(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.


  1. melanie d. says:

    i went on accutane. it’s like getting a chemical peel from the inside out.

  2. Yummy. I heard that shit works, though.

  3. melanie d. says:

    95% of people who take it never get a zit again. i’m the other 5%. but it was awesome that i had to shove vaseline up my nose while on it. but yeah, it worked.

  4. Dave says:

    Greatest acne story ever. Maybe even the greatest STORY ever.

    I used Acutane. My God, is that stuff awful. But it does work. And makes you want to kill yourself. Thankfully, my five-month treatment ended right before I became suicidal.

  5. John says:

    You and I have two more things in common, Josh. (besides the fact that we both use a computer)

    #1 Affinty for black women.

    #2 Pimples really bothered me, too, during the teenage years.

    I used to spend time in the public library across from the high school to read up on acne. Those little white heads, milia, that don’t go away bothered my perfectionism to the point of taking a loofah sponge to rub them out raw.

    Oh and I also was taught how to tongue-wrestle by an Afro-American female at this very same library.

  6. You may have been having a reaction to “toxic” food, including possibly to gluten which is in grains as wheat, rye,and barley. There are perhaps over a hundred different symptoms for coeliac disease, but most doctors only would prescribe toxic drugs rather than tell people to change their diets, even though now there are lots of gluten-free foods out in the marketplace

  7. Mayor Kevin Johnson says:

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  8. Thanks, good mayor Johnson. Don’t listen to your critics, you and your mustache are mighty and, dare I say, strong.

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