My Virgin Visit to Nordstom’s Makeup Department

I have been to Las Vegas, Reno and Aruba, and left without putting a single quarter into a slot. I have all the television stations and have never seen a single episode of “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars” or “Survivor.” Nordstrom opened in Peabody on April 17, 2009, and I had never stepped foot inside its doors. As a 60-something Jewish female, it was time.

I wanted to sport visible proof of my deflowering. What better way than letting the beautician Chanelle use my face as a canvas for her palette of expensive face paint?

In truth, I had a headshot photo shoot scheduled the next day, and oral surgery the previous week had left me looking, well, my age.

Chanelle was gentle with me, cooing encouragement as she removed my glasses and examined every pore with evaluative eyes. She described the procedures I would be undergoing, defining why each product was necessary to achieving her goal. The list was long.

Feeling like an obedient preschooler, I submitted to her authority. My makeup regime is limited to concealer, blush, mascara and lipstick, and then only when attending a gala wedding at the Four Seasons. I had no idea what the four beigecolored pots de maquillage were. Chanelle’s explanation left me feeling I had been living on borrowed time, and that each product would be critical to my survival going forward.

Even in my naked myopia, I could sense the array of clinical instruments to my left, laid out neatly by shape and function. There was no turning back.

Coat after coat was applied, brushed, reapplied and rebrushed. I counted six different brushes, more than the Impressionists ever used to create masterpieces. The makeup had names like primer, foundation, concealer, highlighter and bronzer. I felt like the outside of my house. The functions sounded inherently contradictory: an illuminating concealer, a lightweight foundation and one that lifted as it covered. Even my eyelids needed camouflaging. When I looked atmyself in the mirror, I saw a Prendergast oil painting rather than the captured glow of pubescent skin. I burst out laughing.

Chanelle, bless her heart, soldiered on. Next came the eyes. I was immediately reminded why contact lenses and I had never gotten along. The approaching mascara wand in my peripheral vision elicited a textbook Pavlovian response of watering and blinking. Before the eyeliner had been imbedded between each lash (“Never draw a line across your lids!”), I was fantasizing about makeup removers and a long shower.

The one that really got me, however, was the creation of eyebrows. I truthfully had never felt disadvantaged by my lightly endowed eyebrows. In fact, my girlfriends who are slaves to plucking and waxing are green with envy. I thought they were a lifestyle asset. Not so, apparently. My face would look much more youthful with the framing eyebrows would provide. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a cross between my grandmother and Martin Scorsese.

By contrast, the blush was fun. Unsurprisingly, the one named Orgasm is their top seller. Luckily, it did not match my skin tone, as it was predictably out of stock. My lined dry lips required a $30 remedy. The case, at least, was exquisite, worthy of Faberge. I did not escape purchase-free, but I only added one item to my shopping list of blush, lipstick and gargantuan quantities of concealer (which I would apply with a paint roller, if such a product existed). That add-on purchase? A case full of autumn eye shadows. The included free eyeliner had clinched the deal.

I tried my best to gush and cluck as I gave myself a parting glance in the blindingly lit mirror, but I’m sure I fooled no one. Especially not Chanelle. In the privacy and muted, conventional lighting of my kitchen, however, I did ooh and aah, and yes, admire. Those eyebrows did lift my face, and I’ll be darned if my skin didn’t look 25 years younger. (Okay, maybe closer to 10.) I wondered if the store’s bright lights are deliberately of torture quality to terrify and encourage equity loan-caliber purchases. Ponce de Leon’s ghost holds court in Nordstrom’s makeup department, where he is healthy, wealthy and wrinkle-free.

I am a 60-something Jewish female who has never had Botox or any of its iterations. Don’t count on an article chronicling a change in that status any time soon.


Pictured above: The author, after Chanelle did her magic.

“The Prime Ministers”: A Peek Into Israel’s Inner Sanctum of Power, Privilege and Privacy

mbassador Yehuda Avner, author of the 2010 best-seller, “The Prime Ministers” and subject of Richard Trank’s new documentary, “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” has a twinkle in his eye, a magnetic, on-camera presence, and a melodious voice.

Trank’s directorial instinct to focus his lens on Avner as a “talking head” is spot on: he devours center stage as if it were the role he had been waiting in the wings to play.

“From the moment I met the Ambassador, I knew this approach would work because he is such an intimate, lively storyteller,” Trank explained via email.

During his five decades as personal aide and speechwriter to Israeli leaders (including five prime ministers), Avner bore witness to some of the most candid and private moments during some of the most critical events in Israel’s history. “I used to be the note taker,” Avner said in a phone interview. “I prepared executive summaries for the prime ministers, but I never threw away those original notes. This is the core of the book and the movie.”

Director Trank has divided Avner’s enormous memoir into two films. “The Pioneers” opens with Avner’s teenage involvement in Zionist youth activities in his native Manchester, England in the 1940’s, and ends with Golda Meir’s resignation following the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

(“Soldiers and Peacemakers,” which picks up the story in 1974, will open in Spring 2014.) Avner narrates as Israel’s cinematic chronology unfolds. The footage includes historical newsreels and videotapes of high-level whispered asides and passed notes. The effect is of crouching by a closed door and peeking through a keyhole to an inner sanctum of power, privilege and privacy. The film’s most memorable scenes are Avner’s eyewitness recollections. We hear how violinist Leopold Mahler, Gustav Mahler’s nephew and a member of Avner’s army unit, grabbed his instrument and passionately played “Hava Nagilah” to dancing crowds on Israel Independence Day. We eavesdrop on Prime Minister Eshkol and President Lyndon Johnson as the kibbutznik and the rancher bond over the birthing of a calf at LBJ’s Texas ranch. We see Golda Meir and Henry Kissinger in 1973 huddled in conversation over Israel’s request for American aid, connecting as “fellow Jews.“ This is not the stuff of history books. Yet according to Avner, his book has been adopted as part of the curriculum of many Jewish high schools.

“Most people below a certain age know nothing about Israel’s history. I wanted to bring back to life the personalities of the prime ministers,” Avner said. He is pleased that the release of the film has led more people to read the book.

Don’t miss this important and entertaining film. And then think about reading the book.

Pictured above: Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan met their troops October 21, 1973 in the Golan Heights, during the Yom Kippur War.

Billy Crystal’s Birthday Memoir

Billy Crystal’s mother advised him, “Do something special on your birthday.

Celebrate the fact that you’re here, that people love you, and you love them.” For his 50th, Crystal booked the ballroom at the Four Seasons and entertained over 250 guests. For his 60th, he wore the uniform of his beloved Yankees as leadoff man during spring training. Luckily for us, we don’t need a personal invitation to attend his 65th. His memoir, “Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?,” is his birthday tribute to this milestone event, and we’re all invited to the party.

And what a commemoration it is! This is one terrific book, written by one terrific guy. (Be forewarned: Expect lots of swear words and anatomical humor.) It is poignant, personal and uproariously funny. A fellow baby boomer, Crystal hits many nails squarely on the head. Chapter Four, “Growing Up Crystal,” chronicles his youth in Long Beach, Long Island. With the exception of his father’s untimely death when he was 15, his childhood was cheerful, loving and culturally rich. He played ball with the neighborhood kids until it got dark. His home was filled with laughter, encouragement, jazz and Judaism. He was raised to be the mensch he is today, full of reverence, loyalty, generosity and humble gratitude.

The remaining chapters, with such titles as “Take Care of Your Teeth,” “Buying The Plot,” and “Grandpa,” recount his life, decade by decade, from his twenties to the present. Some read like stand up shtick; some are more serious and factual.

The best parts are the anecdotes Crystal shares from his star-studded career and the dozens of decades-long relationships he formed, nurtured and maintained along the way. These are real gems. We are treated to up close and personal pearls about Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell, Lew Alcindor, the Saturday Night Live cast and the makings of “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers” and “Analyze This.” Crystal takes us behind the scenes at the Oscars, a show he hosted nine times and hoped to restore to the dignity and class he remembered it having in his youth. We are with him in 1977 when he played Jodie Dallas on “Soap,” one of television’s first unambiguously homosexual characters, and in 2005 as he scripts and performs his oneman Broadway homage to his father, “700 Sundays.” We cheer his well-deserved Emmys, Tony, and Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. The more Crystal reveals his thoughts, his feelings and his character, the more deeply we admire, respect and appreciate him.

These anecdotes are entertaining and voyeuristically satisfying, and Crystal is a gifted comedian and storyteller. But he has a deeper and wiser purpose in sharing his life with us. While he knows he has been blessed with talent, success and opportunity, his message is that family and faith string these pearls together and give them form and substance. He takes parenthood, and now grandparenthood, seriously. He respects his elders and treasures their memories. He is reminded of the legacy they left him, and is mindful of creating an equally meaningful one for his family.

Crystal continuously asks whether anything we do really matters. On the last page, contemplating the simultaneous birth of his fourth grandchild and his 65th birthday, he answers.

“It is a great life with plenty more to go. Time to see how my little ones fare in the world we turn over to them. That is our task after all. Teach them all we know and help them try to be better than us.”

Amen, Billy. Happy birthday, and many more.

“Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?” Billy Crystal Holt, Henry & Company, Inc., 2013

From Victim to Expert, Jessica Stern Shares Her Story

Jessica Stern attributes her professional fascination with violent perpetrators and her ability to remain calm in dangerous situations to the traumatic experience of being raped at age 15 at her Concord, Mass. home. These qualities are the silver lining borne of a horrendous attack, and they have served her well as a former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, an expert on terrorists and terrorism, and an author.

Stern’s most recent work — “Denial: A Memoir of Terror” — is an autobiographical account of her 1973 rape at gunpoint by a serial rapist who was never
caught. She is also the author of “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill,” which features interviews with Christian, Muslim, Jewish and American fringe group extremists. Stein traveled to Pakistan alone, engaging aspiring mujahedin in dialogue in remote madrassas; she interviewed Jewish radicals in West Bank settlements; and she even included conversations with Texan antiabortion militants and followers of Timothy McVeigh.

Stern, now 55 and living in Cambridge, will be a panelist at Boston Bookfest alongside Valerie Plame Wilson, Wes Craven and Mary Louise Kelly. Their topic is “Writing Terror: An Exploration of Fear.”

“I am fascinated by the secret motivations of violent men, and I’m good at ferreting them out,” she wrote in “Denial.” The 2010 work also describes her close relationship with her father and her identity struggles in the wake of trauma that caused undiagnosed and unacknowledged post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Being the child of a refugee and Holocaust survivor, she believes, exacerbated her painful path to self-identity.

Stern responded to questions by phone:

SS: What was your goal in telling your story?

JS: I had no clue that I had PTSD. I thought it was something soldiers got. I had no idea that the symptoms I had of hyper- and hypo-vigilance were symptoms, and not just who I was. When I mentioned this to my father and sister, both said, “Oh, we have that, too.” It allowed them to talk about this and that has helped all three of us and made us closer. My sister had a harder time with my writing this book (she was also raped during the same incident) but it brought us closer in a more authentic way. My father and I had never spoken about the rape or about why he hadn’t cut short his trip to Europe and come home when it happened. Writing the book allowed us to have those conversations. There is less distance between us.

I have received letters from women who were raped by the same guy I was. Some have written, “You saved my life.” (The paperback edition has a section in the back with reprinted letters from readers).

SS: What does your faith mean to you?

JS: I feel completely Jewish, but I wasn’t really raised Jewish. We didn’t celebrate any of the holidays, not even Passover.

I think being the child of a refugee completely determined my choice of career. It feels to me like a very Jewish choice to study violence. I am finally meeting children of refugees, and I feel like I have a lot in common with them. There is a kind of determination, which I associate with Judaism, but it may be the result of being raised by a Holocaust survivor. There is an emphasis on education and on philanthropy. I hope that, in a way, I am giving back and helping others by writing this book.

SS: Did you ever have second thoughts about writing “Denial”?

JS: Not once I committed to it, but it took a long time to get to that stage. My editor is the one who told me, “You should be writing about your rape.” I resisted at first, but I couldn’t resist doing the investigation with the police. I was afraid that my colleagues wouldn’t take me seriously if I wrote this book.

SS: What are you working on now?

JS: I am working on two books; one about other victims of the same rapist, and one about the war criminals from the Yugoslav tribunal. I’m also developing a concept I call “post-traumatic growth.”