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Mary McGrory

Botox Fix

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, July 21, 2002; Page B07

I haven't yet been invited to a Botox party, and I don't know if I ever will be. Should I be glad or sad?

Peter Jennings told us Wednesday night about the craze sweeping the West Coast, which is a hotbed of hospitality to new and loony ideas. But even for la-la land, this is a bit much -- going to a party for an injection of a poison that is supposed to erase wrinkles, especially laugh lines.

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My problem is that I have never thought an injection -- even if I get champagne afterward -- is "something fun," as a 31-year-old West Coast belle burbled into an ABC microphone. Obviously, she was not following the advice of the English poet Robert Herrick to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may." She is following the dour counsel of the New England poet Robert Frost, who preached "Provide, provide."

Looking at her line-less face, we recognize instantly her gambit -- it is a preemptive strike -- like what the administration plans for Saddam Hussein.

Will the Botox party come to Washington? We like to be with it here, although you would not always think so from what we do. We don't create trends -- that's what we have California for -- but we like to follow them. And if we do decide that we want to be needled, I ask myself if I would make the list. While the in crowd is booking its doctor for the mass needling, can I hope that something more than wrinkles may be needed for admission? I am painfully aware that I do not talk the talk that would immediately identify me as someone in the loop.

I have only lately learned not to reference a couple as "going steady," a phrase of my youth. By the way, I hope you will notice my slick use of a noun that has recently become a verb, the kind of new grammatical wrinkle I try to keep up with. "Reference" joins "impact" and "nuance" in the Cinderella division. Nouns who used to droop by the fire hoping for notice are out there now with the big-boy muscular verbs that are often used by high officials who really don't have much to say, like Colin Powell on Israel.

Forgive the digression. I just thought it would juice up my credentials as someone who keeps up. Now I resume the catalogue of my shortcomings. I have not entirely kicked the lamentably bourgeois habit of inquiring about the marriage plans of the boy and the girl in the relationship that I call "going steady." I still think that if they have a joint checking account and are living in a house they bought together that a merger might be an option.

I am much obliged to "Vows," the New York Times' Sunday feature about how people meet and marry. It's Jane Austen updated, although strikingly different in some particulars. In Jane Austen's novels, when the man is being reeled in, he immediately asks the heroine, "Will you be mine?" whereas at a comparable moment, today Fitzwilliam Darcy asks Elizabeth Bennett, "Your place or mine?" The M-word comes up much later, often in some exotic setting and with the diamond hidden in an artichoke, and the word "commitment" is preferenced.

The kind of a person who can expect a bid to a Botox party must be up to the minute with the changing terminology of today. For instance, in Washington, you have to be sure to know the difference between a press secretary and a communications director. Our caste system is as rigid as India's. I spend a good part of my life spelling my name for press secretaries who don't read the papers and sometimes condescend to tell me to call back at precisely 3:14 for three minutes of the Great One's time. The other day I committed a major faux pas. I respectfully inquired in the absence of the press secretary about the availability of the communications director. The frosty answer: "The communications director does not take reporters' questions."

I wanted to know what he does do, but how could I communicate with him? Without his permission, I am not even allowed to speak to the staff expert who doubtless wrote the senator's speech that took 20 pages in the Congressional Record. We talk endlessly about the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. What about the tyrants in our midst?

But Botox is particularly efficacious for deleting laugh lines, and who, may I ask, is laughing here? The biggest joke in town is George W. Bush's Middle East peace plan. Or, if it's sardonic mirth you crave, you have the spectacle of our most self-righteous citizen, Vice President Dick Cheney, under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission on the currently fashionable subject of accounting practices. That reliable source of merriment, Attorney General John Ashcroft, has come through again with his plan to recruit mail carriers and meter-readers to spy on us. It is always good for him to be distracted from his abiding worry about the shortfall in guns and death sentences, but if that's the best we can do for laughs maybe we should go back to Tupperware parties.

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