Sometime last year, a dinner conversation turned to Botox and the strategies for using it. One woman opined that the best practice is to start using it before you really need it, so that nobody ever notices any dramatic changes. “That makes sense,” I said, “but I guess I’m young enough that I don’t know anybody who uses Botox yet.” This prompted my wife, Heather, to erupt in the sort of deep maniacal laugh associated with mad scientists who are about to reanimate a hideous corpse. “No, of course you don’t!” she said, her smile stretching from the corners of her mouth all the way up to her eyes—which were, I now noticed, the last frontier of facial elasticity, the DMZ before an uncommonly placid brow. I suddenly felt like every horror movie character who realizes that the call was coming from inside the house.
I also felt pressure, because I’m two years older than Heather. Here I was, planning to age gracefully, like the Trivago guy, and now I learn that our household anti-aging regimen includes periodic injections of paralyzing doses of botulism. That’s insane, a misplacement of priorities, the height of vanity. And I want in. The last thing I need is to go out with Heather in public and have people think my daughter is home from college. I want them to think I have a trophy wife and then argue about why.
So, one day last week, Heather and I visited her sister, Elena, at the dermatology clinic where she works as a physician’s assistant. “Who wants to go first?” she asked, and I nominated Heather. I wanted to get a preview, do some light heckling and preserve the option to take my old-ass forehead on out the door should this process turn out to be as medieval as it sounds. Be still, peasant, and accept this spike of plague!
I would wager that most people who get Botox have never watched someone else get Botoxed, because if they did they might have second thoughts. As Elena jabbed Heather’s forehead with the needle, huge welts swelled up, each of them punctuated by a bloody pinprick. She looked like Worf from Star Trek. Then the welts went down a little bit and she merely looked like a person who’d been in a tragic beekeeping accident. I suppose she looked younger, in that young people make terrible decisions.
When it was my turn, Elena pulled my hair back, exposed my luxurious expanse of forehead and declared, “He’s going to need three lines.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “I’ve never done that before.” Those are not the words that you want to hear in a medical setting. As Elena prepared the equipment, Heather decided to take “before” photos and commanded me to make various facial expressions. “Raise your eyebrows,” she said. “Look up… OK, now frown.” That last one is easy when you’re about to get your face stabbed by a needle full of botulism.
I’m not sure exactly how many injections Elena put into my head, but I think it was somewhere between 50 and 10,000. When she was done, she pressed down on the welts with her thumb, a technique that is known in clinical terms as “smooshin’ around the Botox.” With that process complete, I assumed that I was ready to venture forth and argue with bartenders over the validity of my ID. But it doesn’t work like that. You have to wait at least a few days for the magic of facial paralysis to set in. In the interim, you gradually appear younger, a bacterial Benjamin Button. And then, one day, it’s done: All signs of age or worry, as expressed by your brow muscles, are erased. You’re either younger or a total sociopath. Either way, you’re better at poker.
Having ventured this deeply into the world of anti-aging technology, I admit that I still don’t really understand the benefit of making the top third of your face look younger. It’s like repainting one fender on your car—you’re just making the rest of it look worse by comparison. Now I’ve got the forehead of a 24-year-old, the hairline of a 50-year-old and the decision-making ability of a 17-year-old. The other night I spun doughnuts in the cul-de-sac in front of my house and then quickly parked and ran inside because I convinced myself that a cop car was driving down my neighbor’s driveway. I can’t get busted! I’ll be grounded till Senior Week.
A Botox treatment lasts for a few months, so I’ve got time to decide whether this is something I’ll ever want to do again. The price would be a major factor, so I asked Heather about the tab for our visit—I know her sister gets the stuff at cost, but what does that mean? “That’s not for you to know,” she replied.
That cagey answer really took me by surprise. Not that you could tell.