice a day with God’s own best home-grown Miracle-Grow®.
I resolved on Sunday morning, the next day, if there was no marked improvement – or no un-marked improvement – I’d scrub my face and hair to within an inch of their lives before I went to Sunday School and had to sit under another Sabbath’s tutelage by Terry.
He already had plenty enough ammunition for ridiculing me and my pathetic face.
Talk about adding urine to skin disease.
Mom didn’t say anything when she noticed my Pee Cup soaking in bleach in the storage room out back, especially when my sisters lobbied for throwing it out. They didn’t even want it returned to the cupboard where it might get mixed up with the other look-alikes.
I countered with, “Yeah, well – at least it won’t be a smell-alike.”
Funny thing, I could be witty as all get out with some people but not with others.
At the time I was just too close to the problem to know why I couldn’t all the time. Now, after time & distance have passed & increased, I see & know the patterns to my responses. Of course it’s too late now to have that information.
As Bob Seger might croon, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
The last comment I remember about Frank’s cure was that he asked Mom if I’d done what he suggested and what were the results; she told him. He harrumphed and shrugged his shoulders, and said something like, “Stupid kid, he just didn’t do it long enough. You have to do it for at least two weeks if you want any kind of results.”
He also suggested I should try it again over Thanksgiving or Christmas, when I didn’t have school, since apparently Mom had hinted it made me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious going to school with my face all slathered with piss.
Poor Mom, poor me, if we weren’t so desperate & hard-up and looking for any break whatsoever we wouldn’t have been so susceptible to such a cockamamie scam.
But then, Dad always got taken back by us.
Well, at least we were consistent.
Evenso, school was the main reason, at least publicly admitted by me, for why I put the skids on Frank’s prank, or so I felt it was in those days, which only caused me to loathe him all the more. Despite what I was learning from Pastor Simpson’s sermons often proclaiming that I needed to turn the other cheek, as Christ instructed and modeled for all mankind.
Except, I don’t think turning my own cheek to receive more urine could be found anywhere in either the Old or New Testaments.
Based on all that, I sure didn’t want to add Pee Brain to the sobriquets I was picking up on my E.S.P. wavelength at school. Better to be known as Pimple Puss than olde Piss Face.
Pus Puss was bad enough.
So I quit the Urine Therapy. Cold Turkey. Was the easiest thing I ever gave up in my life.
Next to failing. Which I was gettin’ pretty good at, because as Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young still occasionally croon: that’s cause it’s the easiest thing to do.
Except for maybe sticking my finger down my throat or a needle in my eye, after crossing my heart and hoping to die, quite naturally.
I still cross my heart and hope to die, especially if I think it’ll get me out of a close scrape.
To Mom’s credit she didn’t give up on searching for a way to ease my physical & emotional pain over the deplorable condition of my face.
A friend of hers at work, a customer, a woman friend actually, overheard Mom and Frank discussing the state of my face at Dutch Oven – what amazing table talk to overhear while eating some delicacy whipped up by Frank from the grille or the fryer – and she suggested to Mom that I see a dermatologist in Pompano, not far from PBSHS, where her nephew had gone to have his sad case of acne seriously reduced, enough so that he had practically no scars at all to show for his soul’s facial ordeal.
When Mom immediately suggested I walk over someday after practice, on the other side of Federal Highway and a couple blocks north of Atlantic Boulevard, into a new medical arts building there, just for a consultation, I immediately objected saying we didn’t have the money.
Mom insisted though saying I’d been so good to give Frank’s crazy recipe a try that she thought I deserved at least a chance at a legitimate medical solution. She even added, which I can hardly believe even now, “I don’t think we’re that ‘p-poor’ that we can’t afford to at least try for a month what my friend suggested.” Plus, she gave me a sideways hug and said, “I’ve a little set aside for emergencies, and I think this is an emergency. Just don’t make a big deal about it in front of your sisters.”
A few days later I did walk over to the dermatologist’s after school for my first consultation with $25 in my pocket for the visit.
I heard pretty much what I expected to hear, that my face wasn’t the worst face the doctor and his staff had ever seen, but it wasn’t the best either. If that’s all I learned that day I could have saved us $25, for as Stevie Nicks has been known to croon, “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
But I signed on to be one of his patients, or projects, as I thought of myself; I thought more highly of myself than to be gauged as a guinea pig though.
And I began the next day, actually, the next morning, at 7:00, when I would start to receive my thrice weekly treatments.
My aunt’s roommate would pick me up at the house on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday and drop me off at the dermatologist’s on her way to work in North Fort Lauderdale. After my ‘treatment’ I’d then walk back across Federal Highway and the half dozen or so blocks up 4th Street to school where I’d be a little bit early for my 1st period class, Mrs. Jantzen’s Trigonometry & Analytical Geometry class, the ying to my Bio-Chemistry class’ yang.
The 30-minute treatment consisted of the dermatologist examining my face while I lay on my back on a table, with a bib covering my chest and shoulders. Two bright examining lamps shone hotly on my face while he turned my face this way and that, and then would begin his part of the procedure. With some super-sharp scalpel-type instrument, left over no doubt from the Inquisition, which I preferred not to see, thus my eyes were always gripped tightly closed, the dermatologist proceeded to lance the largest & most offending papules, as I learned was the professional dermatological term for unsightly & revolting run-of-the-mill, garden-store variety, industrial-strength zits.
He’d slice, apply gentle pressure with some oval-ended stainless-steel compressor rod which caused God only knows what junk to ooze out of my skin, then he dabbed at the open wound with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol.
He must have had a cast iron stomach or didn’t eat any breakfast before my treatment.
My hyper-active imagination could wildly imagine all sorts of treats spewing forth from my infected follicles and gaping pores.
After he’d dismembered the most serious epidermal offenders, he handed me off to his lovely assistant whose task it was to use some other smaller oval-shaped instrument to search and destroy whatever blackheads or nascent whiteheads she could discern before they became fully realized blood pus and viral skin sacks ready to burst open at the slightest pressure.
Then she smeared some vile lotion all over my face, which fortunately bore no hint nor trace of urine; after letting that soak in she then scraped every square foot of my face with some infernal instrument forged in the fires of hell that looked like a cross between a disc plow and a comb. I don’t know what that was supposed to do, except maybe make me feel like what Anne Sexton wanted the readers of her confessional poetry to feel: as if she’d peeled back the skin on her forearm and was grinding away at her nerve endings with a wire brush.
And that was all before I’d ever read my first Anne Sexton poem.
The dermatologist’s lovely assistant was not done with me yet.
Next I received 5 minutes of strong ultra-violet light to heat and bake my skin; then another lotion was applied to my skin, which actually felt pretty great as it cooled and soothed what had traumatized my epidermal layers all the way down to the raw nerve endings; then 1 more minute under the ultra-violet light to dry completely the soothing, cooling lotion.
And last but not least, I got to put on some CoverBoy make-up.
I balked at first, but the assistant insisted that this was probably the most important step, that it would seal in the lotions and provide a layer of medication to promote faster healing of the affected square feet of my face. I relented when I realized I had no choice.
The last lotion actually came in a variety of shades, and she let me pick. I chose the lightest one available although I was certain that shade would present my face to the world as a quadroon. But I secretly hoped to be taken as an octaroon. To be consistent, she gave me my very own “travel bottle” to apply on those mornings when I didn’t receive a treatment. I also was instructed to apply a thin layer at bedtime.
Boy that part of the protocol sounded familiar.
And I followed the directions. To the letter, crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i.’
I so wanted to get my face better.
Each treatment cost $7.50, still a hunk of change in those days, and I offered to pay for them out of my weekly earnings for inserting, folding, & stacking copies of the Sun Sentinel on those 3 nights of the week, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it at first. She said that was all about being a parent and having children. A parent had to take care of those needs.
But she relented eventually, when we both realized that would cost $22.50 a week, or $90 a month. So most of the time we split the cost.
Of course, at school, my treatments set in motion a whole new set of problems I had to confront, unexpectedly, but not surprisingly.
I’m not sure that whatever popped up out of nowhere really took me too much by surprise in those days.
One day after a treatment as I was silly enough to blithely be walking around the schoolgrounds waiting for the majority of the students to arrive, I was innocently enough walking on a covered walkway that intersected with another 1 when Bob Adams, tormentor extraordinaire of mine and many other lives, happened to cross my path and accosted me.
“Hey, Buddha,” I peremptorily greeted him as I tried to otherwise pass by & get on my way.
But he whirled around to catch up to me and sling an overly-friendly arm on my shoulder as I tried to shrug him off, then he grabbed my left arm cradling my books and I had to stop & grab my books with my free right hand or risk them hitting the concrete & scattering themselves & papers everywhere.
He was still a couple inches taller than me, despite my recent growth, and easily outweighed me by 80 or 90 pounds. I was such an easy catch.
Then he leaned back away from me, only to lean back in at me, and scrutinize me close up as I still struggled to keep my books from slipping & falling. He fell back again to loudly proclaim, “Hey, Wendy – you’re wearing make-up! Holy shit!!”
I tried to shrug it and him off, with my books finally under my control, “Naw, man – it’s just – “
But he cut me off. “No shit! You’re wearing make-up!!!”
“No, no – it’s just stuff that – “
Paying me no mind he strode off, sing-songing for anyone who cared or didn’t care to hear, “Wendy’s wearin’ make-up! Wendy’s wearin’ make-up! Wendy’s wearin’ make-up!”
All I could do was stand there and take it. Which I did a lot of in those days.
Oh, the Glory of those Days and the Grandeur of those Nights during my Grand & Fateful Senior Year.
But my treatments and my make-up wearing days were short-lived. For maybe 3½ weeks or 4 at the most I lay under the dermatologist’s knife, a willing Isaac to his abramic machinations, except I felt the blade. But I did show some modest improvements, in an incremental sort of way.
However, my pre-school visits came to an end a few days after my dad’s unexpected return to the homefront.
After the honeymoon wore off, shorter than usual compared to his other returns, he seemed incredulous that Mom was laying out good money just because I had a profusion of zits.
He determined he was going to accompany me on my next treatment, and he did, driving me down & standing next to me on the table while the dermatologist and his lovely assistant put me through their paces.
Once the dermatologist finished his regimen and left the room, his lovely assistant took over and my father, true to form, became all the more garrulous and friendly. Even with my eyes closed I could hear the change in his voice and knew what his body language was about as he started flirting with her.
The dermatologist’s assistant usually applied the third cream, except on that morning, no doubt in her eagerness to rid herself of me and my dad, she forgot. But at the door she remembered enough at the last minute to hand me an extra travel bottle of the cream in “my shade” and said I could just do it in the bathroom down the hall. Surely I knew how to do it myself by now. Then I was to wait 15 minutes before applying the final lotion.
I agreed, sheepishly, realizing she realized I knew why she was rushing us off so soon.
I wanted to be anywhere but there.
I got my wish. That would be my last session.
Afterwards my dad insisted on driving me to school, which I relented to but was hesitant; I usually applied my lotion – the final ‘public’ layer – in the dermatologist’s bathroom before I left the building, but he would have none of it and insisted I do it in the car. I could use the rear view mirror while he drove me. He said he had places to go and things to do, like getting down to the Union Hall and getting some work lined up.
I translated that as hitting the bar closest to the Union Hall and hanging around there waiting for someone to come in off the street and offer him a job. Quite naturally he’d be offered far more shots & beer chasers than jobs. But I kept my interpretation to myself.
Of course, Mom would find out later that my translation was the absolutely true version of his story.
In the car he did let me use the rear view mirror, but he drove like crazy to school, running a couple of red lights and barreling around a couple of corners making it almost impossible to smoothly & evenly apply the lotion.
I asked him to slow down, we didn’t need to rush, I’d be in plenty of time for my 1st period class, but he’d have none of it. He said I could finish doing whatever I needed to do in one of the bathrooms at school.
As if I would.
I just jumped out of the car and prayed for the best, jamming the skinny bottle into my lunch bag, until I could drop it off in my locker later.
He didn’t say bye or anything, just sort of half waved as he sped off.
It’d probably been 12 hours since he’d had a drink, and he didn’t want to have to wait even another half hour for that next one: the 1st 1 of the day.
That night at home he laid down the ultimatum that ‘no damn son of his was going to Hell No! wear no sissy make-up to school and look like some kind of damn queer,’ and shared other scattered sensitive sentiments related to my well-being, careful ongoing adjustments, and best-laid plans to teenhood that so often went awry.
He had decided he wasn’t going to waste any god-dam more money on my face when he could do just as well at home what no damn skin doctor can’t do in his office. Convoluted as his thinking and speaking was, we knew what he’d meant; we’d learned to translate his rant a long time ago.
And so my dad took over the care & feeding of the pimples on my face. He instructed my mom to buy a bar of oatmeal soap, and I was to scrub my face first thing in the morning and – big surprise! – as the very last thing I did before I went to bed at night. In between he would just squeeze those suckers dry with his thumbs and use one of mom’s bobby pins to bear down on the blackheads and the whiteheads himself before they got any worse.
He also told my mom to buy some rubbing alcohol & cotton balls so he could swab down my face just like the skin doctor did.
I remember thinking how curious and revealing that he so emphasized the word “rubbing” before he said alcohol. As if she would ever knowingly buy him any kind of “drinking” alcohol. Which she never did. Although she never stepped between him and his “buying” alcohol.
Then began my daily treatments from him, usually in the evening sometime between practice and dinner, ushering me into the bathroom and squeezing away at my face, with me sitting on the toilet seat, on the lid actually, while he stood over me, so that he got good leverage, as he said, to be able to bear down on me, and which made it too too easy to breathe in his alcohol-infused breath as he labored over me and exhaled heavily onto my face.
I remember thinking, we don’t need any rubbing alcohol, afterall his breath alone could swab my face.
And he did bear down. Almost like he took my zits personally, as a personal offense, muttering, ‘damn – that was a juicy one,’ ‘god-dam – where does all that shit come from!’ and ‘I’d like to know what the hell you’re doing to have so much pus oozing out of your face.’
As if I had any control over any of that.
Finally though, one night I begged him and mom to please not pop and squeeze my zits anymore, that it hurt when he did it, especially when he had to try to crush what he called the ‘blind ones, buried so damn deep.’ I didn’t see that it was making any difference. I promised I’d keep up the oatmeal scrubbings or go back to using the Fostex© cake. Or anything, if they’d just leave me alone.
So they relented.
I’m sure my dad was just as happy not to do it anymore either. He said, “It’s no damn way in hell how I wanna get my jollies – that’s for damn good sure.”
Since I was probably too big to spank, I thought it was him just punishing me in some strangely weird way, especially when I told him it really hurt when he worked over my face.
He snorted, as he walked out to the Florida Room, “Go ahead – wear your god-dam make-up. Be a sissy. See if I give a good god-dam.”
Mom was in the kitchen, so I couldn’t see her face, and she couldn’t see mine, but I know she heard that.
Yeah, welcome home, Dad. Thanks a lot.
Bad as my face was, or so I thought it was, I was delighted to be free of both the dermatologist’s and my dad’s evil, wicked machinations.
Plus, it had become a problem at basketball practice, the make-up thinly disguised as lotion, that is.
When the dermatologist heard that I was on the basketball team, although the final cut had yet to be made, I lived daily almost breathless with the assumption that I’d make the team – and might improbably enough even get to be the 6th or 7th man! – he shook his head thoughtfully and said something like, “Oh, I see. That could be part of your problem. Do you practice everyday?”
I brilliantly nodded to him a ‘yes’ as an answer.
“So, you probably are over-secreting through the sweat glands on your face, which could cause your pores to collect more dirt and thus become infected more easily, especially around the newly forming hair follicles.”
His remedy for that was that I should keep a slightly dampened towel near at hand in practice and frequently wipe down my face. He thought that should work wonders.
Careful as ever to follow the letter of the law, I dutifully followed his instructions that day at practice.
However, with the first swipe of the towel I was horrified.
I’d never noticed or thought of it or considered what my lotion had been doing in practice.
The lotion required by my dermatologist to slather on daily was not watered down; it was formulated to cover up and medicate my “problem areas.” It would soak in.
Except at practice, when I was huffing & puffing up & down the courts, sweating like a fat lady’s armpit, as Coach Morris required of us to be, I should have felt that sickly cream-ish beige-tinted ‘make-up,’ oozing off my skin: running down my cheeks, dripping off my nose & chin, making me look a little like the spawn of Gumby & the Wicked Witch of the West.
Not until that day the dermatologist first instructed me to swab down my face did I realize what must have been happening in practice on my treatment days at the dermatologist’s office. Just one more thing for me to be mortified over on those days.
But I was a quick study. One look at the towel tinted in beige provided the epiphany I needed to be sure to scrub down my face in the locker room before practice on treatment & non-treatment days. And I did.
For maybe 2 more practices I kept a damp towel on the sidelines to swab my face and tried to follow the doctor’s orders.
That regimen was thrown to the wind after 2 practices because Coach Morris started getting after me for why the hell I was wiping off my face yet again.
I tried to explain to him, that I was just getting the sweat off – I certainly didn’t want to go into details, especially in front of the whole team – and I didn’t want to debate personal hygene strategies imposed by my dermatologist. So I just let it go.
Especially when he harangued me in response, saying, “Gol-lee Damn – Widnernall, you haven’t worked hard enough yet to break a damn sweat. I’ll tell when you’ve sweat enough to take a break. Jesus Tomatoes – get your ass back out here on the court. Turn your jersey over – and play defense for a while. That’ll make you sweat. Or maybe you’d rather do the ‘monkey’ a couple times?”
Nobody ever wanted to do the ‘monkey,’ any more than we already had to, so I flipped my jersey & hustled over to play defense, which I really didn’t mind doing anyway. I liked practicing steals and knocking & jarring the ball loose. Plus, I’d learned that in practice I could foul all I wanted to but never fouled out. I got in lots of cheap shots that way, especially on Paul Lambert, and Dick Kennedy before he got cut. Man, those guys never caught on to what I was doing.
So one way or another I found myself free of the dermatologist’s and my dad’s attempts to cure my face. And try as they may I saw no real end in sight.
I was stuck with my face, no matter its shape, tint, or form. I’d just have to live with it, and hope and pray I wouldn’t die of it.
I think actually some days I would have been okay dying from it, hyperbolic as it sounds, because I remember too too clearly how difficult it was to face, say, Cathy Dix, in Bio-Chem, and other girls I had semi-serious and real crushes on, like Karen Dolan, and half of the varsity cheerleaders, all of them who were unrequited heart-throbs, especially Jenny Hayes, who also was Homecoming Queen our senior year.
Lucky Petrarch. He had only one Laura, while I had a bevy of them.
No wonder I was awkward or wildly inauthentic whenever I chanced upon a conversation with any of the girls on my Dream-On List, especially Cathy Dix. When we were having that chance conversation I couldn’t help but be reminded while I looked at their glorious, beaming faces that they had to stare into mine, old pizza face, with too too much evidence of past, present, & future epidermal eruptions.
I considered it far too otherworldly that they might not see on my face what I thought surely they were seeing. They had to see. Couldn’t help but see.
Whatever slim-to-none chance I hoped, prayed, wished for that I might have at convincing them I was someone they might want to be seen with I felt surely was canceled out by my face, and its sad state. I was certain those exacerbations negated the other fabulously winning combination of my compounded deep-seated insecurities: those family, financial, spiritual, and personal complications I helplessly dragged around with me as part of my baggage.
I’d heard ever since forever while growing up that beauty was only skin deep, but I never could quite get my head around the notion of how that applied to skin riddled with pimples, zits, pus peaks, and papules.
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