I lie on a flat table in a narrow room. It’s the size of a doctor’s examination room. Normally, in a room like this, I would have some ache, pain, or wound. My feet might be ignobly thrust into stirrups. Instead, my hand tightly grasps a spongy squeegee.
I think about Cindy’s marriage. Without warning, Cindy’s husband announced the dissolution of their marriage. He said they both knew their relationship had decayed to a hope- less state. Cindy agreed. She hated to admit surprise, since in a modest way, she was a know-it- all. Listlessly, Cindy told people that the death of their marriage was decided mutually.
In the first year of their divorce, Cindy’s former husband kept in touch. He telephoned on her birthday, on his birthday, on Halloween, on Christmas. On what should have been their tenth wedding anniversary, he stunned her with another announcement. He was getting married again. Spiritlessly, Cindy congratulated him. She said the news didn’t surprise her.
Cindy wasn’t invited to the wedding, but she decided to attend anyway. Toward the end of the ceremony, she numbly entered the church and sat down in the last pew. Newlyweds and guests recoiled in shock as they filed out of the church.
Moments later, Cindy waited in a phone booth for a ride home. A friend arrived to find Cindy hysterical and hairy. She had worn a gorilla suit to the wedding.
Beauty is more than skin deep, I chuckle to myself as I lie on the table holding the rubbery squeegee. I wonder how many volts of electricity shoot through me with each zap. I try to remember baffling old formulas. The amount of voltage is equal to the amount of current times resistance. Or is it vice versa? I ask myself if I am the resistance in this circuit, and then I smirk. No, I haven’t resisted the brainwashing that beauty is skin deep. The ads state simply: Everyone wants to be attractive.
The twinge of pain that shoots skin deep brings tears to my eyes. The rhythmic, on-again, off-again buzz of the Electro Blend and constant jets of cool air suggest the dread tools of the dentist. My body is rigid and damp. Still, I can’t ignore the humor in it. I accept the slow torture as eagerly as I would a new fur coat.
In the consultation before I mounted this table, the technician easily convinced me that postponement of the treatments was senseless. “If it bothered you enough to come in, you probably want to get started on it today,” she said.
I will clutch the spongy squeegee that completes the electric circuit first weekly, then bimonthly, then monthly for a year. For one who shuns commitments, I take this one in stride like a soldier without foresight. It’s patriotic. It’s the American way. Like credit. Like consumerism. Like vanity.
I think about Janet’s upcoming marriage. After a five-year live-in relationship, Janet has decided to consummate the bond with the official blessing of clergy and relatives. But her original intention of a simple wedding has been sidetracked by the pressure of two high-society-minded cousins. Thus, Janet has chosen the Roman Catholic Church, the gown of Belgian lace, the train of bridesmaids. She has prepared for the wedding for a year now. On Sundays, she scrapes and replasters the walls of her house. On Saturday nights, she daydreams as the priest drones doctrine and Catholic gynecologists teach her how to procreate. Every Saturday morning, she undergoes electrolysis.
Air Desensitized. Multiple Needle Method. Medically Approved. Free Consultation. Tax Deductible. Be Hair-Free. Permanent Removal. Permanent. Permanent.
Four pages of the San Diego Yellow Pages are dedicated to the heading: Electrolysis. The next heading is: Electrolysis Eliminators (for those who break their vow of permanence, I guess). The electrologist, a fair-complected SDSU moonlighter, interrupts my thoughts. “You used to live in Maine, huh? Is it real cold there?”
Yeah, so cold that I grew a winter coat, I answer to myself. I’m worried that the hot needle will slip if I move my lips.
Finally, I relent. “Yeah, sometimes my apartment got so cold that I sat around in an old raccoon coat.”
“I don’t know what I’d do if I had your problem,” the electrologist muses. “I don’t think it would bother me.” Repositioning her long blond braid, she reconsiders. “Well, I guess I’d remove it if my boyfriend wanted me to.”
I escape to a world before boyfriends — to a story from impressionable youth. In her early teens, a friend had volunteered at a nursing home whose architecture was Victorian idiosyncratic. Locked in a high, dark turret lived a hairy creature born of the perverted coitus of woman and beast. Taboo, I think. Electrolysis is a tasteless topic of conversation. At the height of happy hour in Mission Valley, maybe a handful of people will mention it. Electrolysis is like abortion. Nearly everyone’s had one, but no one boasts about it. Beauty is natural in San Diego. Bearded ladies are in freak shows. Bathing suits are fig leaves designed to reveal everything but unnatural body hair.
I laugh when I recall a friend’s first visit to San Diego. She lives in Maine, where rural poverty and fatty corpuscles are rampant and somehow related. After we had goggled for a while at boardwalk action in Pacific Beach, she nudged me and asked incredulously,“Doesn’t any- one here have thighs?”
Beauty is skin deep. Beauty is more than skin deep. The constant jabs of electricity have confused me. But the needle is the magical prod that spells hair-free carefreeness.
Grasping the spongy squeegee, I remember stopping my car late one night at a light on Broadway. As I rubbed my chin and considered ransacking my purse for tweezers, a wino sauntered toward my car. I quickly leaned sideways to lock the doors near where he stood. “Don’t compliment yourself, lady,” he shouted. Before I chose this table and spongy squeegee in Fashion Valley, I called every electrolysis place in the Yellow Pages to compare rates. They range from 18 dollars to 7 dollars for ten minutes of slow torture. The most expensive ones stress the word “medical.” They are located in medical centers with fancy addresses. I decided that medical was a gimmick that costs and ruled out that category. Distrustful of too good a bargain, I ruled out the least expensive ones. I ruled out the convenience of a neighborhood electrolo- gist because she shares a building with a body shop.
I opted for department-store electrolysis. I reasoned that if an unfortunate accident occurred, a well-established department store makes a dependable defendant in a lawsuit. Also, one- stop shopping has always lured me. If the treatment depressed me, I could ride the escalator to another department to find solace in a pair of 40-dollar designer jeans.
So, here I am. Flat on my back. Squeegee in hand. Bearing the voltage. I’m glad Susan can’t see me now. On a New England vacation this summer, I was berated by Susan. “You don’t shave your legs, do you?” she said disgustedly. It didn’t matter to her how many feminist treatises I’ve read, how many years I’ve subscribed to Ms. magazine, how many times I’ve scurried to Our Bodies, Ourselves for the gospel according to the Women’s Health Collective. But Susan doesn’t know what life is like where shorts are worn year-round.
It’s over. My first treatment and first ten dollars are spent. I prop myself up and stand on weak legs. Walking to the escalator, I feel germs healthily fester where the hot needle has pierced. Soon they will surface and erupt like a gurgling hot spring.
I head for the cosmetics department. With head bowed, I request an $8.50 bar of soap. “Mild or heavy duty?” the salesperson asks.
“I don’t know.” I could feel her eyes searching my face. “You can’t tell from looking,” I blurt. “I just had a treatment.”
“Oh, I’ve had that done, too,” she says omnisciently.
I raise my head and stare at her face. It is waxen. She reminds me of the Pilgrim candles we light each Thanksgiving. First, the white pilgrim bonnet burns away. Then the smooth, lustrous face slowly disappears