The building housing our new station also houses Real Networks, one of the original music streaming services. They supply the music for the building’s elevators and restrooms, as well as building’s lobby cafe.

For the past two weeks, the stream has featured songs from the early to mid 1980s – mostly pop, some rock. Many of the songs take me back to life in New York City in my 20s – working in the recording industry, waitressing in the Village, and living life to the extreme.

A couple of days ago, Billy Joel serenaded me in the ladies room with his hit, Uptown Girl. I was immediately transported back to CBS Records, where I worked in 1986. Billy had married his Uptown Girl and Christie used to accompany him when he visited our offices. While he met with this executive or that, she would wander around, striking up conversations with the secretaries. She’d mostly chat with Ruth, secretary for the executive Billy visited with the most. But one day, she wandered down the hall to where I sat, the side of my wall plastered with artwork created out of album covers by Judas Priest, Heaven and Ozzy Osbourne (all CBS artists at the time).

I usually sat hunched over my typewriter, hair hanging in my eyes, not making eye contact with anyone who happened to walk by. I was secretary for two women; one managed copyrights and contracts, while the other managed studio time for CBS Records International artists. Most of my days were taken up researching copyright information for the steady stream of requests to include our artists’ songs on compilation albums (mostly from Germany) and movie soundtracks.  As such, I didn’t interact much with people in person. Most of my communication happened over the phone or by Telex (the precursor to the fax).

So, this one afternoon, Billy is meeting with an executive and Christie is wandering the halls. She stops in front of my desk and says hi. I look up into that perfect face and say hi. Then, she sits on the edge of my desk, and asks (kindly), “Every time I see you, you look so sad. What’s the matter? What can I do to help?”

Stunned, I blurted out, “I hate my face. I’m so ugly!” and nearly started crying. At that time, 95% of my face was covered with huge, painful pimples, which seemed to multiply by the day.

Christie smiled and said, “You have a beautiful face, and I can help with the acne problem.” She took my notepad, picked up a pen, and wrote down a name and phone number. “This is my dermatologist. Make an appointment with him. Tell him I sent you. He’ll see you right away.”

Billy came out of the executive’s office then. She smiled at me again and said, “Call him. You won’t be disappointed,” then left with her husband, who graced me with a smile and a wink.

I held onto that note and didn’t call for several days. One painful breakout day, I decided I had nothing to lose, so I called and made an appointment. They could see me the following Monday.

The day of the appointment, I took the subway to Central Park East and found the office. It was housed in a brownstone that looked more like a rich person’s house than a dermatologist’s office. The lobby looked more like a sitting room, and the walls were covered with huge photos of very well known people, including Christie. I figured the others were also this guy’s patients.

As I went up to check in, I started panicking inside. This guy was very high class. Could I afford to see him? The woman who checked me in assured me that my insurance would cover 100%. Still not reassured, I sat down to wait.

A nurse showed me into the doctor’s office and remained in the room. The doctor explained his approach to dealing with what he called “cystic acne.” He injects each pimple with a solution, which would clear things up. I would look like I had the measles for about three weeks, and then my skin would be clear and free from any zits or scars. He asked if I’d like to undergo the treatment right away, and I said yes. He shook my hand, left the room, and the nurse took over, administering the treatment. The entire process took about an hour, and felt as though a bee was stinging me over and over. When she finished, she sent me home with the doctor’s special collection of face wash, toner and moisturizer. I made an appointment to return in three weeks, and went on my way.

For the next three weeks, I used the doctor’s collection faithfully. The angry, red pustules on my face dried up, leaving only the injection scabs visible. I looked as though I had the measles. The scabs eventually fell off, leaving a face clear of acne. No scars, either, just like the doctor promised! I went back for my follow up appointment, and sent home with another batch of facial products.

I was still anxious about my insurance covering the procedure, but when the letter arrived, it said the doctor had to remove a cyst and have it “tested.” My insurance considered that a medical procedure and covered it 100%.

I saw Christie a handful of times after our conversation. The first time was about two months after my treatment. I saw her coming down the hall, because my hair was not in my face and I wasn’t staring down at my typewriter. I was looking up, and happy. When she reached my desk, I jumped up and thanked her for sending me to her dermatologist. She hugged me and said my skin looks gorgeous. She asked whether the doctor had treated me well and I assured her he had. That day, when she left with Billy, I beamed at both of them.

A number of years later, I received a copy of Andy Warhol’s diary for Christmas. I was obsessed with him at the time and devoured the diary. Imagine my surprise when he talked about going to the dermatologist to have his face “sand blasted,” and there was the name of the dermatologist Christie sent me to. I knew it was him because Andy described the location and waiting room. Plus, the doctor has such a distinct name, there could be only one (or two, if he’d had a son in the same field.).

I underwent this treatment at age 22. I’m now 52, and my face is still clear and smooth. My biggest complaints: a bit of rosacea and larger pores than I’d like. But, no acne. No scarring.

I may not smile as much as I used to back then, but whenever I hear about Christie Brinkley or see her in a magazine or on TV, the smile comes back, along with the two words that don’t adequately describe just how much it meant for a supermodel like her, to take a few minutes to talk to an ugly duckling secretary.

Thank you.

NOTE: IN 1986, CBS released Billy’s album The Bridge. It was a powerful album, but the most memorable song for me that year was this one:  This is the Time

 

 

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