Enchantment July 2, 2020 Number 14 – Face It

Faces of neophyte members of the James K. Polk Association posing in the parlor before First Lady James K Polk’s portrait.
From left: Mrs Wayman Hickman, Mrs. Jack Lightfoot, Mrs. Harold Lucas, Mrs. Robert McKnight and Mrs. Rufus Ross.

I escaped to another city for a hair cut. The plot felt like a spy in disguise who set out to infiltrate unfamiliar territory. Neither detail was true. For me the state of the process is a decades old run just altered by a sheltering in place episode.

Gather ‘round children and know there once was a time when abundant hair was my crowning glory. Now I merely seek to arrest the chaotic frame around my face from slipping into the look of an “old man with long grey hair” (it’s a thing-google it).

Tooling around a ghost-like Nashville, I slipped into a favorite store and complimented the salesperson on her smashing sales mask.

Her sigh was muffled and dramatic. “It’s a relief not to have to smile all the time,” she said. “My resting face is angry. My students’ mothers complained.” I started to help her out by saying that’s a shame, but which would it be – the resting face or the shallow mothers?

My mind raced as a witness to all attempts in stemming the tide of a face gone awry. Well meaning parents were in the game early on my behalf. Daddy: “please do not rub your nose like that or you will break blood vessels.” Mother: “quit frowning or you will create lines in your forehead” or the scariest – “no sun or one day your face could look like baseball mitt!”

I wiggled in protest, but they had some good points. Naturally I had to be me, and so certain outcomes prevailed. Still I am blessed by fraternal sessions on brushing and flossing. We really need those toofies after all. They were just standing guard over the inevitable.

Early on in life as contemporaries the salesperson and I got the memo that explained the ultimate gospel. The truth was confirmed in discovery of the holy grail. A hero’s journey led me to a framed piece of needlework turned upside down and stashed in the back of a junk store.

It reads: All the World’s a Camera – Look Pleasant Please. The advice was cross-stitched in white threads on brown linen and completed in 1933. My folks were barely in the world, but received core values from their own parents who launched them during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Yet, for all their striving to maintain the just right visor, I’m not so sure that such facial preoccupations are worthy in the way they were viewed.

I miss the breathtaking medley of faces – be the faces hairy, smooth, disfigured, dreamy, red and yellow, black and white. Quinn once described someone by saying, “He has a sweet roll face.” We conjured him on the spot.

Not that before the 2020 visage covering, I took the time to dwell on particulars outside of eyes that stay with you or eyes that avoid you. Prior to masks, red flags on the importance of faces were dotted everywhere in life as in that frightening period after a beloved passes and recall for their face is unavailable. The details of their eyes, dimples, scars, brows, beauty and assorted imperfections evaporate only to return with the prompting of photographs in drawers or (sniff) online.

Practically speaking author Milan Kundera says, “The serial number of human specimen is the face, that accidental and unrepeatable combination of features. It reflects neither character or soul, nor what we call the self. The face is only the serial number of a specimen.”

Put that in your pipe and deliver yourself from vanity. But oh the enchantment of the serial number. My grandfather said he received a distance learning PhD by parking himself to study the passing faces while my grandmother shopped.

Even so being the little animals we are, it’s so very difficult for us to pull up the intimacy to dwell on a face and utterly appreciate its majesty. And then there’s the twist that we are constantly subjected to misinterpret – warm face, cold heart – cold face, warm heart.

Still there is nothing so beatific as the countenance of a baby prior to assimilation or the child filled with pure desires or the elder weathered with wisdom – all in an ever-rolling state of change. I regret missing every second of that parade.

And now as a front for the hallowed life we seek to preserve, the covered face will suffice until enough time has passed to throw off the ear loops, take our collective breaths and run with eyes wide open toward the enlightened future.