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  • Fern

Fern Chat circa 1990

I thought quite seriously the other evening, as I was leaving for my part time job, that neighbors may be talking. In the past I’d gone directly from my day job as office manager at the photographer’s studio, to this night one. A lay off from the day job now had me leaving the house every evening at five thirty, and rather dressed up at that. The fact that I leave at the same time everyone else on the small road arrives home, and then return after ten, may be cause for conjecture.

How I ended up in the cosmetics department at Stern’s Department store is beyond me. I gladly would have settled for Small Leathers (though I wasn’t clear on what they were….little pocketbooks, baby belts, fanny bags for small people?) It’s a whole other world in cosmetics, under those revealing lights, like we are all gusssied up deer in the

proverbial headlights. And I have the questionable distinction of being the only woman working in the department without benefit of tips, wraps, or any garish shade of polish on my unlacquered short nails. I resent, but begrudgingly comply with, the unspoken but obviously mandatory application of lipstick which must be at least eight shades darker and brighter than any human lips I’ve ever seen. I protest the inhumanity of mandatory panty hose on days when the temperature soars to interplanetary proportions. When I wear pants, I defiantly expose the tops of my bare feet in my shoes. I dare someone to touch and tell.

I feel sure I’ve been placed in the department for comic relief. Or perhaps a tragic and illustrative example of what can happen if one forgoes the glorified benefits of face creams, lip fixers, chin firmer, eye wrinkle gels, moisturizers, cellulite relief, bronzers, toners, and exfoliants.

I acquiesce to the desirable dress code, another unspoken yet obligatory cosmetic gal’s law. Now, as I leave the house to walk up to my car I am dressed in bright colors, jewel colors, appropriate for my coloring. I wear high heels that hurt in all the anticipated places, and dark hose to accentuate my somewhat shapely legs, while hiding unsightly veins. My unruly hair is poised uncomfortably high on top of my head, and after a sweaty afternoon insulating my crawl space, I hope there are no telltale fiberglass filaments nestled in there. I am perfumed to the point of being offensive to the ozone, and this will in all likelihood get worse over the course of the evening as the ‘gals’, bored in some down time, try out various fragrances on their inner arms, their ankles (yes, I’ve seen it), and around their heads like a cloud of DDT settling on the top of a field of weeds. I sport excessively bright red lips, the waxy feel and fragrance coming out of my mouth with every breath.

Jake, the old guy next door, stops on his way to put out his newspapers for recycling day. He nods, silently giving me the once over. I suppose he and Trudy will have something to talk about over dinner. I wave cheerily. My nails, short and devoid of color, proudly wear three band aids from an attack by the staple gun in the crawl space.

For the next four hours, I will smile…and sell, chat…and smell, spritz with a smile…and watch my feet swell with every standing moment. Cosmetic Gals never sit. My neighbors will eat dinner, watch TV, and maybe wonder about how much fun I’m having.

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