Friday, October 5, 2007

Good enough

I consider myself to be an averagely vain person as opposed to an excessively vain person. I am vain enough to wear mascara on special occasions. I would notice if my T-shirt was inside out before I left the house because I might come across a mirror, accidentally. I might not notice that I had a stripe of mascara across the bridge of my nose because I would be careful not to get too close to a mirror accidentally or otherwise. Now, because I know you so well, I know that you are wondering how I can put mascara on my eye lashes without looking in a mirror? Whilst my skills are legendary, I too have to use a mirror for this beauty treatment. The mirror I use is small but magnified. Hence when I remove my glasses and peer into the glass, I see half an eye at most. When I move from one eye to the other eye, there is not enough space in the mirror to notice the slick on my nose.

I suspect that as I get older, I become less vain, as twenty years ago I would be sure to wear not only mascara, but also lipstick. Somewhere between then and now, I arrived in the United States.

I knew no-one and decided that I must set about mining for friends. Being an intelligent sort of person, I knew that joining a club would be a step in the right direction. I picked the nearest place to our new home, walking distance. Unfortunately this club specialized in exercise, but it was all female, so I knew I was in with a chance.

I signed on the dotted line, paid over a serious amount of hard card and sat down for my assessment. The assessment involved a weigh in, lots of measuring of body parts and a huge questionnaire. At question 623 about ‘allergies,’ I was tempted to write ‘exercise’ but resisted, as no everyone shares my sense of humour.

They took my photograph for some bizarre reason. It was like going through the Green Card nightmare all over again. Once I had waded my way through all these preliminary steps, I was taken to a small airless office. The disciple wore a white coat and drew the blinds.

“Now what are you hoping to achieve here Madeline?” I blinked and decided to tell half the truth in case I might be mistaken for someone about to kidnap their clientele under the veil of friendship.
“I want the top half of my body to match the bottom half of my body,” I announced with a surprising air of confidence. The white coat did not respond as I anticipated.
“In what way?” I shuffled in my chair, clearly in need of an interpreter.
“Well, I have very strong legs but very wimpy arms. I want to have big strong arms to match my big strong legs.” Her pen was poised above the paper. For some reason my message was not getting through. I wondered if I had used the wrong words? Were there different American words that I should have used instead?
What did she mean ‘and?’?
“Er, well that’s about it really.”
“Nothing else?”
“Um… I don’t think so.”
“Why? Do you think something else needs a tweak?”
“No,” she said a little too hesitantly. I shuffled to the edge of my seat so that I could peer at her papers. There were well over a hundred tick boxes and that was only on the first page. Only one of them was checked off.
“Well there’s only so much we can do you know?” My blank expression must have prompted her further. “You know out here breast enlargement is inexpensive.” I blinked and possibly blushed. I glanced down at my chicken chest. I felt a need to clarify, “it was my arms actually…….er and perhaps my shoulders rather than……anything else.” I could tell from her facial expression that she thought I was being unco-operative.
She smiled at me, “I love your accent.” I winced. I do not have an accent. I am British. I speak English. Was she offering elocution lessons on the side? I should have probably returned the compliment but that would reveal even more of my ignorance, as I had no idea what kind of accent she had, other than American. I needed to be State specific. “How do you keep your coat so white?” I offered weakly.
“I buy new ones.”
“I wear them for a few days and then I throw them away.”
“Are they disposable.”
“Sure, isn’t everything?” I decided that this was a rhetorical question to trip me up, so I just smiled. My smile translated itself into encouragement. “You know how it is, I just have to have everything perfect,” she beamed. I looked at her more carefully. She was indeed perfect. Perfect everything. She was probably the most perfect human being on the planet. She saw me eying her up and whipped out a dossier from the drawer. “This is me when I first started here, er, three and a half years ago now.” She leant over and showed me a photograph of herself above hundreds of hand written words and checked off boxes. I looked at her. I looked at the photograph. I checked again. She was perfect then. She was perfect now. Now I was confused but I didn’t show it.

“Do you miss home?” she added in a kindly tone. My face must have betrayed me. “I have a great therapist you know.” She handed me a business card, ‘Dr. A. Smith, B.A.,M.D.,FACP,MPH, psychiatric therapist, specializing in Manic Depression and Bipolar disorder.’ I had only been a few months in the country. I was beginning to understand the meaning of the phrase ‘too much information.’

She stood, stepped towards the door and pulled up the blind. We looked out at all the women in the gymnasium. All shapes, sizes and ages. They were all perfectly imperfect. I determined to choose my pals with care.

It’s a steep learning curve for the foreign born. The gym closed a couple of years later, but I still ‘have’ three of them now, pals that is to say. They're all originals and all American, but none of them wear white coats, either as professionals or mere amateurs, and certainly never after Labour Day.


meno said...

the accent is all about the "u"s. It wouldn't sound the same without them.

dgibbs said...

Wow, that woman was some piece of work! She works for a exercise club and she decides you may be manic depressive and/or bipolar, and need implants?
Wow, just wow.

Jeni said...

I definitely would have checked "exercise" under the allergies box - or perhaps housework too, come to think of it. But I just realized something in reading your post. I have managed to get my top and bottom to more or less match, somewhat. I just need a spot of the right hand portion of my abdomen to just out a bit and match the one that does that on the left side as a result of several abdominal surgeries, none of which were for the removal of the doggone fat cells though.

Niksmom said...

Scary , the woman in the white coat. I would have beaten a path out of there quickly! Glad you made some "normal" friends (as opposed to the crazy lady in the white coat!)and kept them. That's a lasting benefit, for sure! :-)

The Shepcarpclan said...

Oh my, I would have run out of there shouting TMI, TMI. You are much braver than me, the small room would have been a no go. Ok, so now maybe we know where Evan and Caleb get it, lol. I see nothing wrong as listing exercise as an allergy.

flutter said...


whitenoise said...

A great story. ;-)

Regarding the accent, once you finish learning all the different american accents you can start to work on the various Canadian variations.

If you think that this provides too much nuance- remember that we poor, backwoods North Americans are bewildered to find that Europeans change whole languages every 200 miles.

Suzy said...

That is hysterical!

My Brit friend Margo Roberts would have said the same thing, "I don't have an accent, I speak English."

I told her once to speak American and she imitated the way we Americans sound. OUCH.