Fixer Upper

Or maybe just sit this one out


By Susan S. Kelly

Not long ago, I spent six weeks in various casts and splints and slings and supports after surgery to attach seven screws and a plate somewhere in the vicinity of my wrist. I broke some bones dancing on New Year’s Eve, OK? (“How?” a friend asked. “You fall off the pole?” Hilarious.)

Lugging around what essentially amounted to the same heft and girth of an L-shaped Duraflame log nearly up to my armpit gave me new respect for the handicapped. Being unable to bend an elbow or wrist means you’re unable to do those things which you ought to do — like fasten a seatbelt or put on a bra — and also unable to do those things which you ought not to do, like lick your finger after gouging it into pimento cheese, or gouging your ear canal with a Q-tip.

But what really took a hit, and left me lots of time to reflect upon, was grooming.

As a general rule, I like to blame my faults and flaws on other people, or circumstances beyond my control. That I’m a first child, say, so I had no older sister to teach me, or older brother to tease me, about the finer points of making an effort to look good. Or that I went to an all-girls boarding school, where dorm competitions were less about field hockey and Latin test scores than how long we could go without shaving our legs. Instead, I’ve realized that, as a friend once described someone: “She’s just not fixy.”

Being “fixy” means thinking about what you’re going to wear. It means putting on makeup, changing your earrings, and switching pocketbooks occasionally. I have a fixy sister, and she always looks good. When I commented on this fact, she said, “That’s because your appearance isn’t a way of life for you yet.” I had no comeback for this.

Day in, day out, I make so little effort that when fellow gym rats see me at a legitimate social function, they do a double take. Not because I look so good, but because the contrast is so . . . startling. My other sister and I worked out together the other day, and afterward I mentioned that I was going to run some errands. “Like that?” she asked incredulously, referring to how I looked and what I was wearing. This, from someone who smeared her lips with a pat of butter during a long overseas flight because they were chapped.

“Yes, like this,” I answered. And she’s from a much smaller town, by the way.

Still, every now and then I get a spasm of self-improvement. After pregnancies, for example. Being pregnant is like having a remodeling project going on in your house. What with the dust and paint cans and tools and tarps lying around, you eventually just yield to living in squalor. Being pregnant is the same: You just give up and get accustomed to being slovenly. So afterward, I’d go through a six-month spate of major effort. Until the evening I was leaning toward the mirror to apply mascara and the 4-year-old came up behind me, put his arms around my legs, and proceeded to drag his nose across the back of my black skirt. The snot trail defeated me. Ever since, I’ve kept a black Sharpie nearby. Works equally well when the whitening toothpaste (see, I do try . . . ) flecks land on your clothes and leave bleached polka-dots.

When my daughter was 8, I asked her to remind me, every time we got in the car, to put on lipstick. And she did. “Mom, put on lipstick.” “Mom, put on lipstick.” “Mom, put on lipstick,” she said, until the monster I’d created drove me insane. “Never mind!” I finally screeched after two weeks. Clearly, I’ll never be like a friend who spent a wad on an advertised “all day” lipstick, and whose first question after she swam up out of breast-reconstruction surgery anesthesia was, “Is my lipstick still on?”

During one visit to my fixy sister, I asked for a demo of how she put on her makeup. She summoned me to the bathroom, where she’d laid out all her brushes and bottles and utensils like surgical instruments, including a thingie that looked like a teeny-weeny version of a clamdigger rake, or what my grandmother would call a cold meat fork. Turned out the thingie was to unclump her eyelashes. Halfway through the how-to, I decided I’d rather just die on the operating table. She even has specific potions to clean her makeup brushes, a chore she has somehow managed to get her cleaning service to perform. And here I thought dusting baseboards was a big ask.

Having grown up with only sisters, I always thought my husband would be charmed by my grooming accoutrements and rituals — such as they are — the way I was (once upon a time long ago) charmed by his shaving routine and shoe-shine procedures and so forth. Wrong. Here is a person who has said to me more than once: “You self-destruct every time you go into a beauty parlor.” There’s no point in telling him that they’re called salons these days; the man doesn’t own a pair of jeans.

I do like a manicure, though if my usual choice of fingernail color had a name instead of a number, I’m pretty sure it would be called “pallor.” But massages and facials? Eh. I had my first and only massage while visiting a friend in Palm Beach. The masseuse did it up right: scalp to soles kneading, complete with creams and lotions. An hour later, when we emerged from the spa for some swanky shopping on Worth Avenue, I looked like some Medusa who’d thrashed out of an oil spill.

On another jaunt, I was one of a half-dozen lucky guests invited on a trip to Paris for a friend’s Major Birthday. As soon as the plane was aloft, everyone else reclined their seats, declined their dinner, spritzed their faces with a moisturizing/refresher mister, and put on their sleep masks, as if choreographed. I was aghast at the waste of a first-class flight. Fortunately, my seatmate felt the same way — quelle horror, as Holly Golightly would say — and we spent the rest of the night brushing up on our French with the steward: Garçon! Un autre vin, s’il vous plaît. I’ll take another wrinkle and another glass of wine over beauty sleep anytime.

I don’t know. It’s a puzzle. Genes would dictate otherwise. An oft-told family tale concerns a still-frigid day in March when my grandmother was going to a luncheon, as one did in those days. When she came to the door wearing a short-sleeved silk spring suit, her friend (like my sister) looked at her, aghast.

“Aren’t you cold?” the friend exclaimed. 

“Yes,” my grandmother replied. “But I look good, don’t I?”

All in all, it’s just easier to not be fixy. Which, all in all, is just another word for lazy.  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

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