Sitting on the bathtub’s edge, I slowly pulled the razor up my left leg through the thick lather in long, easy strokes. Moving on to the more tedious parts, I drew the razor around my ankle, then up my knee, being extra careful not to nick myself.
I paused before starting on my other leg and looked around Beth’s bathroom. It was like none I had ever seen before except in photographs. It fascinated me. The tub had feet like a lion. The pedestal-style porcelain sink had a seashell-shaped basin with faucet handles that resembled ornate sea creatures. Looking up, I saw that the old flush toilet had one of those water tanks near the ceiling with a long pull chain. Her house gave me a feeling of comfort. It wasn’t long ago that I had lived in a far more primitive setting. This felt more like home than my current chrome and carpet lifestyle.
I grew up in Western Oklahoma, where “old” wasn’t valued, at least not by country folk. Our second-hand clothes, more often than not, were a source of embarrassment. We had to make do with the old-fashioned ways of doing things, such as when nature called, having to run the 100-yard dash to the drafty, smelly, wooden box called the outhouse.
During the winter, a large wood stove at the back of the kitchen burned all day, heating our small frame house. My mother used the top of the stove to heat water for household use and our bath water. Twice a week, our family ritually bathed in a square galvanized washtub, one after another, in front of that stove. When the last one of us made it to the tub, the pink bar of Lifebuoy soap had worn down to a nub, and the tepid water looked gray and dirty. I remember the arguments fondly with my siblings over whose turn it was to go first.
In summer, everyone washed on the back porch in clean bathwater. A strong wind blew most of the time, keeping mosquitoes the size of crows at bay. On calm evenings, I tried to dip the water and pour it over myself fast enough, so they didn’t get a chance to land and suck me dry. Jumping about and waving one arm helped as I dashed through the back door and ran to my room with only a towel draped around me.
Now, smiling, I set aside the pleasant memories and resumed the task. When I was done, I rinsed and checked carefully to see if I had missed anything. Satisfied, I dried with a towel, slipped on my robe, and walked along the cool hardwood floor to the bedroom at the end of the hall.
I felt a little anxious about letting my friends make me over. I had always admired how great the trio looked when they went on a date or to church. Each with her own style–Beth glamorous, Linda sexy, and Cindy always pretty. I just hoped they could make me look half as attractive.
My dress and hose were on the foot of Beth’s ornate canopy bed. I picked up the pantyhose, then sat down on the padded bench at the end of the bed. After awkward pulling, cursing, fingers slipping, repeatedly tugging, jumping up and down, slipping on that polished wood floor, and bruising my hip against a bedpost, I finally stretched the seemingly too-small pantyhose all the way up to my waistline. A faint giggle from down the hall did not improve my mood.
Something definitely felt wrong. I inspected it closely and discovered that one of the legs was completely twisted. I silently swore, peeled them off, and repeated the process. On the second try, I got it right. “Geez!”
I picked up the shortest dress I’d ever seen, a stretchy number with wild geometric lines running throughout, put my hands up through the middle and slid it over my head. I wiggled and pulled it down past my hips. It fit like a second skin and ended abruptly at my upper thighs. I gently tugged at the hem, then spread my hands out on the dress, smoothing it down in a fruitless effort to get a little more length out of the fabric. I longed for a mirror. What kind of bedroom doesn’t have a mirror anyway?
I walked into the dining room and implored Linda, “This dress is too small and way too short. I can’t show up at the party like this!”
“Turn around,” Linda said, smiling, moving her fingers in a circle.
I turned around once and looked at her forlornly.
Linda turned to Beth and Cindy. “I think it’s gorgeous. What do y’all think?
“It’s perfect,” Beth said.
Cindy looked thoughtful and teased, “We could shorten it an inch or two.” Then she laughed and said, “You look great. Now quit worrying. Sit down and relax. I’ll polish your nails, and while they’re drying, Linda will put on your makeup.”
I sat down and scooted my legs under the table but didn’t feel relaxed. The dress rode up halfway to my you-know-what. I had never felt so exposed in all my life. I guess I wouldn’t sit down once I got to the party.
I spread the fingers of one hand on the table, and Cindy applied a deep red polish to each nail. Linda pinned my hair down next to my scalp. They wanted a much fuller style than would be possible with my own hair, so they borrowed a wig from a friend. I wondered how it would look on me.
Cindy finished painting my nails. While they dried, Linda had me turn my chair to one side. She stood over me, applied foundation, smoothed it out with her fingertips, and feathered out the edges. Meanwhile, Beth touched up the huge brunette wig on a styling stand, and Cindy brought in several pairs of shoes and matched a set to the dress.
Satisfied with the wig, Beth took it off the stand, holding it with one hand inside, and headed in my direction. Linda took a break. I felt Beth’s fingers as she stretched the elastic edging of the wig over my forehead halfway down to my eyebrows. A mass of hair fell onto my face, and Cindy, who had been watching, sputtered a stifled laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” I said while blowing and gingerly pushing strands of hair away, being careful not to touch my face.
“Nothing,” she stammered, quickly stepping into the kitchen and out of sight.
“Probably because I look like a Pekinese,” I muttered.
“Shhh! and hold still,” Beth said as she pulled the rear edge of the wig back to the nape of my neck, tucking the flyaway pieces of my brown hair underneath as she went. As she pulled and tucked, I winced each time her fingernails scratched my skin. The elastic in front kept scraping my forehead and moving up. I don’t know which was worse for her, my impatient squirming or the wig not cooperating. After what seemed longer than necessary, Beth was satisfied and turned me over to Linda to finish the makeup. Linda touched the foundation on my forehead, powdered it, applied a blush to my cheeks, and stepped back to inspect. Apparently satisfied, she picked up an eye shadow brush, used several shades, then eyeliner and mascara. She stood back again and placed her hands on her lower back, twisting back and forth and groaning while studying her work.
“That’s done,” she said, looking at me with a critical eye. I started to get up. “Uh-uh, sit back down. No peeking until we’re done.” She sensed my impulse to head to the bathroom mirror.
Cindy came over, kneeled down, and slipped the shoes on my feet. She stood and looked at my legs and sighed, “I wish I had legs like that. You can bet I’d be showing them off every day.”
When I was eleven or twelve, I remember my mother telling me I had good legs. She was making a dress for my older cousin. Since we were about the same height, I stood on a footstool as a model and fidgeted while she pinned the hem. She stepped back and said, “You have the prettiest legs.” I flushed with embarrassment and got out of that dress and back into my comfortable jeans and t-shirt faster than a jackrabbit could run.
I smiled–funny how the past repeats itself. Today my legs were a real asset. Even so, I suppressed the urge to halt the makeover and again jumped back into some soft, old jeans and a t-shirt.
Beth reached over my head and fastened a string of pearls about my neck.
“Stand up and walk around,” Linda said, “Let’s see how you look.”
I stood and took a few awkward steps. I had never worn heels, and Cindy, the shoe maven, had suggested we try a mid-heel, only two inches high. I still felt like I was walking on stilts.
“I don’t think this will work,” I complained.
“Sure, it will. You just have to practice a little. Go on, walk around the table a few times.” Linda said.
I minced past the stately china cabinet and ancient floor vases with small steps.
“My feet already hurt.” They didn’t hurt that bad, but I felt apprehensive and a little cranky.
“Stop complaining and go look in the mirror,” Linda said.
Despite my show of nervousness, I was really getting curious about how I looked.
I entered the bathroom, closed the door, and faced the mirror above the sink.
I was stunned. The makeover had been so dramatic that I saw a completely different person looking back at me.
I studied the face in the mirror more closely. I inspected the eye shadow, the blush on the cheeks, and the mass of hair. I turned from one side to the other, checking my profile. Amazing! I was shocked at the idea I could look so feminine. I turned to the full-length mirror on the door and twisted my body from side to side. I still couldn’t believe my eyes. I again looked at my face in detail. I could see no freckles, no blemishes. The scar down one cheek I had received in my youth from an encounter with an angry rooster was no longer visible. I was at the same time embarrassed, terrified, and, yes, I will admit, thrilled with my new look. I wondered what my date would think.
Gathering my courage, I walked back into the dining room, putting on my most feminine strut, my best exaggeration of a fashion show walk.
Everyone giggled, including me. I had butterflies, but my increased confidence had them under control for the moment.
“You’re a knockout,” Linda said, smiling. “Your date just arrived and is in the living room. Are you ready for this?”
I groaned as reality struck, my nerve failed, and the butterflies went completely berserk. “I guess I have to be,” I managed to squeak out.
I followed Linda into the other room. There stood my date in top hat and tails. She looked every inch a man as she said, “Mark? Is that you?” She had a stunned look on her face.
I was taken aback as well. She looked handsome as hell!
“Shelia, I could have asked you the same thing.” I looked her over more carefully. Then I laughed and said, “Even your five o’clock shadow looks real.”
Linda giggled and said, “All right–show’s over. The rest of you get your costumes on; we have an appearance to make! It’s party time!”
Later that night, after I got home to my apartment, I quickly removed the wig, peeled off the outfit, dropped the pieces on the floor where I stood, and collapsed on my black vinyl couch. I ached in places I didn’t know were possible, and I couldn’t remember when I had felt so exhausted. I shut my eyes, stretched out fully, and endured the pain until it eased, and I felt well enough to limp to the bathroom. I turned on the shower, and while the water was getting hot, I undid the pins holding my hair and dropped them on the countertop. I adjusted the water as hot as I could stand, closed the drain, and stood under the shower. God, it felt good. I lathered a washcloth and scrubbed off the makeup. Then I turned the showerhead to the massage setting, pulled it off the hook, and moved it around, pummeling the aching spots on my back and legs with hot, pounding water. The tub was over half full by the time I turned off the shower. I filled it slowly with very hot water while I lay down, resting my head on a towel at the end of the tub and soaking. It was almost unbearably hot by the time I reached up and turned it off. I lay back again, feeling the heat finally penetrate deep into my aching muscles. Ahhh, relief at last.
I reflected on the last few hours as I lay in the slowly cooling water. Never, in my past as an Oklahoma farm boy, where male and female roles were rigidly defined, would I have imagined this day’s revelry.
Chameleon-like, I had adapted to modern city life with excitement and speed, free to fill my senses with new sights, sounds, and tastes; to meet, mingle and dance till dawn with an eclectic group of people as different as swans and bears. Today was one of those rich days. Though like drinking too much wine–marvelous at the time–it exacted a price.
God knows, I now had a new respect for women. Never again would I observe my date standing in the doorway dressed to the nines without a deep appreciation of what it took to achieve that look. I sure won’t go through that again–too much pain, too much work. Maybe I’ll wear a cheap suit and a Richard Nixon mask next time. Now that’s a scary thought.