There’s no tactful way to ask a grown and seemingly-heterosexual man if he’s wearing makeup. Makeup, of any sort, on straight men who aren’t appearing on television isn’t a casually alluded to subject, even here in Seattle, where social liberalism falls steadier than the unending rains. This simply isn’t a question you casually sneak into a conversation, like a magician stuffing his hat with a white rabbit — et voila! For this reason, some directness was in order when I approached the 19-year-old dishwasher whose face was a hue of burnt sienna his neck clearly could not substantiate. 

The fact is that we’d all been wondering about the makeup thing for weeks. The kid looked like a Techniocolor “Indian” portrayed by some white actor in a 50’s Western, but no one was certain how to broach the subject. So I waited until we were mostly alone, just me and him and the head chef changing our shirts after a night’s shift.

Hey man, I said as kindly as I could. Maybe it’s just the light in here, but are you wearing something on your face?

He stared at me then looked to the back of the room where the chef was changing his shirt.

What do you think? He asked the chef.

The chef didn’t want to be a part of this conversation. No one did. But there we were.

Why you asking me? The chef replied.

You heard what he said. So what do you think?

Tectonic plates groaned painfully beneath the earth’s surface. 

If you’re asking me, the chef said, it sorta looks like you’ve got tanner or something on your face.

The dishwasher nodded then looked back at me, blank-faced, his eyes a foot-stomped squish of weeds. He said nothing.

So? I asked.

He cocked his head and licked his lips. He looked me dead in the eye, and before he walked away said,

You tell me.


I’ve been thinking about the dishwasher’s response in the months since this happened, and not because I’ve any uncertainty about his makeup, which was really bad. The point isn’t the makeup—I could care less if he wants to wear makeup, though here’s a pro tip for those contemplating such a route: it’s essential to have someone help match it with your skin tone so you don’t resemble a doll painted by a disabled seven year old.

Instead, what’s stuck with me is his response and subsequent walk-away. As far as I can figure it, this is the perfect reply to just about any question you don’t really want to answer. As proof, I offer the following examples:

Johnson, the boss asks as he hovers beside the cubicle wall, did you see that memo I sent about the cover sheets for the TPS reports?

Johnson looks up from his desk, sips his coffee and says, You tell me, before he returns to his game of online solitaire. 

Captain, the wary passengers anxiously eye the storm clouds that are gathering like a cluster of anvils overhead, the storm is drawing closer, should we reef the sails and return to port?

The salty sea dog raises another rum-soaked dark-and-stormy to his lips and squints across the seas. You tell me.

I have a shellfish allergy, the patron explains to the server. Is this soup safe for me to eat?

The server nods toward the bowl of chowder steaming before the patron: You tell me.

In the amber glow of late night passion she pauses to ask her new lover, Before we go any further, have you been tested for STD’s?

You tell me, he says, as he unbuckle his Levi’s.

So there you go, folks, the perfect escape route from any question you’d rather not answer. So the next time your wife asks if you picked up the kid from day care or your mountain climbing partner wonders if you properly tied a figure-eight knot in the line before belaying her from the edge of a 150-ft drop-off, look your inquisitor in the eye blankly, your gaze flat as Kansas, and give them this response.

If you’re wondering if it’ll work, well—you tell me.