Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shades of Dorian Gray

“There is a big difference between 24 and 27.” – a former co-worker to me (age 24)

“Happy birthday! 18 is a big year!” – a florist to me on my birthday (age 27)

I’ve been waiting my whole life to turn 27. In my family, 27 is a magic number. My mother was 27 when she gave birth to me. 27 years separate two essential members of my immediate family. (I’ll let you guess which ones.) 27 is evenly divisible by 3, the universally accepted magic number. If you add 2 and 7, you get 9, which is also divisible by 3.

“Schoolhouse Rock” producers, take note: I’m a 27 year old seeking employment.

I have reached 27 at last. Let me shout it from the rooftop: I am 27! Not 18, as the florist guessed. Two people recently pegged me for 14. To be fair, one woman -- an elderly neighbor -- originally settled on 16, but as I smiled and trotted off, she shouted, “No! You look more like 14!” I’m sure she was hoping I’d turn around and proffer Girl Scout cookies. I didn’t. I haven’t been a Girl Scout since I was 7. I’m not 7 today; I’m 27. I am, too! Am, too! Mooooom, they’re picking on me!

Back in June 2005, close to the time I started this blog, my co-worker spoke of the maturity gap between ages 24 and 27. We’d been talking about my then 27 year old next-door neighbor, Ellie, who was about to get married. I said something like, “I can’t imagine being married now,” and my colleague replied, “You’re 24. There is a big difference between 24 and 27.”

Well, it’s too late to prove anyone wrong, but...I just don’t see it. 27 feels a lot like 24. Living with my parents may have something to do with it. The rooftop I’m warbling from is in Murfreesboro, and it covers my childhood bedroom. I left New Orleans over a month ago, sans degree. I’m finishing up my thesis from Tennessee, trying to move north again. The last time I moved from Tennessee to Massachusetts, I was 17. Starting school. College, not kindergarten, thanks.

Maybe if I look older, I’ll feel older. This theory propelled me to the Clinique counter on my birthday. “It’s my birthday, and I need make-up,” I exclaimed to a group of blondes in lab coats. The one who agreed to help wore a nametag that said “Tracy” with a shiny, pink star sticker. “Would you like product recommendations or a consultation,” Tracy-Star inquired. “How long is a consultation?” I asked. “About 45 minutes.” I signed up.

Imagine Dr. Faust selling his soul to Tammy Faye Bakker.

My make-up routine, when I remember it, usually takes 5 minutes. I slap on a cover-up. I make a fish-face and dot blush on my gills. I wiggle eyeliner on my lower lids--halfway across, because I heard somewhere that this makes eyes look bigger. Mascara and lip gloss, and I’m done.

“Do you exfoliate?” Tracy-Star demanded. When I said no, she remained silent but shook her head. “Moisturize?” Again, I admitted I didn’t. Tracy-Star’s Santa Claus Complex pulsed. I was getting nothing for Christmas, I could tell.

After properly exfoliating, moisturizing, and humiliating, Tracy-Star applied my cover-up. I’d purchased a new bottle of Clinique cover-up less than a month ago, but TS suggested a different shade. “You bought a winter shade,” she explained. “See how much better this summer shade looks?” I wanted to tell Tracy-Star that my pimples don’t distinguish between seasons, but this comment seemed immature. As a 27 year old, maybe I should differentiate between winter and summer cover-ups. To every season there is a cover-up, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Turn!

Blush and powder topped the cover-up. Concealer on my “trouble spots.” Then, Tracy-Star went for my eyes.

Like many starry ex-English majors, I believe eyes are windows to the soul. In Tracy-Star’s estimation, my windows had been sporting Venetian blinds. They needed velvet drapes. With tassels.

“Quick eye make-up do’s and don’ts,” TS said, whipping out several tiny brushes. “Don’t ever apply eyeliner to only your bottom lid. I don’t care who you are. It’ll make you look tired.” I should have cringed at my mistake, but, hey, I am often tired. Truth in advertising.

Armed with eyeliner, eye tint, and three shades of eye shadow, Tracy-Star proceeded to adorn my lids with what Gene Simmons would call “too much eye make-up.” Conveniently, she also recommended an eye make-up remover.

Of course, I bought all of it. The exfoliator. The moisturizer. The cover-up. The blusher. The powder. The eye shadow -- all three shades. I even purchased something called “mascara primer.” Tracy-Star billed it as “moisturizer for the eyelashes.” Her own lashes looked like daddy longlegs.

Not once did Tracy-Star ask my age, or try to conjecture it. At first, I found this strange. But as I gazed through moist lashes at my “after” face, I realized: at this counter, age really was “just a number.” Look older, look younger. Whatever. At heart, we are all one age. That age is: an age that requires make-up. Call it Clinique Zen.

“You look like Marilyn Manson,” my father said at dinner. I think we’ll all agree, Marilyn Manson is at least 27. Probably older. Therefore, I’ll deem my Clinique mission a success. I may toast myself with an adult beverage. If I’m carded, well, I give up.