Lush

Another improvised Twitter narrative from a while back. This one is about mascara and the porn business. Also spiders.

So, mascara is tested on spiders. Maybe you didn’t know that. I didn’t know myself before I took this job one time.

I was kind of but not really in the porn business in Oregon, which believe me–that gets pretty quiet in the winter.

So I’m in this bar pretending I just came off a shoot, which is kind of a sad habit you get in that business, and this guy comes up.

He says, right off, You know how they test mascara, right? I give him the benefit of the doubt that it’s not some bullshit hit.

‘I never thought about it.’

‘That’s okay. Most people don’t. But it’s interesting. That’s why I bring it up. I’m Dieter.’

I tell him my name. He says, ‘What line of work are you in?’ Just like that. Like this bar isn’t a green room for adult content folks.

I tell him I’m resting. Dieter says I look morning fresh. Not in a sleazy way, just with that sunny nothing behind it, like a commercial.

So, anyway. It gets around to Dieter’s business, which I had a feeling that was going to come out. He’s in beauty.

‘You’re in beauty?’

‘Well, yes. But not in the state or condition of beauty. The grubby business I’m afraid.’

This was how he talked.

Dieter looks at me through these teeny glasses that probably cost two thousand bucks. He has on this perfect graph paper kind of shirt.

He looks like he just flew in business class on Lufthansa and maybe needs help buying a gift for his little girl. Or something else.

I guess I’m explaining why, ten minutes later, I’m in Dieter’s rented Taurus, all but signed up and in beauty myself. Who does that?

We’re heading for his ‘new facility’, which turns out to be near the airport. Some chainlink lot by the Dollar rental return place.

‘It’s temporary,’ Dieter says, unlocking the place.

I shrug. ‘My last place didn’t exactly have orchids in the lobby. Anyway, it’s clean.’

‘This isn’t even the clean room,’ Dieter says. ‘Where we do the testing. Would you like to see that?’

‘Sure. Is it gross?’

‘We have to de-garb,’ Dieter says. Turns out this means getting sprayed with stuff that smells like frost and dressing up like we’re on ER.

‘You look immaculate,’ Dieter says. It’s a word I’ve heard out loud maybe twice. His goggles gleam over his glasses. ‘Immaculate.’

We go into the lab. The suit makes me feel cushioned and untouchable, as clean and remote as a cloud. I walk delicately.

Dieter approaches a bank of glass tanks with arm holes. ‘This is a fun thing to do first,’ he says. ‘The spiders. You have no phobia?’

‘I have phobias. Not spiders, though. What do you do with them?’

‘Put mascara on them.’

‘Get the fuck out of here.’

‘Dieter looks around, like I’ve actually asked him to leave. He’s really kind of sweet.

‘No, I mean like what? On their eyes?’

‘Spiders don’t have eyelashes. The mascara goes on their legs.’

‘Fuck off. On their legs? You guys volumize spiders?’

‘These are Phase I trials. We test safety. Toxicological profiles. Pharmacokinetic effects. And so on.’

‘Can you die of lush fullness?’

‘Would you like to try? It’s a fascinating process.’

He gestures towards a tank. Inside there are maybe eight or nine spiders.’

Dieter motions. I plunge my arms into the openings, where they slip into long close-fitting gloves. The spiders skitter silently.

‘This gas–‘ Dieter presses down a plunger. ‘A short-acting neuroinhibitor. They will not move. You can pick up the mascara wand.’

The mascara is big name, by the way, and not even in stores, obviously. I pick up the wand. I have that spacewalk clumsiness.

‘Go on,’ Dieter says. ‘Coat the legs as you would your lashes. From the body outwards.’

My fingers move thickly. The air is a puzzle.

I manage to apply mascara to one leg, leaving uneven clumps. Then the next. The spider jerks.

‘Involuntary movement,’ says Dieter.’

I drag the wand down each of the spider’s remaining legs. My fingers are aching for the tiny drag and brush of friction, for where they are.

‘Proprioception,’ Dieter says. ‘The sense of where your body parts are positioned in space. It can be difficult to recalibrate.’

I nod, and that does make sense. But it’s not what’s bothering me. What’s bothering me is the talking. The spider is talking to me.

‘Honey,’ the spider is saying. ‘I’m not judging. Believe me, in this business–‘

‘In the spider business?’ I am talking. To the spider.

‘There’s no call to take that tone, sweetheart. Those nails don’t exactly say entertainment lawyer to me.’

I look around to see if Dieter is registering that the spider I have just coated in prototype mascara is basically calling me a skank.

Dieter has wandered off to check on some other experiments. He peers into another tank and taps on a valve or something.

‘No, the thing of it is, honey–I’m Wanda, by the way–I got to make a living. I got to spin webs, twitch for prey, generally get by.’

‘Uh huh.’ I look around for Dieter again, but he has now disappeared. Wanda continues.

‘Yeah, so no offence, sweetie. I’m sure you the make-up lady to the stars of the Hallmark channel, but this here is inhumane.’

I nod again. Wanda has now completely overcome the neuroinhibitor, and is moving freely about the tank, gesticulating clumsily.

‘I mean, look at this. I’m a beautiful, proud arachnid. You got me looking like a shuttlecock made of licorice over here.’

‘I pull my hands from the tank. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I didn’t…I’m not–‘

‘Everybody in here about to wake up, and what do I look like?’

‘I don’t–‘

‘I look like some fucking Michelin wind chimes. I look like Kate Beckinsale exploded up in here. What’s wrong with you?’

I back away from the tank. I move towards the door. I can still hear Wanda.

‘I look like Marilyn Manson’s goddam man bag. It ain’t right.’

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t–I’m so sorry.’

‘You sorry? You ain’t the one looks a UFO swallowed a bunch of motherfucking seaweed.’

I never went to that bar again. The adult business kind of got killed by the web anyhow, so everybody had to move on.

I have this Kinko’s franchise now, way up in Alaska. The oil guys do everything in triplicate, believe me. It’s mostly quiet and beautiful.

I still use mascara. I’m not Tilda Swinton or German or whatever.

But I think of Wanda sometimes. And it’s like there are threads between regular life and suffering. You touch them and they keep humming.

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