When your skin is being treated for sun damage, which results in a large and eye-grabbingly ugly blotch of bright red, unpleasant-looking skin right in the middle of your nose, you quickly learn that there are two kinds of people in this world.
There are the folks who, upon seeing you, blurt, "What happened to your nose?" And there are those who, upon seeing you, WANT to blurt, "What happened to your nose?" but are far too polite. Or repressed. Or just rendered speechless by the awful sight.
I am currently applying medicinal glop to my nose twice a day. "While it's working," my dermatologist said when she prescribed the stuff," it's going to look pretty bad."
She got that right. First, my nose turned bright red. Then, it got even redder. Then fire engine, warning-flare, catastrophic red. As it reddened, my poor old nose also developed a fabulous variety of odd little bumps, creases and discolorations.
"The treated area may become unsightly," stated the package insert that came with the glop. Now there's an understatement. It should have read: "The treated area WILL become hideous."
Before this little adventure began, I was a moderately attractive, middle-aged librarian. Now I am a moderately attractive, middle-aged librarian with a Witch Nose.
To work at a library's circulation desk is to work with the public. Thus, hundreds of people get to view my nose and comment (or refrain from commenting) each day. The library patrons who also happen to be my friends were, of course, on it immediately. "What the hell happened to you?" "That has to hurt." "Somebody land a punch instead of paying a fine?"
And my favorite: "Hey Rudolph!"
Naturally, I expect the folks who are near and dear to me to be curious and concerned. (And to clown around. I'm a humor writer, so it's no surprise that my pals are a bunch of smart asses.)
But there are also total strangers -- the unrepentantly nosy, the unrepressed and a variety of other folks who just don't observe boundaries -- who'll take one look and exclaim, "So, what's the story with your nose?"
This is, admittedly, pretty rare. Most people who don't know me at all, or don't know me that well, are too polite to comment. They take one look, their eyes widen and then they spend the rest of our encounter looking ANYWHERE but at my nose.
They're probably dying to know why my nose has become an eyesore. But they can't ask.
And since they didn't ask, I can't tell them.
Because it would just be weird to suddenly exclaim: "Wondering about my nose? I'm being treated for sun damage which, if untreated, could lead to skin cancer. So be sure to wear sun block! Unless you want your nose to look like this some day. Or worse."
I've never been vain and, at 59, I have enough perspective to know that going about my life with a (temporarily) ghastly nose is not a tragedy. (Although it might be a comedy.) It is, at worst, an inconvenience.
Unless you happen to be a supermodel. Which I am not. (Although it's fun to have a reason to say "Thank God I'm not a supermodel!")
As I go through daily life with an appalling nose, the only thing that's truly surprised me are the folks who don't notice at all. People who see me all the time, yet don't seem to realize that, this week, I've got a whopping, big, hideously discolored splotch on my schnoz.
You become used to the way people react to the sight, so you pick up on it when somebody has no reaction whatsoever. What's going on with these people? Are they too dazzled by my inner beauty to see that my face is currently a disaster zone? So centered, wise and spiritual that it just doesn't register on their radar? Or just too self-involved to care?
So which kind of person am I -- a question blurter or a polite question avoider? I am, by nature, a well-mannered people-pleaser. So if you suddenly turn up with a repellant nose, I won't say a thing. I'll notice. And I'll wonder. But you can count on me to keep my feelings about your nose under my hat.
I've still got a week of treatment to go, after which my nose should return to being ordinary. So have I learned anything from this experience?
Yeah. Wear sun block.
(This essay first appeared on Purple Clover.)