REMOVING THE LATEST WRINKLE

A recent Friday found us inching toward the quarter-panel of a tan Ford LTD which was after our parking spot in the Highland Park Snyder's Drugstore lot.

           Realizing that the aggressive blue rinse behind the LTD's wheel might very well be the next Chantal "Seeing is Believing" Local 35-plus Spokesmodel, we gave her the spot and parked elsewhere. Inside Snyder's, the casting call was just starting, and already a line of wrinkled women stretched past the cosmetics counter--each vying for the opportunity to appear in television and print ads with half her face painted with Ethocyn wrinkle remover.

           The woman who started it all--57-year-old accountant-turned-supermodel Karen Phillips--stood calmly next to the shelves of cotton balls and hand lotions, showing off her own wrinkles. You wouldn't guess it from the polished manner in which she greets the crowd, but two years ago, Phillips was just another number-cruncher at Chantal Skin Care Corporation, makers of Ethocyn wrinkle cream. A self-proclaimed "doubting Thomas," she worried that her colleagues were a bunch of snake-oil hucksters selling a water potion to vain old women. Without telling a soul at the office, Phillips plunked down $119 bucks for the 60-day Ethocyn regimen, and applied the product--on the right hand side of her face, leaving the left side to suffer the effects of nature's degeneration. When Chantal Skin Care Corporation's owner and CEO Chantal Burnison found out what her accountant was up to, she offered Phillips a fat promotion, plastered her face (magnified and artfully lit) in advertisements and flew Phillips around the country for live appearances just like the one at Snyder's in St. Paul.

           When Chantal public relations alerted us to the two-faced wrinkle lady's public appearance, the rep warned us not to expect too much: "On one side she's got normal old crows feet, and on the other she's got a really great looking set of less visible crows feet." Still, we expected at least to guess which wrinkles were natural. Phillips, sensing our disappointment, pointed out the differences: "Most people, they come up and look at your cheeks. But there are specific places this has worked. See these little wrinkles around the lips? They're much less noticeable on my right side. In fact the lip line has tightened up and actually changed." It was true. The right side of her mouth looked slightly swollen, much as if Phillips had suffered a mild stroke and recovered thanks to physical therapy. Two-face is just part of Chantal's marketing strategy, we learned. The entire cast of Baywatch uses Ethocyn (on both halves of their faces, as it happens).

           In the time it took Phillips to explain this, the crowd had swelled to over fifty, and the portly photographer had unbuttoned his poly-blend blazer to better snap pictures. Ruth, a pert 74-year-old with a tinted Jackie O bob, impressively darkened eyebrows, and a face still cute in spite of deeply etched wrinkles, climbed into the chair, feet dangling. The photographer made condescending chit-chat while Ruth posed for the frontal, holding before her a magic-marker name tag held high.

           "It was my daughter's idea," Ruth told us after her shoot. "She talked me into it. 'Just go for it, Mom,' she told me. I said, 'Well, I hope they pick someone else,' and my daughter said, 'Whatever.' I thinks it's all genetics anyway, don't you? I think wrinkles get passed down. But I do take care of myself. I never wear makeup," said Ruth, forgetting the smear of lipstick she'd applied before the shoot. "I have never smoked, and I've never drank much either. 'Booooring. Booooring.' That's what my boys say. But it's not that I'm too good. I just never did those things, I don't know why. Are you married? I was married twice--two wonderful men. They both died tragic deaths. I married my first husband when he was 28 and he passed away when he was 38. My second husband just passed away a few years ago. But I take care of myself. I still get up early and go exercise. And I still have my legs." Ruth lifted one white, open-toed pump off the ground to prove her point. "The face is gone. The body is gone. But my feet and my legs, those I still have," she flirted.

           The line continued to grow. Both sides of Karen Phillips's face showed signs of fatigue. A twenty-something cosmetologist with a bleach-blonde perm lectured the women on how to use Ethocyn: "You really have to apply it every morning. It's just like exercise--you have to be disciplined about it." Before Ruth turned to go, she observed for a moment the sea of frosted hair and lipstick, pastel blazers and blouses. "You see all those women in line with the hungry looks on their faces," she indicated with a dramatic sweep of one arm. "They probably photograph better than I do. I'm sure they'll pick one of them." And with a good natured shrug, she shuffled out the door, leaving her wrinkle-resistant, super-model dreams to the younger matrons still simpering for the camera. *

--Joseph Hart

PUBLICDOMAIN

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