Fiction Friday: The Lipstick Chronicles, Adventures in Retail Cosmetics



Each Friday I’ll be posting a new installment of the Lipstick Chronicles. This is the pilot. Follow Jennifer, a third generation Japanese-American single mother, as she navigates the perilous waters of the retail cosmetics world in a Southern California mall. 

“Can you pick a lipstick for me?”

Jennifer turned around and peered over the black unit stacked high with lipsticks to see a middle-aged, razor thin, rat-faced woman with slick, dark hair. Her accent was distinctly New York, which was not unusual in Southern California. New Yorkers moved out and, after decades of residency, held onto their accent as a point of pride.

“What color did you have in mind?” She asked the woman.

“Neutral. Isn’t that what’s in this season?”

Jennifer held up a brown one. “Here’s a nice neutral.”

“Every lipstick I own looks like that. Pick another one.”

“Is there a certain look you had in mind?”

“You’re the professional. You tell me what would look best for my skin tone.”

“OK, how about this one?” Jennifer held up a soft pink.

The woman let out a sigh of disgust and pointed at another. “I said NEW-trall,” She stretched her mouth around the word as if Jennifer was the moron. “What about this one?” She pointed at a dark shade.

“Ma’am, that one is red.”

“No it’s not.”

Jennifer held it up for her to see the color written on the bottom of the tube. “Red,” she said.

“Well then, pick one for me.” The woman demanded.

“Ma’am, I don’t know what you already have in your collection. If you could offer some assistance I might be better able to help you.”

“Don’t get sassy with me, young lady. I’m the paying customer. Isn’t this what you do? Aren’t you capable of picking out a simple lipstick? Don’t they teach you how to do that in makeup school?”

Jennifer smiled. “This one is perfect for you.” She held up Blue Mocha, the lipstick for dummies, the one the girls selected to make the most difficult customers go away. It had an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of effect. It looked good on almost everyone because it barely had any color. All people saw then, was their own lip color with a bit of gloss. Not too sticky. Not too color-y.

The rat-faced woman put it on and worked it into her lips. “Is it long-wearing?”

“It has a patented hydration technology. Long-wearing lip colors are drying. The hydration is a particular benefit as we head into winter.”

That seemed to satisfy the woman. She was dry as hell. “I’ll take it.”

“Cocoa Moon Dust is the perfect liner for that.”

“I’ll take that too.”

“Great, I’ll meet you at the cash wrap down at the end here.” Jennifer pointed to the register to her left past the mirrored shelves of foundation bottles and multi-colored eye shadows.

Lipstick customers were the highest maintenance, lowest return on her investment of time and energy. Lipstick customers wanted to treat themselves, but usually didn’t want to or didn’t have the thirty or so dollars to spend on a lipstick. Yet, they’d convinced themselves, that for the perfect lipstick, it was worth it.

But “perfect” was as illusive as a fairy tale ending, the very thing, incidentally, the cosmetic industry trafficked in.

Every season launched “The Same But Different!” Every Christmas was “More Sparkle! More Chocolate! More Burgundy!” Every Spring and Summer was, “More Nude!” And if more of the same wasn’t enough, just add more in general. This season the look was clumpy, gloppy, stiff and sloppy mascara. In other words, make your lashes look as gross as possible. No kidding. The sticks stomping down the New York runways looked like they had spiders growing out of their eyes.

Amelia, Jennifer’s co-worker waved her down. A blonde, heavy-set customer with dark-rimmed glasses stood at the counter frowning impatiently. This was the woman who tried to return a foundation that was two thirds empty because she thought it had gotten old. When Jennifer had refused, this person went all the way to the store manager, who took it back. Since than Jennifer took everything back, even products from other stores, just to spite the store manager.

“Oh god, kill me now,” Jennifer said passing Amelia.

“Yeah, good luck with that one,” Amelia said.

Jennifer approached beaming a big smile. “Hi!” she chirpped. “What can I get for you today? Would you like a foundation? Maybe I can match you to make sure it’s new!”

Amelia let out an audible gasp. The heavy-set woman’s mouth dropped open. “Is your manager here?!” She huffed.

“Sure. Probably. Let me get her for you.” She left the counter. Amelia followed her.

“Oh my god, girl. Why do you keep doing shit like this? You’re so going to get yourself fired.”

“It’s fine. Who’s on?”


“Great. Then I have nothing to worry about.”

“Jesus, Jennifer. You can’t count on that.”

Jennifer opened the door to the manager’s office. Sandra was at her desk. “Sandy, can you come see a customer? She’s that one who returned the empty foundation. Do you remember her?”

“How could I forget?” Sandra rolled her eyes. “You need me for this?”

“She wants to feel special.”

Sandra sighed and got up shaking her head.

“I owe you,” Jennifer smiled.

“Yeah, ya do.” Sandra said and marched passed her.

I Apologize For Not Reciprocating

This photo just felt right. 

I’m a makeup artist, of sorts. Technically, I’m a writer by trade, a makeup artist out of economic necessity. It’s the only job I’ve ever had that allows me time to write and doesn’t drain me creatively or intellectually. Not that I’ve been writing. I’ll get to that.

In high school and college I was an artist. I specialized in charcoal and pastel portraits. My artistry is not without merit. People say I do “pretty makeup.” Which is why I resisted learning to contour, that horrendous technique that makes women look like drag queens. (I’m all for it on drag queens.) You shade out the hollow of the cheek and sides of the nose with a brown hue and paint the high points of the face with a white or very light pink color. It’s best for photos and on camera work, but ghoulish in the daylight.

Nevertheless, it’s not going away, as I’d hoped. I have to learn it to stay employed.

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WordPress Meet and Greet – All Bloggers Welcome

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This blog is a wonderful demonstration of what a global community looks like. In it thousands share their work, connect with like minds, and find inspiration. Please visit and post there. All are welcome.

HarsH ReaLiTy

Well this is the third post I have done like this so far and I have seen some great connections. I’ll keep doing these off and on and I think they provide a great way for “active bloggers” to network. This post now has over 2,000 active bloggers waiting to connect in it. I encourage anyone looking for new blogs to view or people to converse with to browse through the comment section and network.

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The Song Of David


Sunlight shot through her dorm room windows and burned a spotlight onto her bed. No more time in bed. It was Sunday, the day for renewal. God’s day. She’d planned a reunion with him. For weeks she’d been visiting churches on Sunday mornings but they’d each left her dry. She’d even tried to commit to one, a hip one, one that offered worship songs that swung and a pastor with a knack for storytelling. Her mother said sometimes you have to commit to one for a while, sow the seeds, for a time, in order to make connections that bear fruit down the line. A community doesn’t emerge overnight. It had taken a full four years for her high school friends to grow into a family.

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Chantal Nugent was drugged, bound, and raped


The story of Chantal’s rape is her account of events. All quotes are recorded as she remembers them.   Warning: this story contains graphic imagery and strong language. 

“Are you here for yourself, or to support someone?” A woman asked me. I turned around. Behind me stood a good-looking couple. The woman of the pair was stunning in a floral top with a plunging neckline, fitted jeans, and heeled sandals. Her boyfriend was tall, with a nice boy-next-door look, brown hair, brown eyes, kind face. But I bristled. “Neither.” I said and turned away. Why was I here at a club, by myself on a Friday night? Earlier, it made perfect sense. Grlcvlt , a “secret society,” was offering free drinks and a night of live entertainment in exchange for signing a petition to unseat Judge Persky, the California judge responsible for the light sentencing of Brock Turner in the Stanford rape trial. But now, alone in a sea of people, none of it made sense.

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The Multiple Lives Of Sergeant Tom Dewar

Dewar and Workman last day of Strong Eagle III.

“We finally got the wounded out on the first day and uh, we’re like holy crap, when is this going to be over? When’s the mission going to be over? And we stayed there. It went on day after day. It just became so like, we’re never leaving this place. Just kill as much Taliban as you can. It never got better. I prayed to God, please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. And then it rains. And then it snowed and then it hailed.”

This is 23 year-old Thomas Dewar, Sergeant in the US Army 101st Airborne Division, 1st Brigade, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion. He fought two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the first, 2010-2011, the bloodiest year on record.

We’re sitting in a sunny café facing the San Gabriel Mountains. Patrons chat happily as they drink their cappuccino’s. Dewar could be any all-American boy. Sandy blonde hair, sun-tanned skin.

But look more closely and his body tells a different story. Muscles coiled, eyes darting, a double blink, an involuntary twitch.  His injuries may not be  visible, but they’re debilitating at times. A door slam makes him run for cover. Rain throws him into spasms of depression. When he looks at the mountains he once played in, he scans for Taliban. He never slept more than a two to three hours a night his entire two years of duty. When he wasn’t under enemy fire, he suffered torrential downpours, or oven-like temperatures.

The worst of it was Strong Eagle III. But we’ll get to that.

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Women’s Appendages

These are women's appendages. The ones our country grows back when women's voices carry more value than our our bodies.

Obsessed with Prince since his passing, each morning I awoke with an ache so heavy it was hard to breath. His death stole the possibility of something for me. Something I’ve been chasing since. In the dark moments before dawn, as I once rose to study scripture, I opened my phone to read every story on Prince— as if more information might reveal more, lead me into his presence. It only blurred the edges of him further.

His belief in conspiracy theories. His recent celibacy. His mercurial relationship with scheduled meetings, time, and saying goodbye. One never seemed to know if he’d show up or when he was gone, if he was gone for good. In his penetrating Prince biography, I Would Die 4 U, Touré recounts the time he interviewed Prince at Paisley Park. Abruptly, Prince left him without saying a word. Touré waited for him to return. Finally someone came out and told him it was time to leave. Prince didn’t do goodbyes.

Today I finally stopped. My obsession soured to disgust. I’d become a cliche. One of those middle-aged women in the office with Twilight posters pinned to the walls of their cubicles. Continue reading