So I went to Ulta.

[Disclaimer: If you’re not interested in reading about an average southern guy making an emergency trip to a cosmetics superstore, feel free to move along. No hard feelings.]

This past Friday night, I loaded up the family and drove about 50 miles to celebrate our daughters’ birthdays.  My younger daughter and her friends chose the trampoline park for their activity. Not wanting to risk their hair and makeup with such sweatiness, the older girls chose to go to the mall.

At some point during the hour-long drive south I sensed a familiar, annoying sensation. I’m a bearded American male. I don’t have a Viking/hipster/biker gang /19th century theologian beard. It’s just a sensible average beard. Perhaps the only downside of having a beard is that I occasionally get stray whiskers lodged in my gum line. Stay with me here. It’s my personal truth.

Somehow, individual whiskers come loose from my face and embed themselves between my teeth and gums. It’s physically uncomfortable, slightly painful, and distracting. This has probably happened ten times over the past five years. [As an aside, if you’re in medicine or media and you’d like to write up my case for a medical journal or documentary, please contact me.]

I’ve found that there is one surefire method to remove these foreign fibers: needle nose tweezers. Regular slant tweezers just won’t work. By the time we rolled into Texarkana, the foreign object in my gums was eroding my sanity. The older girls wanted to be dropped off at Pier One, which was conveniently located next to a store that was uniquely suited to provide relief.

While they were unloading, I ducked into Ulta. The chain posted almost five billion in sales last year from its almost 1000 locations… including the one in Texarkana, which was about to deliver me from my developing emergency.


It’s blindingly bright. There’s an overwhelming plethora of cosmetic paraphernalia. There’s a salon. They even have a few rows of products for men: all sorts of spendy beard waxes and facial moisturizers. But I was a man on a mission.

I stepped in with manifest purpose. A chipper young lady greeted me and asked if she could help. “Tweezers,” I said. She tilted her head at me the same way that our dachshund used to look at me when I would try to explain theology to him. She was obviously a new hire. She directed me to a helpful sales associate who led me straight to the tweezer section.

Out of a dozen different models, I opted for the Tweezerman© needle points. tweezerman needle.jpgThey were $24, which sounds like a lot. But if you’re familiar with the finer things, you’ll appreciate the fact that Tweezerman© is owned by J.A. Henckels, a 350 year old German cutlery firm. That history, combined with the fact that I was being gum-stabbed by a rogue whisker made those $24 tweezers seem like a steal.

One of the sales associates met me at the checkout. “Will this be all for you today?” Everything seemed normal up until this point. I was one debit card swipe away from ending the oral nightmare I’d endured for 47 minutes. And then it all went haywire.

She asked for my phone number, but not in a complimentary way. Why did she need my number? Were these tweezers so sharp that they qualified as a weapon to be registered? Were they so expensive that they came with a warranty? At that point I didn’t care. I gave her my number. She keyed it in, and then looked down at her monitor with her own confused dachshund look.

“Okay, that number’s not in the system. Maybe it’s under your wife’s? What’s her number?” And that’s when I broke the social contract of Ulta. These words literally came out of my throbbing mouth:

“Can I just pay for the tweezers and go?”

It was rude of me. I should have just given the number and moved on. As an introverted American, I’m annoyed at the prevailing American economic system that is increasingly data-driven and relational. Join the rewards club!? Sign up for the credit card!? Complete this survey!? I just want to trade money for products like our forefathers did. But back to Ulta…

The original dachshund head tilt girl had come over to observe the transaction. She was stunned at my upending the social order. Her eyes widened. Clearly her training hadn’t prepared her for this crisis: a customer was refusing to give his phone number. Should she call security?

The associate at the register was surprised also, but in a more visceral, morally outraged  sort of way. Her jaw fell slack, but she said nothing. She didn’t have to. Her eyes said it all. I had broken the Ulta code.

She probably would’ve been more polite if I’d kicked her puppy and tried to hold up the place. Her eyes screamed rhetorical questions at me: “What kind of reprobate doesn’t provide a phone number at Ulta? What are you trying to hide?”

I swiped my card, got my receipt and speed-walked out of the store and back to the vehicle. Within 20 seconds I had unpackaged the German-engineered tweezers of healing and began operating on myself. Ninety seconds later, I extricated the offending object and was able to enjoy the rest of the evening.

At some point over the next few days, I relayed a brief version of my Ulta experience to my spouse. Her only reaction: “YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T GET MY REWARD POINTS?!”

I can’t win.



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