The middle-aged face is like a party crasher who arrives at three in the morning, just as you’re emptying ashtrays and feeding the cat for the last time before calling it a night. You don’t want to let her in. You try to make excuses by saying things like,“Oh…hello…everyone’s just gone,” or, “I wasn’t expecting you,” as you wedge her foot out of the crack of the door and attempt to push it closed. But it is late and you are tired. So she barges in, kicks off her comfortable shoes and says, “Vodka Martini…dry.”
And there’s no denying the middle-age face. It’s like a dwarf or a three-legged dog. It can’t be confused with anything else. First, the jaw line softens and the flesh beneath the chin begins to droop. Face front things seem in order, but take a look at that profile. See what I mean? Your youthful contour has taken a detour…south. Gone is the sharp 90 degree angle of 1985, only to be replaced by something a bit more 21st century. Then, of course, there are the crow’s feet, the marionette lines, and the scrunch lines that transverse your forehead like the tracks of the Union Pacific.
When I first started to notice the certain southward migration of my skin, I investigated ways to stave off the inevitable. I began to do facial exercises which were supposed to keep the face firm and taut. One of my favorites was for toning the jaw line. To do this you take your index, middle and ring fingers and place them on the cutting edge of your bottom teeth. As you press your fingers down, you push your bottom jaw up creating tension. There was a time when I became obsessed with this particular exercise. Whenever I was alone, I’d stick my three fingers in my mouth and start pressing down on my teeth and pushing up with my jaw. I pressed and pushed so much that I wound up with semi-permanent teeth marks on the pads of my fingers.
Ironically, the exercise itself makes you look like circus freak. Aside from the fact that you have your fingers in your mouth, the action stretches and pulls the bottom part of your face back toward the ears so that you resemble a frilled lizard, without the frill. Once, while riding the packed 8:22 Chestnut Hill West, I mindlessly began to do this exercise with such ferventness that I nearly severed the tips of my fingers. The woman sitting next to me, hitherto engrossed in her New York Times, gasped.
“What?” I said, turning to her without removing my fingers. “It tightens the jaw.”
- Jaw is tighter, but fingers are bleeding
I soon realized that facial exercises weren’t going to cut it and began to investigate other options, things that involved needles, knives and lasers. I discovered a procedure called Active FX. This is a fractional laser. It has a twofold purpose. One, it tightens the skin and two; it removes sun damage and fine lines. It works by burning off the first few layers of your face, and it only requires four days of recovery.
On the day of the procedure the first thing I did was pay two thousand dollars. Surprisingly, this in and of itself tightened my skin as my face was pulled back in horror.
The dermatologist and her assistant, both smooth, clad in lab coats, and wearing huge plastic goggles, began their work. They rubbed numbing cream all over my face and neck. Then, they took me to the laser room and directed me to lay on a table. Strange opaque goggles, which looked like props from Forbidden Planet, were placed over my eyes.
The dermatologist took up her laser wand and began zapping tiny pulses of CO2 onto my face. She started with my forehead, and then slowly worked her way around my eyes, nose, chin, cheeks and neck. While these tiny pulses of singeing CO2 were being blasted onto the tender tissue of my visage, the assistant, wielding a device that looked like a thick, plastic straw, blew incredibly icy cold air over the areas which had been burned away. This blower was so powerful that it whipped my skin around, the way the wind flips and flaps the ears and face of a dog when it has its head hanging out of the window of a car going 60 miles an hour. The procedure stings and within minutes the room stinks of burning flesh.
Afterwards, my face was covered in tiny little brown dots…thousands of them. I rubbed a product called Aquaphor, which is really just fancy Vaseline, all over my face and off I went.
Now, one of the tricky things about this procedure is how to get out of the office, into your car and home without anyone seeing you because, frankly, you look like the Sea Hag from Popeye. But the fates were not with me on the day that I decided to get my face burned off. When I left the office, slick and singed, I noticed that one of my front tires was really low. I was at least 25 miles from home, so I would have to stop and fill it regardless of how I looked.
I drove to the nearest gas station, which of course was on the busiest road at the busiest time of the day. I hadn’t filled my tires with air myself in years and I tried to remember if people hung out around the air pumps. It turns out they do. I pulled up, got out, and walked briskly to the air hose, past a couple of youths. You know you look bad when somebody sees your face for the first time and exclaims “Oh, shit!”
By the time I pulled into my street, my face was on fire. I was told this would be the case, and was instructed to apply bags of frozen vegetables onto my burned flesh at 20 minute intervals, and strangely, not to open the door of a hot oven. I anticipated the relief that icy hard bags of frozen peas, corn, and Brussels sprouts would bring. But a group of my dog walking neighbors decided to congregate on the sidewalk in front of my house and have an intense conversation about something other than frozen vegetables. I parked the car down the street and immediately thrust myself across the passenger side. The crumbs of ten thousand ancient Cheeze-Its stuck to my viscous skin as the hot July sun beat through the windshield punishing me for being so vain.
Eventually, I raised myself up just enough to peek out of the back window and watch my neighbors and their canines amble away. As soon as the coast was clear I hopped out of the car and into my house. As instructed, I spent the next two days applying frozen vegetables to my face. On the third day I had the Brussels sprouts for lunch. By the fourth, I looked like my old self again.