MTV and the Lauderettes

MTV moon manMTV turns 30 today. I feel old. I remember when my sister and I discovered the new channel on our cable system. When we tried to tell our mom about this incredible find, she was totally confused. I think that had more to do with our 5- and 8-year-old explanation than her ability to comprehend the concept of music videos on television. She came downstairs to the den, looked at the TV and said, “Oh! Well, ok then.” It was a fairly unremarkable event in my life, but the memory sticks clearly in my mind. It’s probably using the space where Algebra should be.

Year later, when Baby Daddy and I were first married, I worked as a freelance makeup artist for Lancome. Let’s face it, I’m a total cosmeholic. There is not a cream, lotion or potion I won’t try on my face. This was the perfect job for me. It was like being at slumber party all day long. I put makeup on people. They told me about their terrible boyfriends. Fortunately, to my knowledge no one’s bra ended up in the freezer.

We lived in Tulsa at the time. One weekend, they sent me over to Muskogee. There was supposed to be a “special event” at the Lancome counter that weekend. It didn’t turn out to be all that special. We were not booked very heavily. There was a lot of standing around chatting that weekend.

That’s when I met the Lauderettes. Every cosmetic counter has its own personality. Clinique tends to be the Neutrogena girls: clear-faced, skinny and young. Clarins is older, minimal makeup, bad perms. Bobby Brown is the color of the outfit. Lancome tends to be potion lovers with red lipstick. Chanel is stuck up. Then there is Este Lauder. They smell like a perfume factory and wear unfathomable amounts of eye shadow. They also tend to be larger women. They are my favorites.

This particular counter employed a rather large young, gay man, who wore guyliner long before it was the hipster thing to do; a big girl, who had a really bad crush on the gay man (She really didn’t get it); and an older woman whose former Dolly Parton makeup had started to take on a Mimi from Drew Carey quality. These three would have seemed an unfortunate lot in the Muskogee, Oklahoma Dillards, except they had a secret identity: The Lauderettes.

Right there between the fragrance and Origins counter, they cranked up a jam box to “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video played on MTV, and let me tell you honey, they danced. It was the most amazing, hysterically funny sight I have ever seen. It. was. FABULOUS! I begged them to do the routine over and over. They happily performed for their new audience. It was a really good day.

I’ve never been back to Muskogee. I stopped doing makeup for other people not long after that. I have no idea where any of those people are now. I don’t even remember their names. But every time I hear the Buggles one hit wonder, I think of the Lauderettes. And I smile.

Thank you MTV for introducing America to music videos, if for no other reason than it lead to best cabaret act ever to grace the stage of the cosmetic section in a department store: the Lauderettes.

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