He’s Mr. Service
Gary Greco loves women, he’s mad for makeup, but most of all, he loves helping people. He’s the resident makeup artist at Face Stockholm on Madison Avenue and 62nd Street, one branch in an international chain of kind-of-fancy-but-hip makeup stores. It’s a makeup counter not unlike–in either size or content–the counters found inside the major department stores. But unlike the people who work in the big stores, Mr. Greco would never spritz you with something unless you’d asked to be spritzed.
Working at a makeup counter is not just a job for Mr. Greco. It’s a calling .
Mr. Greco was watching the pretty procession of an uptown Saturday afternoon. Two ladies in spandex and fanny packs hovered over the lip gloss. His voice rose and his face lit up. “Hello! How are you today!” A sizable redhead squeezed her way past the makeup bags. “And how are you today?” He gave her a big wave.
“I’m looking for–I can’t remember what it’s called but you wash your face with it …” said the redhead.
“It’s the aloe vera cleansing lotion,” said Mr. Greco crisply. “It’s an excellent product, and I will get it for you.” He glided toward her on his Prada toggle tie-moccasins and pressed the bottle into her hands using both of his. “Enjoy.”
Soon, a German lady approached.
“Hello!” said Mr. Greco.
“I’m just looking,” she said.
“That’s O.K.! Have a ball .”
Mr. Greco grew up in Connecticut, in the middle of a bunch of boys, the rest of whom followed their father’s lead and went into the construction industry. “But my mother was an art lover,” said Mr. Greco. “And she’s just wonderful . I do her makeup always. Whatever she wants, I give to her. I would get on a train in a minute if she needed me. My brothers, they always say to me, ‘You’re doing wonderful considering you’re an artist!’ So that’s good, because they come from the school where, you know, you go to work every day and you’re a laborer. Not knowing that you could go and do someone’s makeup for a photo shoot instead! But there was never any kind of … all they ever knew is that I was just Gary. And that was perfect. And that I was part of something, part of them, and that was just wonderful. It was lovely. I help their wives pick out makeup and it’s fun. They love it. They treat me like I’m their Svengali, and I’m not ! I’m just … oh, they’re so good to me. I mean, I’m just Gary ! I am so fortunate. And now I’m all …”
Mr. Greco covered his eyes. He was crying a little. He ran off into the stockroom. When he returned, he had a stack of fan mail in his hands.
“This one’s from Tory Burch,” he said. “She lives just across the street, she’s a doll, very New York junior social set. I did her makeup, and then she showed up in Vogue .” Mr. Greco clutched the letter to his chest. “I’ve had the opportunity,” he whispered, “to assist Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. I think she looks so sensational. I think she’s gorgeous. I just do! I’m sorry, I am sorry, but she’s gorgeous! I mean, I didn’t even work on her. She came to me and it was wonderful, and I suggested things … and, oh! Should I say it? Should I? Caroline Kennedy came in . I think she’s her mother personified. I do! She’s completely … she did minimal, but with such a sense of, such a very specific sense of herself. Isabella Rossellini? Unbelievable. I showed her where to put the color, and she very gingerly took her daughter’s face and she put the color on for her. And Nicole Kidman, she came in with her baby daughter and I showed her wonderful things that you can do with powders. Natasha Richardson was here, she bought all kinds of makeup. She was very clean . We were all alone in the store together.”
In marched a short woman, who proceeded to fill her hands with everything lavender she could find. Is lavender her color? “I want this,” she commanded. “And this.”
“O.K.,” he sang, “we’ll just get them for you then.”
When the lavender lady marched off down Madison Avenue, Mr. Greco took a moment to reflect. “I don’t really think there’s such thing as a difficult customer,” he said. “I just don’t. Maybe someone is having a bad day, but that’s not their fault. I think one of the things that makes me good at this is that I’m patient, and that I love women. I think they’re fabulous. Identifying the customer’s needs is just … it’s wonderful.”
“The hardest thing,” he continued, “is lip color. I can spend an hour trying to find the right lip color. It’s kind of like your shoes. It’s easier to find a blusher, or an eye shadow, or a foundation, but that lip color … it’s really tough. For you, prophecy! Because you are a prophecy person. Approachable! Red is a color. It’s there! Colors have different meaning. Kind of like food! Sometimes you want something light, kind of delicate, a salad. A tea sandwich? But sometimes you want sirloin.” He tightened the fist. “Or veal . Well marinated.”
Does he ever wish he could wear makeup?
“No, I never do. The thing I love about makeup is the thing that I love about skin care. It’s not only a feminine thing to be polished. You know, being a man–and I do love being a man!–I enjoy taking care of my skin. I mask twice a week, I use a cleansing mask, and I use a rejuvenating mask, a moisturizing mask. I dry-shave every day using aloe vera gel, so I don’t have any flaws from shaving. I do use a toner, so I do slough off dead skin cells. And I use an eye gel at night. Grooming. It’s very important.”
In walked Mr. Greco’s last appointment of the day. A compact woman in J.P. Tod’s loafers and khaki capri pants. “I’m intownformy20threunionfrom Nightingale,” she said. “I don’t want to show off, but …”
“I understand completely!” Mr. Greco said.
“It’s not that we were mean to everyone back then,” she said, “but maybe we just ignored them. We were snobs. But I did get elected president of my class, so maybe I wasn’t that bad …”
She’s a housewife in Texas now, with a brood of boys. Mr. Greco shaded her eyelashes and shined up her lips. And soon she was out the door.
“She was marvelous, wasn’t she?” said Mr. Greco.
An American de Sade?
Recently published works such as The Marquis de Sade: A Life, by Neal Schaeffer, and At Home With the Marquis de Sade: A Life, by Francine du Plessix Gray, show how seriously, reverently, even, scholarly writers treat the hypersexual, hyperviolent 18th-century Frenchman. But what of Billy Smith? He was also a man who engaged in what some might describe as deviant sexual practices. Like the notorious marquis, Billy Smith was also something of a writer. But he has not held sway over the thinkers and lovers of today. Why not? Simply because he was an American.
There may be justice yet. A few new-historicist historians have discovered two more Billy Smith letters. Let the reader decide if he does not deserve the high status now conferred upon the one known as the “divine marquis.”
Nov. 23, 1846
I am in the jail house agin. I punched a lady in the stummuck. I tol the judge that I liked the lady fine. I only hit them because I love them, Mama.
A later letter gives a more complete picture of the plight faced by violent libertines in the old West.
Jan. 12, 1852
Do not spend the winter in Cheyenne. It is cold. My beard is froze. Last night I went into the saloon for a sasparilla and a beer. I saw a painted lady. For two bits she went upstairs with me. I got out my rope. She asked me what I thought I was doing. I tol her to hold still so I could tie her to the post. Just as I was about to punch her in the stummuck, a big stropping fella came in. He untied the lady. Then he knocked me with his fist. I still have a head ache. I only done it out of love, Mama.
As we can see, unlike the Marquis, Billy Smith was thwarted each time he tried to give expression to his own desires. It is something that we, as a nation, must somehow come to terms with.
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