this thing's incredible

The Best Fake Tears $17 Can Buy

Photo: John Hein

In 2017, I was living in a beige apartment complex in West Hollywood. Somebody named Michael Moore — but not that Michael Moore — was always leaving mail on the floor from Donald Trump. It was my second year trying to get work as an actress. I had a handful of short films under my belt and zero Getty Images.

My apartment in West Hollywood was next to a house that belonged to a Southern California a capella group called the SoCal Vocals. Its members liked singing Bruno Mars at night, when the day was done and they no longer could try getting work as actresses. Every night, I’d smoke a joint on my back porch and lean hard on the splintery wood and take in the sounds of “Just the Way You Are.” I wondered how a normal person would react to being in such a situation. I wished for tears.

At the time, I was also big into watching behind-the-scenes reels from movie sets on YouTube because I had no idea what it was like being on a movie set. My favorites were the ones from makeup artists talking about what they observed an actor’s process to be. The general consensus from the makeup artists seemed to be that the best actors didn’t need to use tear sticks.

I knew I wasn’t one of the best actors, as I had never been on a movie set, so I wondered if maybe a tear stick was made for people like me. I went on Amazon and ordered the most expensive one: a Kryolan in a silver tube. I figured if it was 17 dollars, it must be for the best of the bad actors.

When my tear stick arrived, I was in a bikini. I ran into my room and rubbed the lipstick-shaped menthol under my eyes. I waited 20 seconds until my eyes watered, and then I filmed myself talking about how much I hated the SoCal Vocals while tears streamed down my face. When I watched the tape back, I noticed that my bitchiness had transformed into something more relatable. Crying not only felt good, but it sure looked good.

I suppose actors use tear sticks for acting purposes. And yes, the Kryolan is great for auditions. Sometimes you get a script that wants you weeping over literal spilled milk, and it just doesn’t seem fair to conjure up my inner child when I’m crying about how I won’t have enough Organic Valley for the cake I’m baking.

But it’s also great for when you need or want to cry and know you have the feelings but are scared the actual tears won’t come. It’s great for parties when no one’s paying attention to you. Sometimes I slick a little on for therapy so my shrink can see how hard things have been lately. I think a tear stick would also be appropriate for a breakup, especially if you are the breaker-upper and you’re scared you won’t be able to show your partner how much you used to care.

Frequent users develop a tolerance to it and will need to think of something sad and maybe play “Mister Cellophane” (John C. Reilly’s version) to get the waterworks going. I’m such a frequent user that I now take out my contacts and coat the stuff straight on the bottom of my eyelid. But if you’re a beginner to the tear-stick game, you’ll be good to go with a dash on where your under-circles are and no emotion at all!

Sometimes, when I feel stuck and forgotten and emotionally constipated, as I did in Los Angeles, I take out my tear stick and experience a release that feels as though it’s making room for something real.

Annie Hamilton is a writer and performer from New York. Her show, Looking for Papa, is at the Cherry Lane Theater on July 11th, 12th, and 18th.

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The Best Fake Tears $17 Can Buy