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Ashleigh Brilliant is an author and cartoonist, best known for Pot-Shots, single-panel illustrations with a short humorous or insightful remark. I think his last name is incredibly apt for him as he captures the human condition precisely while using only sparse words. When Pot-Shots ran in the newspapers here in Denver, sometimes I or my mother would cut out a particularly good one and show it to each other. I bought several of his books compiling his work. One of his panels still resonates with me, many, many years after I saw it: “You can only be young once, but you can be beautiful over and over again.”

Of course, Mr. Brilliant was talking about our behavior and our actions, which truly showcase beauty. But it also made me think of physical beauty.

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I would not describe myself as beautiful. I know that I am pretty, at times, and cute, even. My husband finds me pleasing to look it, and that is the most important thing to me. There were times when I felt beautiful — on my wedding day, for example. But the very first time I thought I was beautiful happened 40 years ago, and still gives me warm fuzzies when I think about it.

When I was 15 years old, my parents and I plus another couple, my parents’ friends, went out to California on vacation. Once there, we rented two cars and toured Los Angeles and San Diego, hitting some of the main attractions: Disneyland, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the San Diego Zoo, the whole tourist-y bit.

As soon as I got off the plane and out of the airport, the city of Angels rubbed e the wrong way. The palm trees, were exotic and fantastic, but the fronds were dirty. Ditto with the sidewalks, ditto with the air — Los Angeles may be some people’s home and other people’s dream, but to me, even at 15, it was a nasty, dirty little place I was not impressed with.

My moment I’m talking about happened on the second night there. We were coming back to our hotel room. We rented two rooms at Roosevelt Hotel, whose main claim to fame was that it stood across Grauman’s Chinese Theater that had all those hand- and footprints of movie stars in cement. I was in the back seat of our rented car, staring out the window, a bit bored. We were idling at a red light when another car pulled up next to us.

I looked at the driver. He was a blond guy, no older than 17. He turned his head and we looked at each other for an instant. That’s when his eyes went wide and he slightly opened his mouth, is if he saw the most beautiful girl in the world.

Then the light turned green and we drove off.

That little exchange of looks, his expression, had changed me. When before I was a tomboy, not the most delicate flower of femininity, I transformed into a pretty girl, someone who can move men with her looks, someone I had only read about. If I could have been beautiful to one boy, I could be beautiful to another. The game has changed. Hell, there was a GAME!

One look, 40 years ago — man, I can sure get a lot of mileage from a complimentary look.

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Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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