East meets West: A Suburbanite Exposed

I’m working in Century City this week, amongst the young and the lawyerly, so I’ve made a point to blend in by wearing my nicest slacks and my dry clean only blouses. At lunchtime I like to go over to the nearby mall and soak up the youthful energy at the food court, where businessmen and women flirt and network while enjoying their meals. I enjoy watching these busy young people, so full of optimism and enthusiasm, before the years of subordination and frustration have crushed their spirit and broken their will.

But I found out yesterday that I’m not able to blend in like I’d like. It seems my Eastside suburban roots are too obvious to disguise, because apparently, I am an easy mark. 

The first indication came from a guy with a clipboard. I purposely avoided eye contact, but it was of no use.

“Do you support gay rights?” he yelled after me so everyone could hear.

Ah jeez. Now I was stuck. If I kept walking I would risk the scorn of my fellow shoppers who would certainly size me up in my conservative Banana Republic garb as a Proposition 8 backer. I couldn’t let that happen. I had to prove them wrong. “Yes, of course. What do you need me to sign?” I offered loudly.

But philosophical support was not what he was after.

“We’re asking for donations so love warriors like myself can get the word out,” he explained.

“Sorry not today,” I quickly offered and darted away. I felt guilty, But what would I write in the subject line? “Donation to Love Warriors?” Is that even tax-deductible?

I was able to take just a few more steps before I was accosted again, this time with an offer of a free lotion sample from a woman at a kiosk. I foolishly reached out to grab it while trying not to break my stride, but this lotion woman was too crafty for me.

Before I knew what was happening, she had the sleeves of my blouse rolled up and was spreading gelatinous goo on my forearms.

As she did she explained, “You look so nice and together with your lovely trousers and shirt, but your face, it . . . how can I say it. . . your face has so many lines and unevenness about the skin. It makes you look so old.”

“Yes, yes, I know, I know,” I quickly jumped in, as if I needed to apologize for my failures and ease her awkwardness somehow. God only knows why I wanted to make her feel better about insulting me.

As she rubbed and rubbed my arm, she began her interrogation, “What do you use on your skin? What products?”

I named some brand, though really it was just a sample bottle I remembered seeing in my medicine cabinet, one I had only used once or twice before. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I rarely used any product at all.

“Oh, that type is horrible. It’s full of chemicals. They put those chemicals in it so you have to use it every day. They want your skin to get addicted to it!”

Really? My skin can get addicted? Is there a 12-step for that?

About this time my arm really started to hurt from the goo she was kneading into my skin. How did such an innocuous looking gel suddenly take on the consistency of sandpaper?

“Look at the difference between this arm and that one – see how this skin is refreshed and invigorated!”

My scrubbed arm was indeed a refreshing color of red, like it had brushed up against poison ivy.

Then the pitch came. Today only I could receive this miracle gel for just $50.00 and with it I would receive a “ complimentary facial at our new spa, which is opening right over there next week.” As she spoke, she pointed in a non-committal direction that could easily have indicated either a nearby storefront or the back of her van parked on Pico.

“No, no I can’t.” I protested.

“What? But when was the last time you bought something nice for yourself? Well, besides your lovely trousers and your nice shoe . . . shoes.”

I could see her regret as she looked down and saw my old scuffed up loafers, the shoes I had been meaning to get polished for about six months now and had foolishly hoped were completely covered up by my lovely trousers.

“Well, when is the last time you had a facial then?”

“I never get facials,” I answered.

She was too shocked to respond. It was as if my answer was not even in her frame of reference, like I had said I don’t breathe air or attend yoga.

She kept staring at me until the silence was too much for me to bear.

“I’m not from the Westside!” I finally blurted out.

As I started to back away I lamely added, “I’ll come back by later. Let me think about it.”

But it wasn’t necessary. She had already turned her head; ashamed of the time she had wasted.

“Go. Just go,” I think I heard her say.

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