Celeste is someone who loves to do nice things for her body—we went to a Russian spa once years ago and paid an old Russian woman to slap our bare skin with bundles of flaming hot birch leaves. We’ve known each other since we were neighbors in Echo Park, 25 years ago. She now lives Venice beach and I stay in her guesthouse when I come to LA.
Last fall I was in LA and the first morning I was there we met for coffee and at some point she said, “I found this amazing woman in Marina Del Rey, she gets rid of skin tags. I want to send you to her.”
Skin tag makes me think of a price tag, here’s the tag that shows you what kind of skin you might want to get, when you’re shopping for new skin at the skin store.
“Oh, great,” I said.
“She’s Iranian and she’s amazing.” Somehow the skin tag removal lady being Iranian inspired confidence--well, if she’s Iranian, she has to be good!
“Next time you’re here, we’ll make it happen.” Celeste said.
There’s a theory we have that a true friend is someone who will tell you the truth--you’ve got food in your teeth, or when you behaved really badly. Here’s the thing, that’s not what I want from my friends. I am less Stanley Kowalski and far more Blanche Dubois who said, “I don't want realism. I want magic!”
After my initial shock of Celeste alluding to my skin tags—the awareness that I was walking around with all of these hideous tags on my neck, people laughing at me in the grocery store, fellow diners in restaurants asking to be moved to a different table when they saw me sitting there with my unappetizing flesh.
Like Kubler Ross’ stages of grief, I moved through my stages, next was insult—how dare she insinuate that I need to have my skin tags removed! I refuse! I thought, and imagined myself wearing voluminous floral scarves everywhere.
But bne night back home, I stood shirtless before the bathroom mirror, surveying the forest of flaps on my neck—“Oh god, I yelled, “I’m disgusting!” And so I arrived at acceptance.
I flew to LA the first week of March and drove to Celeste’s where I’d be staying. We met in the front yard and after catching up, she told me she had made me an appointment to and on Friday I would be going to see Audrey, which struck me as a decidedly non-Iranian name. I instantly suspected her of being a fraud.
I’ve had things removed from my back before, they used a wand with dry ice at one end, a tiny wisp of smoke wafted up from its tip, which made the dermatologist look like a wizard. Those removals were very mild, hardly any pain. Celeste said Audrey uses an electronic zapper.
“It doesn’t hurt, right?” I asked.
“No,it’s like getting a tattoo.”
I have a tattoo and I remember being surprised by how little it hurt, even felt kind of sexy, buzzy.
“And after the first couple, you don’t even notice it.”
As I walked away she called after me, “focus on your breathing.”
I drove to Marina del Rey and found the place. A professional arts building filled with doctors and dentists.
The receptionist called Audrey and I went up, the door was ajar. Audrey was indeed Iranian, perhaps in her early sixties, she wore a white lab coat and had eyes like Maria Callas. She was warm and invited me in. Her office was the size of a walk in closet. She had a small bureau with a tiny scented mister going, vague tinkly music played. An elevated medical bed with white sheet took up the majority of the room.
After taking off my shirt, Audrey examined my next.
“Oh, yes, you have a lot of them…”
Oh god, I thought, I’m one of the worst cases ever. I feel this when I see any professional—I’m an extreme case.
“Good thing you came, you want to get them before they get any bigger.”
I lay back on the bed, Audrey sat on a stool at my head. She showed me the instrument—It resembled a high tech dentist drill with a very thin, firm wire coming out the end.
“I doesn’t really hurt, Celeste said,” I offered hopefully.
“No, it’s not bad at all.” Audrey lowered the wire tipped device to my neck. Remember that scene in Frankenstein, the stormy night arrives and the doctor uses the electricity of the storm to charge the the sleeping monster’s body, electrocuting his once morbid flesh.
The pain was searing, I shrieked, my body bounced off the bed. Audrey recoiled, her cool demeanor barely ruffled but noticeable still.
“Oh, wow,” I said, once I had sort of recovered but still breathing hard, neck searing. “I’m sorry.”
Audrey was silent, cool.
“It really hurts.”
“Some people have more trouble than others.” She said, the device in the air coming back in for another zap.
“Aahhh!” I screamed full out this time.
“Oh my god, it really hurts.” As if I really needed her to believe me.
“I need you to try to stay as still as you can or it will take longer because I will have to go back again and again to the same spot.”
She handed me a small towel.
“Hold this,” Se said, “Squeeze it I you need to.”
And so it went for dozens and dozens of skin tags, each one a terrible ordeal.
After it was over, I said, “Celeste said it wouldn’t hurt.”
“Yes, Celeste is the best, she just zones out.” Did I hate Celeste a little bit at that moment? Then Audrey said, “The people who have the worst time are the men, Especially the big men.”
I put my double extra are tsirt back on and too my leave. Audrey texted me photos of my neck, “ So we could have before an after pictures,” she had said.
I can laugh about it now, like a criminal heading to the gallows, dark moments invite us to make fun—it’s like a pendulum, we swing from terror to laughing, over and over, darkness, light, it means we’re alive.