Every time I’ve looked in the mirror for the last 18 years, I’ve looked at one thing first.
WORDS: FOSTER KAMER | ART: NEJC PRAH
“Oh, well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow, Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow.”– Led Zeppelin
“[The] global cosmetic products market was valued at around USD 532 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately USD 863 billion in 2024.”– Zion Market Research
Every time I’ve looked in the mirror for the last 18 years, I’ve looked at one thing first.
2001: Yes, I am a teenage stoner who stays up too late on the landline with girls and summer camp friends. Yes, I get even more stoned and use that fiery new cable internet connection to “torrent” music for burned mixes. Yes, I look sleepy before chasing black coffee with a Parliament before my lifeguarding shifts. Yes, I repeat this regimen once or twice over the course of an eight-hour day before heading out into the night for the high school house parties I show up to at the last possible minute in order to leave at the earliest possible minute (a sleight of hand intended to give the illusion that I have somewhere cooler to be, when in fact, I am just going home to repeat the previous night’s ritual). Yes, aside from the money I spend on suburbanite teenage weed dealers unloading O’s so they can smoke for free, I have “disposable” income—as comically, blithely liberal an interpretation of the term as there’s ever been, because the money might as well be used for kindling, or in this case, lighting bongs. And yes, I, a 16-year-old hormonal idiot, am utterly susceptible to the aspirational male urbanite lifestyle sold in the pages of GQ, Esquire, and, in lesser moments, Stuff, and Maxim, where I definitely first read, at the urging of some assistant editor, that I should buy a cream with caffeine in it, because this is a step toward being the kind of man those magazines are for. Also, I suspect my nightly routines are adding up. And yet, a review of photographic evidence from the period suggests no real need for the $35 spend, and thus, no discernible benefit from it outside of money spent on something other than weed, which is probably a good thing. It’s important to note, again, that my eyes look totally fine. Clinique for Men Anti-Age Eye Cream.
2003: College: where I’m finally fully unencumbered to address the desperate need to . . . smoke weed and stay up late. And now I can do it with friends!
No longer clandestine, solitary, or inhibited by any kind of traditional “schedule,” my nightlife has a new vigor. My eyes, I’m convinced, are looking tired not just in the morning, but through the rest of the day, as well. Another magazine shills me another skincare line, this one exclusively formulated for men. The packaging on the bottle is all dark gradients and sans-serif fonts, with ostensibly masculine science gibberish explaining the bright-colored, fruity-smelling fluids inside it. It, too, is around the $35 mark. Looking back at photos from this era: my eyes look mostly fine. Just like I’m high. Probably because I am. I last a mere three semesters. Anthony High Performance Continuous Moisture Eye Cream.
2005: A dumb college dropout fuckup, now look what I’ve done. Look at how the primary concern of my income as a Retail Associate is the bottom floor of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, because that's where shooting for “self-actualization” has gotten me. Because I still need money for weed, Totino’s Pizza Rolls, and the first season of The O.C. on DVD; because I am self-medicating with desperation; and because I can’t look the way I feel inside when I fall into my nine-to-five folding denim at the Gap—where I will live forever, because I am a burnout fuckup dumbshit slacker who did this to myself—I need to take care of those eyes. I need a fiscally sustainable solution, and I remember the cold gel eye mask Christian Bale uses at the beginning of American Psycho. I decide that if it made him look good, obviously it will work for me. My eyes don’t look like shit because I’m not sleeping (which I definitely am—11 hours a day), they look like shit because I’m depressed. It will take me another four years to figure that out. Generic Drugstore-Brand Cold Gel Eye Mask.
2007: I move to New York and get a job as a lit agent’s assistant during the week and a reservationist for Balthazar on the weekends. I stop smoking weed. Great. Not so great: my girlfriend at the time buys me this as a present. It’s almost $100 a bottle. She’s telling me one of two things: I look like shit, or she loves me dearly and wants to mend my fixation on my eye baggage—to say nothing of the baggage I have about being a dropout and working jobs that make me realize the path to being the kind of person those aspirational urbanite men's magazines are for was scuttled long ago in a truck in a driveway in the suburbs using a homemade water bottle bong. But hey, at least I’ve made it to The Big City. Of drinking age now, you can find me most nights draining Tijuana Specials at the Cherry Tavern on 6th and A (a Tecate and a shot of bottom-shelf, paint-thinning tequila, $6 a pop), a shithole with a decent jukebox where I hold a bi-weekly residency. I think of it as charmed. It’s not. And it’s probably not helping the eyes, which still, though, aren’t bad. StriVectin-SD Under Eye Cream.
2009: My first magazine job in New York is where I actually start to look affected down there. This is a purchase of desperation. There is a real reason I look like shit: someone left, and I am not sleeping. I take down a month-long supply of Ambien in 10 days and make it through the other 20 on Advil PM and Benadryl until my next refill. Nothing works. After two months, I finally see a therapist for the first time, who explains that depression and suicidal ideation are well-established side effects of Ambien, and also, I was depressed before the pills, I’ve maybe experienced this before, and I will be sent to get a prescription of Wellbutrin, which I’ll wing under my sink after five months of use, having been lifted right out of my funk, unassisted seven-hour sleep and all. But at this moment, deep in it, as I catch a passing glance of myself in a Kiehl’s store window on 13th and 3rd, I convince myself that I don’t recognize the ghoul in the reflection. I do, of course, but that’s beside the point. It’s probably $25. If that. Kiehl’s Eye Fuel.
2011: I get my dream job working at Esquire for four months and quit because I convince myself it is filled with smug people making a magazine for idiots like me when I was 16, and it all feels wrong. A career on the rise, I get back with the ex, and it, too, is wrong. We both know it, and neither of us says a thing. I stop caring about my eyes, because the vanity feels wrong. And here’s the funny thing: now that I finally have the money to have a life (and in turn, a real nightlife), I actually need the stuff, because this is when it all really starts to show—some actual puffiness, some fine lines, some darkness creeping in. n/a
2015: A new girlfriend brings these eye patches home for me from her fashion job. They are a not-at-all-subtle hint to go with the increasingly occurrent utterances about quitting smoking and pleas to go easy on the coffee, along with the tossed-off asides about me getting back to the gym. They feel slimy on the skin, and it’s hard to tell which side is the correct one to apply. They’re not doing anything to mitigate what I feel are nothing short of face ravines, dermatological deltas. The cream is recommended to me by another writer, a woman, a few years older, who shares my obsessive crusade against eye baggage. It has a slanted metal applicator, which feels cool against the skin. It seems to do something for about fifteen minutes when I use it, which is really only when I go out with friends, which, at the time, feels like too often, and, in retrospect, was not nearly often enough. Recipe for Men Under Eye Patches and L’Oreal Revitalift Miracle Blur Eye.
2016: I’m going through another breakup, another phase of sleeplessness, another depression. I throw myself at the gym, and the 15 pounds I drop in three months make my eyes less puffy, but now I’m worried I look gaunt, like Christian Bale in The Machinist, where he plays a guy who doesn’t sleep for two months and starts to go nuts, and why does Christian Bale always come up at these junctures? I go into that same Kiehl’s on 3rd and tell them I’ll spend whatever, bring out the big guns. The products are basically the same as the last time I was there but now more expensive. I feel like I’m bruising my under-eyes when I smear the paste on, and the night “serum” (which is just a thin fucking cream, not even an actual serum) isn’t doing it either. I give these up quickly and retreat back to the therapist and get an SSRI and start sleeping again, and now my nightlife is mostly dating and raging with friends I hadn’t seen enough of over the last four years. Nobody remarks on my raccoon face, but I know, god, I know. At some point, I catch a glimpse of myself in a subway window and look up at the light, and the bags go away. It occurs to me that the darkness under my eyes may just be the shadows from the developing contours of aging that happen to everyone, though I wonder how much is self-inflicted. It remains a concern, and some days—especially some tired mornings—a particularly pertinent one. Kiehl’s Age Defender Eye Repair and Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Eye.
Spring 2018: I’m back to the eye patches, and again, somehow, they come via another fashion media woman in my life who isn’t even hinting this time, I don’t think. I probably mentioned The Great War to her, and she is kind enough to bestow them on me. I stick them in my fridge, use them, and, you know what? They kind of work. We don’t. But the eye patches in the fridge! A revelation, an incursion. It’s a casual war, one of attrition. The one thing I’m certain of is this: my eyes look better since I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes and caring too much about jobs I don’t actually care about. I’m having later nights, more fun. I’m obsessing less over my irredeemability, and yes, maybe my eyes do look more tired than ever, but the more time I spend looking up into the light, the less I look like Grendel, and that’s something. I start looking upward into mirrors more, and begin to accept that this might be alright, that there will be peaks and valleys, tired mornings and jubilant, energized ones, the kind filled with promise, the kind that light up your face, all of it, with the attractive, bright quality of hope. It occurs to me, more often than not, that, like most wars, this one probably never needed fighting to begin with. Or: no matter how bad it feels like it looks, it never really does. Besides, we all have eyes, and we all have eye baggage. Some of it, for some of us, just lives closer to the surface. It’s all in how you wear it. Skyn Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels and Gold & Snail Hydrogel Eye Patch.
Present Day: My medicine cabinet looks like it’s been stocked by a meth cook, but goddamnit, now that I’ve discovered Deciem products and retinols, let’s light it the fuck up, baby, because whether or not my eyes look better than they ever have before—and they probably don’t, to be honest—it doesn’t matter, I’m waging the goddamn Tet Offensive on my face, applying four products every morning and every night, and I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying, and one day I’ll just see a dermatologist who will tell me that everyone’s face has shadows, and you wear yours just fine, but yes, we have something for that if you’re interested, but first let me ask you: how are you sleeping? And I will do my best to answer them honestly: “You tell me.” NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate; Hylamide SubQ Eyes; The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG; RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Eye Cream Treatment.
This piece first appeared in Volume Three of our magazine.