Last month, one of my best friends, the inimitable Mrs. Z of Philadelphia, abandoned her three young sons and husband for the day and boarded a locomotive to New York for several hours of hilarious hijinks and crazed coffee consumption. Because I did not want her wandering around the city by herself, falling prey to unctuous medicine men peddling snake oil or sleazy film producers promising her stardom for the price of a double-fisted hand job in an alley somewhere in the West 30s, I agreed to accompany her.
We met under “the big board” at Penn Station. I hadn’t seen her in about two years, but I knew I would recognize her as the only person in grainy newsreel black and white, shivering in gray woolen stockings bagging at the ankles above the sturdy work boots that pass for fashionable footwear back in the Old Country.
After rushing towards each other in slow motion, I in glorious Technicolor and she in the aforementioned grainy black and white, we did what any two gal pals would do: wrestled out of our shirts and had a pillow fight, tossing our hair as the feathers flew around us, our faces flushed, our Maidenform’d chests heaving. And then had coffee at some Starbucks somewhere. Once a satisfactory level of caffeination was achieved, we strolled up to Macy’s, where Mrs. Z remembered having spent precious childhood moments and wished to add an arsenal of adult ones. Alas, it was not open yet, so after deciding that no, we didn’t want to loll around in the vestibule with eager yet patient shoppers willing to wait 45 minutes for entry, we ambled up Broadway, and I showed off by crossing the street even after the orange hand stopped flashing. (And here is where some of you will say, “What’s that?” and I will not fill you in, because I enjoy putting on cruel and superior snooty airs.)
Our trek led us to Columbus Circle, which Mrs. Z had not seen since it was lovelified a few years ago to include colorful plantings around the fountain and the gleaming Time Warner Center. “That’s where I go food shopping!” I bragged. When Mrs. Z expressed confusion because she could not see “my” Whole Foods, I allowed a sophisticated chortle to waft between us as I explained that it is underground. “You take the escalator down,” I said, ready to explain what an escalator was just in case my friend was not hip to the latest trends.
We did not go into the Time Warner Center right away, though, because just outside, on the curving pavement, was a TV crew and an attractive woman in a see-through booth. Because I am savvy enough to know that TV crews are always on the lookout for stunning brunettes for a host of reasons, I lingered on the fringes of the excitement, striking a variety of poses. Within mere moments, my efforts were rewarded, and a youngish hipsterish fellow wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard rushed over to us and asked if we would like to participate.
The crew was there for a show called “Ten Years Younger”, which I had seen once and promptly dismissed as beneath me and an insult to my fashion sense. The only makeover shows I ever deemed worthy of my genius attention were “How Do I Look?” (which I pretty much stopped watching after seeing Finola Hughes in person once, while also in the company of Mrs. Z, and noting with a blend of chagrin and delight that she looked like cold leftovers) and “What Not To Wear” (which I recently started watching again, along with my boyfriend, who is now enamored of both Stacy and Clinton).
I really had no desire to participate, and just wanted to go inside and show Mrs. Z the two enormous Botero sculptures on the ground floor, rotund nudes, one of each sex, the male of which has had his bronze boyness touched by so many hands (that no doubt thought they were being original and naughty) that it now shines gold. But since this opportunity had the potential to make us America’s Sweethearts, we decided we’d stop to see what they wanted from us.
“Ten Years Younger” takes a person who, scientifically speaking, looks like absolute shit and gives her a makeover that, it is hoped, subtracts years from her age. (Unfortunately, however, this is not accomplished by way of a time machine, which would have increased my interest from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds.) But before she can be transformed, strangers on the street have to guess how old they think she is, which is a sport even more vicious than mace-dodgeball. Once the team of makeover mavens is through with her, she is then treated to having another round of strangers have a go at her age. Of course, as the name of the show suggests, the goal is to have people think she’s … well, you can guess. (And here I’m not being cruel or superior or snooty in not telling you. I’m just making you put on a tiny stylish thinking cap.)
They wanted us to guess how old the attractive lady in the booth was. Because she was not dressed in a ratty track suit and flip flops and her hair was brushed and she was smiling, I knew this was the “After” part of the show. The guy production assistant and his girl counterpart, after having us sign release forms and have our pictures taken (without the benefit of calling, “Makeup!”, which made me think they were going to use us for “Before” subjects and caused me to gently panic for about 30 seconds), gave us brief instructions.
We were to guess how old we thought the perma-grinning lady was. We were to say why we thought what we thought. We were to be specific. Okay?
The girl assistant gave us an example, because the project was difficult to grasp. “Everyone else is saying, like, 28 … 30. You know, like 28 or 30. Something like that. People are saying 28 … 30.”
So when the camera turned to me, and the guy assistant prompted me to tell the world what I think, I said what I thought. I said what I thought, and what I had said to Mrs. Z, before the girl had so cleverly tried her subliminal suggestion.
“I think she looks 46.”
“What?” he said.
“Forty-six,” I said. “I think she’s just a little older than I am. I say she’s 46.”
“NO!” he said, starting to pant.
“Yes,” I said. “She looks 46.”
“NO!” he said, his free arm starting to flail (as if he wanted to hit me, Mrs. Z later informed me). “That is not what I asked! I didn’t ask you how old you think she looks! I asked you how old you think she is!”
“Forty-six,” I said, starting to laugh. “I think she looks 46!”
“NO!” he said with a hiss. “That’s not what I asked! How. Old. Do. You. Think. She. IS!”
I looked sidelong at Mrs. Z, who was slackjawed and staring straight ahead like she’d been hit with a stun gun while simultaneously shown a naked photo of Mason Reese.
“You, my friend, are ACTING six,” or “Stop tryin’ to 86 my 46!” I wanted to say, but instead just said, “Jesus Christ! I still think 46, but … so … why don’t we just go with … 36, then? Okay? Thirty-six.”
She certainly didn’t look 28 or 30, the way the other insistent assistant had been “casually” hinting we should answer. She didn’t even look 36. Truth is, the woman looked like a well-dressed, nicely groomed 46-year-old, who was grinning big white teeth and waving manicured hands at me as she apparently heard everything going on outside the booth that I had thought was soundproof.
Since the goal of the show is to make someone look ten years younger than she is, and the other assistant was dropping really subtle hints to guess 28 or 30, I did some quick calculations on my abacus and determined that the subject was actually 40. Although my revised “guess” of 36 was still not enough to lop a decade off her appearance, I am quite sure the production assistant, by now almost bleeding from the ears out of frustration, was not going to press me any further.
I gave my reasons why I thought she was, uhm, 36, including the fact that she “didn’t have too many wrinkles” (a dig I felt a little bad about, given that it wasn’t her fault the production assistant was such a jackass) and “her hair is nice” (because nice hair is limited to people in their mid-30s). Meanwhile, out of the corner of my right eye, I could see the jackass seething, sputtering, and shooting daggers at me, and out of the corner of my left, I could see Mrs. Z still standing rigid, wide-eyed and slackjawed, in a state of near catatonia.
The delight turned to her. “And what do YOU say?”
“Thirty-six,” she said automatically, in the smallest, most robotic voice I have ever heard come out of the always raucous Mrs. Z.
We broke free and skipped away from the area, alternately guffawing and gasping at having just been scolded by the churlish production assistant of a third-rate makeover show, and realized with a bit of well-earned chagrin that because of our obviously WRONG answers, we would be left on the cutting room floor. Or, if used, our lips would be forming “36” — but “26” would be dubbed in, in a pissed-off production assistant’s voice.
Arms extended in front of my body, legs stiff and unbending, I lurched toward the Time Warner Center doors like a robot, chirping “thir-tee-six … thir-tee-six” in monotone. Once inside, still guffawing to the point of Mrs. Z’s near-incontinence, an extremely handsome Anderson Cooper/Richard Gere clone asked me out, Mrs. Z fell in love with a loudmouth lout in an ill-fitting suit, and we stumbled upon Cynthia Nixon, wearing a fabulous dress and displaying great gams, cutting a ribbon for something charitable.
Although we entertained the notion of approaching her and saying, “You look familiar. Are you an actress? Would we have seen you in something, maybe?” we decided to reel in our maverick mode. Having just witnessed borderline insanity outside, we decided to settle for sideline hilarity inside instead.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering (and I know you are), Cynthia Nixon looked fantastic. And about 42.