Miami has lovely malls and one of them, the Shops at Merrick Park, is a few blocks away from my house. I could walk there if I lived in a normal “walking” city but the reality is that in this town, much like in Los Angeles, nobody walks. So, before the pandemic and when I needed a little distraction, I would hop into my car and drive there in a flash. It’s a high end group of stores with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom as the two anchors on opposite sides. There is a beautiful courtyard with fountains, flowers and lovely Royal Palm trees surrounded by bistros, cafes and other restaurants offering a variety of delicious temptations. People stroll around with their friends, their families and sometimes their designer dogs, enjoying the pleasant surroundings. Some even shop. I confess that I seldom buy anything I need there. It’s more of a fantasy shopping expedition for me, but I do love to walk around and perhaps stop for a Cuban coffee and enjoy a little people watching. It also houses a movie theater which shows a lot of the films that I love to watch, so there’s that extra attraction that draws me there.
The Last Hurrah of In-Person Shopping
I went for the last time a couple of weeks before I embarked in my nearly six months of pandemic isolation. I was happily window shopping in that aimless way that one does when not looking for anything in particular, when I decided to enter a well known make-up store to just “look around.”Why are make-up shops or department store cosmetic counters so irresistible to me, I will never understand considering that I buy my lipstick, blush and moisturizer at my local drugstore for a fraction of the price. And yet, without a clear trajectory I was fodder for the sharks, walking into the store like a moth to a flame. Nobody forced me to enter.
My New Best Friend Paula
I had not been there for three minutes before I was approached (and captured) by a gorgeous creature, stunningly made up with apparently every product sold in the store. My face felt naked in her presence anSd it was. She inquired politely if she could help me find what I was looking for. Rather than reply “Oh no thank you, I’m just looking” I asked her to recommend a good cream blush . I figured that I might as well let her show me something before I attempted my escape. Big mistake.
She told me her name was Paula (pronounced Pah-oo-lah in Spanish) and asked about mine. She invited me to follow her, guiding me to the back of the store to find the perfect blush that she had in mind for me. It reminded me a little of Las Vegas hotels where you have to go through the entire casino to get to the elevator leading up to your room. She offered me a bottle of water which I accepted while thinking “does my skin look that dry?” Insecurities abound in these beauty emporiums, that’s how they survive.
She showed me a couple of blushes and then as if she was panning for gold, she found a tube that she waved up high in the air and exclaimed excitedly “Oh Elena, here’s that new cream for dry skin that I want to show you. It just came in yesterday.” See, I knew it, she does think that I need hydrating. Around me on the walls there are posters of well-known celebrities wearing the perfect lipstick that will make my lips luscious and bright red, just like theirs. Paula tells me that the eyeliner that she is holding in her perfectly manicured hands would help define my “beautiful” eyes and asks permission to apply it on me. “Better yet, why don’t you just sit here and let me do a little makeover to show you how well this foundation blends with this wonderful blush which will highlight your whole face!” There stood that gorgeous woman made up to within an inch of her life and looking so chi. She was towering over me in her sky high black Manolo Blahnic look-alikes, and she wanted to help little old me look fabulous. I found it irresistible and just like that, the seduction had begun.
The Transformation Begins
I sat down on a plush leather stool in front of a large mirror with plenty of strategic lights all around, you know, like the ones in those movies where the actress is preparing to go on stage. I settled down and looked at myself while Paula gathered the tools of her trade and I thought “oh my, I do need a little something around the eyes.” Nothing like staring at your reflection in a big well-lit mirror to confirm that you need help no matter how old you are. I surrendered to the lovely smells and soothing potions that she applied with her cool and dexterous fingers on my grateful and absorbing skin. Her fingers massaged my face and I let her pamper me, herr own face inches away from mine.
We chatted away in that quick paced Miami-style English and Spanish otherwise known as Spanglish as she lathered me with creams and oohs and aahs about how young and stunning I looked. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t but at that particular moment in time, I chose to believe. Paula’s colleagues standing nearby were in full agreement “se ve preciosa” (you look lovely) they concurred. I didn’t buy every product that she tried on me but with the few items that I did purchase and considering the fact that I didn’t “need” any of them, the bill was hefty nonetheless. With my newly made-up face and my fancy bag full of goodies, I waved goodbye never to wear any of the products, nor see my new best friend Paula again.
When I envision that moment now, I find it hard to believe that just a few weeks after this beauty encounter, I would start what would become my life in isolation and the thought of anyone unmasked that close to me with zero social distancing, breathing on me, talking to me inches away from my face, and putting her fingers with all those products on me provokes sheer panic. At the time, I thought “I need this” and, as the L’Oréal commercial reminds us “I’m worth it!” Without a care in the world, I closed my eyes. Covid was not part of my vocabulary then.
Six months have passed since my little beauty adventure and I must confess that while I don’t intend to make a habit of letting myself be sweetly and expertly manipulated by the lovely Paulas of the world again, I confess that I did enjoy that moment in time when all my worries were limited to this or that colorr of blush or lipstick. Was the price that I paid for the make-up excessive? Absolutely. Is the price that I’m paying now isolating myself from my family and the rest of the world by this pandemic worth it? That is yet to be determined. The unopened bag lies lifeless in my bathroom. My current beauty routine is non existent but my mind can and does wander to that moment in time when I felt so pampered, so normal, and so alive.
This article originally appeared in Sixty and Me.