Facial Expressions of a Guy Who Likes You, (1977, Mad Like The Crescent) or Electromagnetic Spectrum

In a simple life, any change to the smallest of things can make a substantial difference to one’s perspective, shocking it out of its automation, even when nearly everything else remains the same; so, for instance, on Wednesday morning, when I caught my train to London eighteen minutes earlier than usual, I felt as though I were morning’s pioneer, witnessing the city in a completely different way, newer, younger, in a state few had before in its one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-seventy-seven year history.
    I was early for my eight o’clock appointment so went somewhat out of the way to one of the better coffeeshops, which, tweezered between tall glass buildings, I had not visited since last year. It was still quiet in there, just before the rush; the air along the counter was crisp, even though it was warm, it was charged with a minor breeze and the wondrous scent of freshly ground coffee. A cheerful barista—in the financial district, no less!—came to take my order, greeted me with a smile, caught me off-guard. Waiting not long, barely sixty seconds, I realised that I was nervous for the appointment and beginning to perspire; the barista did not know how her smile had soothed me. I burst into laughter crossing the road as a middleaged businessman on a bicycle passed me by slowly, old skin folded over a starched white collar, dark suit clinging to his spindly frame, jowls wobbling, small wheels beneath a lanky frame, and his lips hanging gormless and swollen. What a sight! I laughed in his face, put my tongue out and made my eyelids droopy.
    The front door was locked, so I walked in circles outside the clinic until the receptionist let me in. She typed on the buttons and asked me some questions as I peered at her skin curiously, thinking how awful it must be to work in a dermatology clinic and, as I was doing at that moment, be scrutinised without invitation. She directed me down a spiral staircase to vaults beneath a street I had walked down hundreds—possibly thousands—of times. It was cooler down there. All the walls were white; the wooden floors sparkled; bottles of water, coffee pods, mugs, plastic cups, sweeteners, all arranged in rows, banks of colour. There were armchairs around the spiral staircase. On the walls were posters advertising various cosmetic dermatology procedures; each featured at least one photograph of a needle going into something, such as an eyebrow or a lip or a cheekbone or anything that people might pay money for a needle to be pushed into. Even though they all looked clean and young and their colours were healthy, I did not like the needles. There were needles going into men, too. I did not like it, although the men looked very happy after their needle, and all their teeth looked happy as well, straight, arranged in rows, banks of white, good edges, different shapes but ideal. Everywhere I turned there were needles going into things. I winced and spun, then, worried that I was being observed through some hidden camera, shut my eyes, but continued to wince and spin.
    A gentleman entered the reception upstairs, I heard him, bounding in with a posh greeting, heavy coat against the chill, leather soles on a wooden floor. I assumed he was a customer until he swung down the spiral staircase, gave the smallest of hellos before hurrying into some bumbling rant against the transport network. Without summons, I followed him through a series of doors to his office.
    ‘Here?’ I asked, pointing at a transparent plastic chair that was turned diagonally towards a paper-towelled bed and a leather stool. In an interrogation room, the detective sits between you and the door; in a doctor’s office, you sit between the door and the doctor.
    ‘Yes, yes,’ he said, hanging up his coat. I looked around as he started asking me why I was there. ‘O, you filled in the questionnaire!’ and he read it down the length of his spectacle nose. He rolled the stool over and looked at the skin on my face. He asked, and so I gave him a brief history of my skin, meanwhile he squinted at me but not into my eyes. Because this was his profession, I assumed that my condition was of great interest to him, and that he might regard me with not only interest but also affectionate criticism. I felt like an exhibit in the Tate.
    ‘My skin’s been bad for as long as I can remember, about twenty years now. I was a late bloomer—developer—and around eighteen I got acne—just as I was starting university—and it’s pretty much continued since then… Yeah, the scars are bad, but I don’t care about them. I think acne stopped around thirty—I’m not sure—but the skin’s been so sh—so bad—that it’s hard to know when one thing ended and another began. Because, like, my skin was red when I had acne—red raw—and now I don’t really get spots but it’s just red… Yeah, I get some whiteheads now & then, on the bridge of my nose, around the eyes, but not that often and not that bad. You can barely see them. It just hurts. Some days are worse than others. Maybe it’s stress-related, too, but it’s been this bad for the last two years or so. Like the other day my aunt saw me and she was, like—“What the hell? What happened?” and I told her that’s just how my skin is… It’s red and it hurts, irritated, itches, flaky. That’s how my skin is now… And I get this stuff on my hands—on my fingers, look—I think it’s dermatitis… I dunno, my other aunt had it and she recommended me some cream… Eumovate, but it’s a steroid or something and I know you’re not supposed to keep taking it but after one patch disappears another appears, it’s like whack-a-mole… and I get these rashes on my arms, I think that’s eczema… look, it’s like little rings or something, scabby and that, they itch, too, but not all the time—’
    ‘What’s the most important to you? What do you want to deal with today? Because I can’t deal with everything! Clients come in and—I get it—they list out all these different things and you can’t deal with them all, you just can’t, so what is the most important to you? What affects you the most? What do you want to deal with today?’
    ‘Face, man. The moneymaker.’ I grinned, but had not really been looking at him, just around into space, about the room. It had been three months since I stopped going to therapy, three months since I had last visited that coffeeshop, eighteen years since university, thirty-eight since I had known peace. If one lacks a sense of humour, life gets awful tiring.
    The doctor began extolling the wonders of lasers. Lasers, I thought, how unusual! Yes, yes, he said, and went over to a machine in the corner of the room, a big machine, in a big corner of the room so that it was a quarter of the room and the machine another presence in the room like an assistant or the family St Bernard. The machine, a plastic monolith with a phallic hose, was turned on, began to vibrate, making angry high-pitched noises. I recoiled in fear. The room had no natural light and the laser squealing for air. He explained, terribly, the electromagnetic spectrum to me in a basement—‘It would be like an elastic band!’ and he flicked my thigh with his middle-finger—‘That’s all.’ He strode back & forth; the laser was so magical to him. ‘And yet the NHS refuses to use this technology!’ He raised his fist to the heavens! ‘Refuses! But in New Zealand…! New Zealand! Here, look at this website. No, don’t look. Take a photo! I can’t show you everything. It’s private! Just look!’ I went over to take a photograph on my phone but there was not much punctuation and I could not make sense of it, but, then again, I was feeling unsettled.
    He went on—‘Usually I recommend six sessions but with you I think it’ll be more like nine or twelve.’ He told me about the money and it was very expensive, so he told me about the payment plans and the laser screamed and I hung my head. Everything seemed very sad. ‘You’ll have to shave that beard off. Do you care about the beard? Do you grow it to cover your skin? I thought you might. Yes, the beard will have to come off—you can grow it back afterwards—otherwise it’ll burn all the hairs. It’s basically very focused beams of light that vibrate at a very specific frequency and what it does it is kills the tiny little blood vessels just under the skin so the redness goes away. It’ll last ten years! Ten years! And in the twenty-five years I’ve been doing this, only a few have needed to return for the treatment again! It’s very effective, you see, but the NHS refuses to use it! All around the world they do it but not here! The NHS!’ and again he raised his fist to the heavens. ‘You will bruise—I’ll warn you now. The bruising will last a week or so. You’ll have to come here once a month—no beard—and it’ll take a while, and you’ll get bruising. Nine sessions, yes, or twelve. If you pay for sessions in groups of three, we can knock off twenty percent! Sometimes I’ve had clients tell me they have a party or an important meeting coming up, so I ease off on the laser and the bruising isn’t that bad. But then you need more sessions.’
    ‘And I’m guessing less laser doesn’t equal less money?’
    ‘No… Tell the lady upstairs: “Consultation—no test—no treatment.”’
    I repeated it back to him and walked up the spiral stairs.
    On the walk to work, I thought that I might cry. I did not, but thought that I might; almost. How poetic it would have been to cry! Instead I walked as fast as I could along the edge of the kerb, away from all others on the pavement. A text from my mother—So how did you get on? xx I spoke to her outside of the office, where they put spikes on the floor to stop the homeless from sleeping there. It was sunny day and colourful. There were small puddles in potholes and around the drains. When I began to choke on my words, when I felt that familiar clenching of the chest, I told her that I had to go and hung up without saying good-bye.