I was in Rite Aid at the beginning of the week, trying really, really hard not to cry as Ben Folds’ classic abortion ballad “Brick” wafted through the store’s PA system. While I am fond of a good weep, this one was very much hormonally induced. I was just one day out of from Period City, USA, population: me, my dancing ovaries, and my shimmying uterus -- no lining? NO PROBLEM!
I had an hour to kill before my monthly women’s writer’s group meeting started and babysitting money burning a hole in my pocket (because I am twelve). I also felt in a celebratory mood -- I just landed a job after a pretty intense search. To drown out the mournful piano and to honor my celebratory feelings, I stalked the aisles looking for something to purchase. Ideally it would be no more than eight dollars. Ten, at a push. Because while I did now have a job, god only knows when next I’d be paid.
As a perfume collector, I was hoping to find something worth displaying on my dresser but since this was, you know, Rite Aid, I figured that wasn’t going to happen. But if it did happen, the odds were high that the perfumes would be towards the back along with the overpriced makeup bags and the Snuggies. Nothing.
I lingered near the neighboring “feminine hygiene” section and was pleased to see that it was rife with cheaply constructed vibrators. For a moment I considered buying one if only for the pleasure of watching the shop associate struggle with the myriad anti-theft tags on the things. But ultimately I was all “nah” because I’ve got a Magic Wand and also because of my ten-dollar rule.
I continued my mosey and hit the Lip Smacker section. It gave me pause, though I’m not sure why. I know that the Dr. Pepper flavor/color is a cult favorite -- I associate it with an interview with Brittany Murphy I read once somewhere. In it she also mentioned that Ashton Kutcher’s mom used to save the conditioner tubes from home hair dye kits for her to use, because they were her favorite. I literally think of this every single time I am in the shower.
I’m not a fan of those conditioning packets, but as for the Dr. Pepper smacker, I used to keep a tube around, but hadn’t done so in years. In the time I’d been away the fine folks at Lip Smackers had considerably upped their game. Their motto seemed to be “Why eat meals? WHEN YOU CAN WEAR MEALS ON YOUR MOUTH.”
I bought two of their three packs. The first I called “Necking With Johnny Rockets.” It contained cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, and strawberry milkshake flavored tubes. The second I called “The Beyonce” - and it featured blueberry pancakes, maple bacon, and orange juice. Breakfast! I woke up like this! Etc!
Because I am a cutting edge journalist, I knew that I had cover this breaking news. The guy I’m dating is out of town. “I was going to try them on you,” I said to him, “but sadly it’s a no go.” I do not think he was too disappointed (read: at all).
I’m currently acting in a play (which I also wrote because GIRL POWER) wherein I gotta smooch a dude and I briefly considered slathering them on and getting his feedback, but ultimately I decided this was very unprofessional. Plus I didn’t want it getting around that I taste like, in the words of Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer, a burger. There are many things I don’t need: Such smack(er) talk is one of those things.
So it came to pass that sitting around with friends, we opened up the packages and dug in. We all quickly came to the same decision: These flavors, almost without exception, were absolutely disgusting. Weirdly, the only one to pass muster was sweet potato fries, which tasted more like cheap creme brulee than any root vegetable I’ve ever sampled. The rest were just sort of sickly sweet.
The only real abomination was the strawberry milkshake, which conjured up images of me sick on a train after glutting myself on strawberry flavored milk at the age of eight. I nearly spewed all over the selection of Garfield comics I’d made for the journey.
Slathering orange juice flavored chapstick on my top lip and rounding out the bottom with maple bacon, I realized that it had been quite a while since since I’d played with products this way. I could write a treatise of fifty pages on the art of wearing red lipstick for yourself, but smearing a colorless cream on my mouth had activated a part of my brain that I don’t know ever existed before -- the part that relished playing at being a girl without any of the internal frisson that normally accompanied any stab I’d make at girlishness.
I struggled to summon some ire -- We’re sexualizing young girls with this stuff! I thought faux-angrily. But I didn’t mean it. With a mouth that tasted like a cake Barbie might have made, I wasn’t thinking about my first fraught encounter with makeup (a tube of clear lipstick, a square of powder blue eye shadow, and a Great Lash mascara), and how I resented the gift made to me in kindness from my parents.
It took me years to cultivate a relationship with makeup that was remotely joyful, and even now I will fully admit that while I love the stuff, it’s all tied up with some complicated feelings including my innate belief that I am ugly and unlovable.
But I wasn’t thinking about these things with a mouth that tasted like strawberry barf. I was thinking of Garfield, and of a 9-year-old version of myself uncertain about many things but never about what matter most to her. Like Garfield. It is a funny thing to be reminded of now. I’m in my 30s, that decade where you are suddenly supposed to stop caring what other people think, and find yourself feeling more confident than ever before. I think those things happen, but mostly they are borne out of weariness. Ha.
Any confidence, any surety of self that I have now -- when I have them now -- seem to be echoes of moments, like being a kid and getting nauseated on a train. Specific, not necessarily pleasant, moments that I can flash back to with a confidence and familiarity that vanished when I hit adolescence and have only just now begun to return to me.
So while these bizarre flavored Lip Smackers have not changed popular perceptions as to my title of Queen of the Makeouts, nor will I be making any of them regulars in my lipstick color rotation (they have no color, really, except for burger which just, no), I don’t regret the purchases. Though my kissing partner might.