“I am a Depressed Economy.” I first thought the tall girl in the Halloween costume was a lightening bolt, but now I see that the jagged downward trending line with an arrow at the end is a less literal symbol that requires a footnote. I love high concept costumes and promptly reward Depressed Economy with two handfuls of candy. This is a ghost of 15 Halloween’s past, but the memory is still vivid and treasured. If a gloomy teen dressed as a giant feather came to my doorstep and explained he was “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” I would crap my pants in joy, hand him my entire bucket of candy and applaud in that order.
In my everyday life, I don’t have the imagination or willpower to dress for success. I prefer tennis shoes at all times. I sport a leather jacket, which may have been cool for a time in the 1950s. One of my friends back in high school, Todd Harkey dressed just like John Lennon circa 1970s. He had round glasses and an army surplus jacket that embraced and rejected the military all at once. He has since changed his name to Seven, which I cannot help but think is cool and obscure and must come with a back story. And he is probably wearing only bubble wrap or sheepskin jackets or whatever is trendy or retro cool.
We all have online avatars that represent us as human beings. My friend Richard Cress appears online as a white spray painted circle against a brick background. Is he the Circle of Life as described in The Lion King? It is open to interpretation. Seven appears mostly in the pale yellow glow of a radio dial, but he writes rap rhymes in the guise of the Shift/Lock key of a typewriter. My friend Jordan Marshall appears as a beautiful swirling galaxy. My buddy Tim Lippard looks like a ghoul trapped under glass, perhaps inspired by “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch.
I appear just as myself online. That’s enough for me for now. I am tempted to don the online visage of a city manhole cover, but I fight the urge. My friend Karen Kinley Goins was a bat, but she now appears as a baby dressed as a lady bug with a giant pudgy smile. I find that touching and irresistible.
I’m not shocked that people want to project something other than their true faces onto the world. When Liz Enochs and I were asked to pose for photographs once for a magazine we frequently wrote for back in Asheville about twenty years ago, we both thought it would be super cool if someone could do caricatures of us. We would happily appear as distorted and exaggerated images to the reading public. The idea was shot down by the publisher who wanted our actual image. We both moaned and groaned.
Lady Gaga gets it. She had the balls to appear at an awards show once in a costume made of meat. When she went onstage to accept an award, she asked Cher to hold her meat purse. What’s the proper response when someone asks you to hold a purse made out of meat? “I’m Cher, dammit. If you think I’m holding your stupid meat purse, you’ve got another think coming.” Cher obligingly held the meat purse and looked good doing it.
The twenty-somethings in my apartment building leave each morning for jobs in the Financial District dressed in sharp conservative clothing that is aimed squarely at Success. You never actually see them look frumpy. They could walk a dog at five in the morning and look splendid and immaculate. Maybe it is all smoke and mirrors, but I admire their willpower to stay pretty and handsome at all times. It’s like a method actor so committed to his part, he cannot stop playing it even when the stage lights go dim.
I am an Ugly Duckling in New York City. In Montana or possibly South Dakota, I might be passably attractive or borderline acceptable in appearance. But in Manhattan, I am an unkempt mess by comparison with those around me. I wear a ball cap sometimes to walk the dog when I haven’t gotten a chance to shower yet and the dog really needs to go. Maybe the late novelist Robert Parker could rock a ball cap, but I don’t have bestsellers or a tough guy image to maintain.
I am not trying out for the part of Handsome and have nothing in particular to gain by trying to play it as a nonstop role. I might well dress up as a giant feather next Halloween to dole out candy at the door. But I am not one to dress up unless I’m at work or at gunpoint. Even then the chances of me wearing a sharp Brooks Brothers suit are about as good as those that I’ll start sporting a Meat Purse.
The motto of North Carolina is “To be, rather than to seem.” Maybe being around all these urbane sophisticates will rub off on me. Probably not. I will most likely continue slouching through the City that Never Sleeps dressed for a nap and loving it. Take that, Manhattan.