By: Mary Fran Bontempo

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MP900337379There’s no place quite like New York City.

The streets teem with life, energy and creativity. And everything, absolutely everything, is big. Big crowds, big buildings, big stores, big billboards, big traffic jams—just big. It’s one of my favorite places to visit, but precisely because it’s so big, it’s also overwhelming. And sometimes scary.

Life tends to be a bit quieter in the ‘burbs, where I live, so any foray into a city can seem a bit daunting, when you’re not used to the crowds and commotion. (I apologize to my Philly friends and family for turning into a wimp, as I grew up in the city.)

So when I venture into any city, and especially New York, I hang onto my purse a little tighter, I look over my shoulder a little more often and I’m more wary of jostling strangers. It’s not that I’m expecting an assault, but I’m prepared for one.

I just never figured it’d happen in Saks at the makeup counter.

Last week, fellow blogger, Chrysa Smith, and I drove (yes, drove; Chrysa is far braver than I—see travel anxiety, here) into NYC for a day of adventure. After a fabulous lunch at a tiny Italian restaurant (Caffé Linda, looking just like my grandparents’ basement in South Philly), we wandered over to Saks, on 5th Avenue, to admire the early Christmas décor and see how the other half lives.

Unbeknownst to me, Chrysa has a Pavlovian response to the words, “eye cream.” Once uttered by a sales woman promising an affordable fix for our middle-aged eyes, Chrysa followed the woman to a chair like a kid trailing the Pied Piper. And before I knew what was happening, the lady’s cohort in crime had grabbed my arm, steering me to another seat across the counter.

For around twenty minutes, the sales woman (a stunning fifty-six, if she wasn’t just trying to snow me, which she probably was), slopped an endless array of lotions and potions over my face, periodically holding up a mirror and asking if I could see the truly amazing transformation of my skin. I couldn’t. But somehow, being trapped in a makeup chair with a smiling saleswoman in my face turns me into a trained seal, so I barked back, “Oh my gosh; that’s incredible!” It wasn’t.

It especially wasn’t when I learned that the price for the invisible beauty was two hundred and fifty dollars. And that was only for one bottle of anti-aging hydrating lotion. One bottle. The other two products she recommended were three hundred and one fifty. Each. But wait! Today only, they’re offering a deal—fifty dollars off the hydrating lotion! A bargain at only two hundred bucks! What did I think?

What I thought was, Are you out of your mind?! What I said was, “Gee, I’m going to have to think about that,” at which point my new friend decided to persuade me by adding another eight layers of stuff to my face in the form of concealer, foundation, eye liner, shadow, mascara, blush, brow pencil and lipstick. Clearly, my own attempts at doing something constructive with my face that morning had failed miserably.

When the sorcerer’s apprentice finally finished working me over and handed me a mirror, I’ll admit I was impressed. I don’t know who I was looking at, as it was most certainly not me, but she looked great, whoever she was. She was also carrying around about three pounds of stuff on her face. Maybe it was me; my head did feel really heavy.

At that point, mercifully, Chrysa came to the rescue, having been released from her chair. (Her eyes looked great.) I slid out of my seat, offering flattery as a distraction to the saleswoman. “Chrysa, guess how old she is? Fifty-six! Doesn’t she look fabulous?”

Somehow I managed to escape without dropping a dime, though it would have hardly mattered if I bought the whole line of spackle and paint. I’d lost track of the transformation process after the third cream was worked into my skin. Given the stuff for free, I wouldn’t have had a clue about what to with any of it. As it was, the cost for all of that gorgeousness was well over $650. Six hundred fifty dollars!

I still adore New York. And I’ll continue to be cautious. But next time I go, I won’t hold my purse nearly as tightly on the street as I do in the store. As for the strangers? The only ones I’ll be avoiding are the ones at the makeup counter.

What’s your take on big city life? Click “comments” below and share!