While in the cozy confines of Van Cortlandt’s Tail—my box seat to the elevated tracks of the Number 1 train—I spied something unusual. It wasn’t Freddie flicking a sandwich bag full of crumbs to his frenzied feathered friends. There’s nothing unusual about that. Nor was it nearby track workers in fluorescent vests carrying flags on the El. That’s a common sight, too. Rather, it was a teenager with a pronounced case of acne.
Via Facebook, I’ve gotten to see a cross-section of my generation’s kids. While not a scientific survey, I have concluded that most of them amble through their teen years without seeing a pimple, squeezing a blackhead, or living with oily skin. When I was a teen, I suffered from periodic acne flare-ups, particularly during the grueling school months. Remarkably, when on summer hiatuses from the educational grind, my face totally cleared. Healthy doses of sun and fun worked wonders.
Back then, as I remember, many of my peers suffered with acne—some of us with worse cases than others. The most common remedies in treating the scourge were over-the-counter products like Oxy cleansing pads and Clearasil, which I don’t remember having much of an impact on our embarrassing pimple problems. There were a handful of kids with pretty ghastly cases of acne who visited dermatologists, but that sort of thing wasn’t on the radar for most families, including mine. Acne was considered part of growing up and that it, too, shall pass. And for most of us it did, leaving—in some instances—the telltale signs of what once was.
I know there are still plenty of kids with acne concerns, but it’s probably more of a class thing now. After all, Oxy cleansing pads and Clearasil are still around. But the suburban youth of today appear to have their zit troubles nipped in the bud. It would seem that modern medicine has done it again. I am, too, astonished that these same youth have Hollywood teeth—pearly white and straight as an arrow. How their parents pay for all these unblemished faces and perfect chompers—not to mention $50,000/year college tuitions—I can’t say.
There was a time when just hearing about or seeing a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel in a bookstore or on a library shelf, would prompt me to think and maybe even say out loud, “The Scarlet Pimple Face.” And, once upon a time, teens from all walks of life could readily identify with The Scarlet Pimple Face. Not so anymore. But are kids who never know pimples better off in the long run? I don't know. However, I do know they’ll never appreciate the joy of getting rid of them. A little imperfection along the way sometimes has its benefits, because in life’s mirror are one zit after another.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)