Miami has lovely malls and one of them, the Shops at Merrick Park, is a few blocks away from my house. I could walk there if I lived in a normal “walking” city, but the reality is that in this town, much like in Los Angeles, nobody walks.

So, before the pandemic, and when I needed a little distraction, I would hop into my car and drive there in a flash. It’s a high end group of stores with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom as the two anchors on opposite sides.

There is a beautiful courtyard with fountains, flowers, and lovely Royal Palm trees surrounded by bistros, cafes, and other restaurants offering a variety of delicious temptations. People stroll around with their friends, their families, and sometimes their designer dogs, enjoying the pleasant surroundings.

Some even shop. I confess that I seldom buy anything I need there. It’s more of a fantasy shopping expedition for me, but I do love to walk around and perhaps stop for a Cuban coffee and enjoy a little people-watching.

The mall also houses a movie theater which shows a lot of the films that I enjoy, so there’s that extra attraction to pay a visit to once in a while.

The Last Hurrah of In-Person Shopping

I went for the last time a couple of weeks before I embarked on my nearly six months of pandemic isolation. I was happily window-shopping in that aimless way that one does when not looking for anything in particular, when I decided to enter a well-known make-up store to just “look around.”

Why are make-up shops or department store cosmetic counters so irresistible to me, I will never understand, considering that I buy my lipstick, blush, and moisturizer at my local drugstore for a fraction of the price.

And yet, without a clear trajectory, I was fodder for the sharks, walking into the store like a moth to a flame. Nobody forced me to enter.

My New Best Friend Paula

I had not been there for three minutes before I was approached (and captured) by a gorgeous creature, stunningly made-up with what looked like every product sold in the store. My face felt naked in her presence – and it was.

She inquired politely if she could help me find what I was looking for. Rather than reply, “Oh no, thank you, I’m just looking,” I told her that I would like to find a good cream blush. Since they’re not as easy to come by at my local drugstore as the powdered variety, I figured I might as well let her show me one before I attempted my escape. Big mistake.

She told me her name was Paula (pronounced Pah-oo-lah in Spanish) and asked about mine. She invited me to follow her, guiding me all the way to the back of the store to find the perfect blush that she had in mind for me.

It reminded me a little of Las Vegas hotels where you have to go through the entire casino to get to the elevator leading to your room. She offered me a bottle of water, which I accepted while thinking, “Does my skin look that dry?” Insecurities abound and surface in a hurry in these beauty emporiums, that’s how they survive.

The Seduction

She showed me a couple of blushes, and then, as if she was panning for gold, she found a tube that she waved up high in the air and exclaimed excitedly “Oh Elena, here’s that new cream for dry skin that I want to show you. It just came in yesterday.” See, I knew it, she did think that I was in need of hydrating.

There’s that lipstick sold by everyone’s favorite celebrity that surreptitiously tells us that wearing it will make our lips luscious and bright red, like her blown up poster on the wall. There’s the eye liner which could help define my “beautiful” eyes.

“This blush is perfect for your coloring,” she enthused as she asked permission to apply it on me. “Better yet, why don’t you just sit here and let me do a little makeover to show you how well it blends with this foundation that is meant to highlight your entire face!”

There stood that gorgeous woman made-up to within an inch of her life and looking so chic. She was towering over me in her sky high black Manolo Blahnik look-alikes, and she wanted to help little old me look fabulous. And just like that, the seduction had begun.

The Makeover

I sat down on a plush leather stool in front of a large mirror with plenty of strategic lights all around, you know, like the ones in those movies where the actress is preparing to go on stage. I settled down and looked at myself while Paula gathered the tools of her trade, and I thought, “Oh my, I do need a little something around the eyes.”

Nothing like staring at your reflection in a big well-lit mirror to confirm that you need help no matter how old you are. I surrendered to the lovely smells and soothing potions that she applied with her cool and dexterous fingers on my grateful and absorbing skin. Her fingers massaged my face, and I let her pamper me, her own face inches away from mine.

Chatting Miami-Style

We chatted away in that quick-paced Miami-style English and Spanish otherwise known as Spanglish as she lathered me with creams and potions and oohs and aahs about how young and stunning I looked. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t, but at that particular moment in time, I chose to believe.

Paula’s colleagues standing nearby were in full agreement. “Se ve preciosa,” they concurred, that is, “you look lovely.” I didn’t buy every product that she tried on me, but the few items that I did purchase, and considering the fact that I really didn’t “need” any of them, made the bill hefty nonetheless.

With my newly made-up face and my fancy bag full of goodies, I waved goodbye never to wear any of the products – nor see my new best friend Paula – again.

Looking Back

When I envision that moment now, I find it hard to believe that just a few weeks after this beauty encounter, I would start what would become my life in isolation.

The thought of anyone standing unmasked that close to me with zero social distancing, breathing on me, talking to me inches away from my face, and putting her product-laden fingers on me provokes sheer panic.

At the time I thought “I need this” and, as the L’Oréal commercial always reminds us “I’m worth it!” Without a care in the world, I closed my eyes. Covid was not part of my vocabulary then.

Almost six months have passed since my little beauty adventure. I must confess that while I don’t intend to make a habit of letting myself be sweetly and expertly manipulated by the lovely Paulas of the world again, I confess that I did enjoy that moment in time when all my worries were limited to this or that color of cream blush or lipstick.

Was the price that I paid for the make-up excessive? Absolutely. Is the price that I’m paying now, isolating myself from my family and the rest of the world by this pandemic, worth it? That is yet to be determined.

The unopened bag lies lifeless in my bathroom. My current beauty routine is non-existent, but my mind can and does wander to that moment in time when I felt so pampered, so normal, and so alive.

Have you let yourself fall victim to a store’s makeup expert? How was your experience? Would you relish another pampering experience, or do you feel better doing your own makeup? Please share your thoughts, and let’s have a conversation!

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