(This story originally appeared in the Sacramento News & Review)
In the summer of 1994, I was a nimble, 19-year-old boy full of porn and hormones—so what was I doing not getting laid? I sure as hell wasn’t waiting until marriage. So was I training to become a Catholic priest? Nothing even close to as sinister. In fact, you might say I was in the midst of an innocent, yet horrible case of acne. I know what you’re thinking: Everybody gets zits. But this, my friend, was no ordinary case; this was acne vulgaris. My face was so riddled with red bumps and white pustules that I looked like I’d spent the entirety of my preteen years sleeping on a bacon pillow.
The story goes like this: After high school, while my friends were preparing for college, I was baking bagels at a run-down breakfast spot in Boston’s Kenmore Square. I was training to become the bagel baker, which meant that I got to wear a big chef’s hat and a name tag that read—OK, ready?—“Master Baker.” Seriously. But the humiliating part was that sometime before my 19th birthday, my face turned into a big, raw, dripping, swollen thing on top of my neck.
I don’t know why—maybe the sweltering humidity of Boston in the summer intensified it—but my acne got so bad that I went to a dermatologist. I didn’t have insurance or money, but I saved up enough to get my face treated. When the dermatologist looked at me, she said I needed a chemical peel, which meant that she poured acid all over my face and sent me home. I went back five times. Each time was more painful than the next. My face eventually peeled off, and after a few weeks it turned black. I looked like Al Jolson. I went from being a zitty teenager to being a racially offensive Mexican in blackface. When I finally healed, I realized that I had spent more than $1,000 of my own money and I still had acne. Plus, I’d alienated most of my black friends.
I had enough of the expensive dermatologist visits. I decided to simply use Dove fragrance-free soap and over-the-counter acne medication. After a couple months of washing my face twice a day and using Oxy, the redness began to disappear.
Eventually, at work, the Master Baker—my mentor, if you will—said, “You’re looking good, man.” He didn’t mention my face, but I knew what he meant. We high-fived. He was a huge, Afrocentric man with long dreadlocks, and he really disliked white people. He called them “crackers.” His name was John Black, which I found hilarious. Sometimes his daughter Megan came around. She was a little bit younger than I, beautiful, and she had bright red, glossy lips. With my newfound confidence, I asked her on a date, and she said yes. I bought her lunch and then paid for a necklace that she wanted. I even waited while she gave her phone number out to one of the New England Patriots.
“This girl is so hot that a professional football player wants to have sex with her!” I thought.
One night, I got a phone call. It was her father, the Master Baker.
“You shouldn’t see my daughter,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“She’s a gold digger, man,” he answered. “How much stuff did you buy her?”
A lot, I guess, but I didn’t care. I hung up the phone, laughing. I was truly happy. His daughter wasn’t a gold digger, because, while I did buy her a lot of things, she had sex with me—which meant, technically, that she was a prostitute. But the point was, the summer was not quite over and I had sex, fair and square. Thank you, Oxy.