On a business trip to a place so cold no one would choose to visit during winter, I stumbled out of bed and made a groggy retreat to the bathroom. Switching on the light for a quick look at myself in the mirror a strange man looked back at me in the reflection.
Not the me I’d lived with for over sixty years. Not the one who’d lived through twenty years of Jewfro before a stiff brush and professional blow dryer scared his hair straight. Not the me who’d nearly exhausted the world’s supply of moisturizer.
It was the me with tired, blackened eyes. The me with puffy cheeks and a droopy neck that swung below my chin like a chortling turkey.
During this trip I’d become aware I was now the grandfather at the conference table, the cause of impatient eye-rolls and dismissive comments like – that might have worked back in the day – when I made my experience known to a room filled with thirty-somethings.
This must be the face they saw, the face that inspired a generation gap too far to bridge.
I called Thom immediately, spilling my revelations over him in a burst of extreme agitation. “The outside of me no longer reflects what’s happening on the inside. I’m getting my face done. Period. Don’t try to argue with me. I have too many productive years ahead of me to be categorized as an old man by the people I work with.”
Then, without underscore or embellishment, Thom said: “I understand…completely.”
Had he really needed to add the word, completely?
I could visualize him on the other side of the continent, pantomiming a jump into the air, kicking his feet together and cracking open champagne bottles, joyful he’d soon have a trophy husband on this arm instead of….Moses.
Ten minutes later he rang me back. “I’ve done some research,” he said, sounding quite pleased with himself. “Good news. I found a Groupon.”
“A Groupon…. for what?” I asked.
“Seriously, Thom? You want me to select a surgeon based on a deal you found on the internet?”
“It appears to be above-board. And they have two locations. To make it convenient.”
“A plastic surgery franchise. It just keeps getting better. Okay. I’ll bite. Where are the offices located?”
“Modesto and Folsom.”
Not exactly two places that immediately come to mind when contemplating surgery.
“Folsom the prison?” I asked.
“No, crazy man. Folsom the city.”
Help me. I’ve fallen into a Thom-swirl and I can’t get up. No marriage manual or glib internet post could have prepared me for this conversation.
“I can’t talk to you for a while, Thom. I’ll call you back. Maybe in a few years.”
I switched on television to catch the morning news and – boom! – there it was – the universe throwing me an assist. An infomercial for non-invasive cosmetic surgery.
The office was located in Beverly Hills.
Not Modesto. Not Folsom. Beverly Hills. Where sane people go for cosmetic surgery. I scribbled down the number and within minutes had scheduled an appointment.
Two weeks later I sat somewhat apprehensively in a luxury office on La Cienega Boulevard. A glib sales person wearing a white doctor’s coat was talking about my prospective surgery, more intent on helping me understand financing options than explaining the surgery itself.
There was nothing in the sterile room but two faux black leather chairs and a plexiglass table. No medical equipment. No Power Point slides to guide the presentation. No medical school graduation certificates on the wall.
It felt a bit sketchy.
Technology existed that allowed one’s photo to be placed in software that could demonstrate real time results for a patient by manipulating the facial image. I asked if she could show me what I might look like post-surgery. She swiveled my seat toward the mirror, then from behind, pulled my skin up tightly from the sides of my face, holding it there with such force I thought it would split open.
I squirmed and screamed a little…inside.
(Author’s note: it’s possible some of the screams were actually audible).
She released her grip and I watched my face regain it’s aforementioned characteristics, then made some excuse about being late for my next appointment and ran out of the office as fast as humanly possible.
Grabbing the back of my neck with one hand and squeezing the skin toward the center to create a flawless neck was my own favorite guilty pleasure. I could do that at home, by myself. Before plopping down 20K for plastic surgery I’d require a bit more science. A little less salesmanship.
A week later, following-up on the recommendation of a friend, I found myself in front of an actual board certified cosmetic surgeon in West Hollywood. (For the record, West Hollywood is considered – at least by me – to be Beverly Hills Adjacent). He was eminently qualified and in possession of a soothing bedside manner.
This could work.
Trusting him with my greatest fear, I referenced the infamous actress who’d endured twelve or thirteen too many procedures and confessed I was afraid I’d wind up looking like Cat Woman.”
Promising me it would not happen, he cupped a hand over mine and moved in toward me for reassurance. Close enough for me to see his badly installed, botched hair plugs.
A little piece of me died.
I went outside. I looked up at the grey, cloud-filled sky, my turkey neck quivering in the wind, opened my mouth wide, and waited for the rain.