My Providence friend, his girlfriend (not that we aren’t friends too!) and his roommate (who I would also consider a friend, or at least a contender) all hopped in the car and headed down to New York for an early Halloween party. Details of the plan were murky, but contained a pleasant edge of mystery. It seemed as though we would stay in Brooklyn Friday night, at an unidentified sympathizer’s apartment, then head to Long Island Saturday for the party. On Friday we found out that we had no place to stay in Brooklyn. This had a deleterious effect on the mood of the departure. Reluctant to shake last-minute trees with a party of four, we considered a quick Air BNB. However, there was talk of solitary and undoubtedly bitter train rides ahead to Long Island, and we decided Air BNB would only awaken the complications and time-constraints of hastily-planned commerce. We ceded Brooklyn and went straight to Long Island. We were staying at the family home of an Americorps friend of the group, and we were met with hospitality and kindness upon our arrival.
Friday passed mostly uneventfully. We went out to bars somewhere in Long Island, sampling infused vodka at Cortland’s and eating yellow tomatoes from the outdoor vines at Tullulah’s. The girl we were visiting gave her scarf to a random man at the bar, who talked about the gift too loudly and often and ruined the charm of the act. A random guy who had seemed funny and harmless at the first bar became sullen and gave off vibes of violence and danger at the second.
On Saturday my friend and I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for glasses for his Edward Snowden costume. We had serious trouble finding specs that didn’t have magnifying lenses. These made him dizzy – he also didn’t want to jeopardize his natural, jet pilot-caliber vision. We went to at least four stores. In the end he bought a pair from CVS and manually popped the lenses out.
We got dressed, drank a little and prepared to make merry. The party was still a giant question mark. Whose house were we going to? Where was it? Who would be there? Would alcohol be available or should we bring our own? Facing uncertainties that made us at first excited, then later apprehensive, we set out into the night for celebrations unknown.
I’m not sure I could have been prepared for what we found. As we rounded the hedges and crunched our way up the fantastically long driveway, my friend spoke.
“I think we’re entering a whole new level.”
“Of what?” I said, stunned.
We laughed, but it was an incredulous laugh. We were looking at a house the size of a small hotel. It wrapped around our field of vision, blurring at the edges. A multitude of windows glowed solemnly in the night. An American flag flew quietly in a grass island surrounded by the pull-around section of the driveway. Mein Gott, what had we wandered into? We were in a sub-percentile of the 1% that was probably higher than we would like to admit.
And here’s the crux of the story. I was dressed as the Scarecrow from Batman Begins. I had altered a burlap rice bag and thrown on a cheap suit (found happily at an Ann Arbor thrift store) and generally looked the part. I had engaged in talks with my friend’s GF in which she had suggested that I wear my mask all night. I decided to attempt to put this experiment into practice.
And in essence, the mask is not so dissimilar from this blog. I don’t expect to put my face or name on here, and I reveal a decent number of things about myself (just wait for my five-part series about the aesthetics of my favorite internet pornography!). I can write freely, in a way that perhaps I couldn’t when I was on facebook, with all my “friends” watching. I haven’t necessarily become an oracle of controversy here, but I generally feel good about the ideas and experiences I express, and plus, there’s still time for me to get raw, right? So maybe a real mask would enable me to do the same thing I do here – to adopt a persona of my choosing, without having to navigate all the viscous sludge of personal history, without being boxed in, revealed and categorized by the ‘encumbering thoughts of others’.
The mask was not itchy, sweaty, or uncomfortable, but it limited to my vision, giving me a dimmed and incomplete view of the night. On first arrival I felt for all the world like I was walking in stoned (I wasn’t). I wondered if the anonymity of the mask would give me powers, if it would free behaviors waiting to be tapped, the ego clawing at the backs of my eyes.
Sadly the answer was generally not. I don’t know what happened. Early on I felt the same fears and awkwardnesses that haunt most of my social forays. I clutched to my beer and my friends for dear life and generally acted nervous and uncool. I felt like it was harder to approach people due to the weird factor of my weird mask. Girls would squeeze by me and make little comments about how freaky I looked.
But as the night eased on, my friends and I found a little bit of a rhythm. The people at the party were generally personable and cool. Almost everyone had a well-defined costume. The host, who lived not in the giant house, but the carriage house adjacent, introduced herself and was the sweetest young woman. She looked hilarious in her pitch-perfect Big Lebowski/The Dude costume. She even had the jellies, THE JELLIES. We also met her boyfriend, wearing a bathrobe and red wig (another Lebowski character), who immediately recognized my friend as Edward Snowden, and said that if we were friends of our Long Island friend (see how complicated this identity hiding is getting), then we must be cool by association.
A young fellow who had been to NY comic-con that day approached me and said my costume would have been in the upper echelon of the event. What a kind compliment! He appreciated when I recognized him not as a skeleton, but Donnie Darko. I also talked to a young engineer, dressed as King James, about our school and work experiences. I became jealous, vocally so, about his experience with professors who took pride in their teaching. I told him my reasons for getting out of the profession (for now at least). I was opening up and being honest, and yet here I was behind this ragged and hideous mask, which deteriorated throughout the night as my haphazard stitching caused failures within the burlap’s rough weave.
After a while it became a point of pride to not remove the mask. Thankfully there was a dance floor with a great DJ (who played something like a nine-hour set). I danced with wild abandon, mask and all, feeling that this activity offset the lurker vibes I would have given off had I only stood around and talked. It humanized me.
I was not the only masked costume. The others, a gorilla, and what looked to be Rob Zombie, removed their masks almost immediately. Cowards.
There were calls for the mask’s removal. A big black jock guy, not in costume, said with an edge of menace in his voice that he wanted to see what I looked like. I suddenly knew how women feel around hulking, dominant men like that. When you have something that they want – under my mask I was the frightened one. Other requests were milder. Often my hand flew to my throat to prevent any jokers from unmasking me suddenly.[i] A person or two expressed respect at my decision to stay masked. A person or two thought I might be someone they knew. One guy read my palm. Kurt Cobain said that he hoped we would run into each other again soon and I would tell him that I was the Scarecrow at that party, which I found kind of touching.
We stayed until close to 5 AM. My friends had caught up with an old friend that they sometimes see at parties and were enjoying themselves. I had a pretty good time. Despite the mind-boggling wealth of the host, and the VIP room off the dance floor that brought an unfortunate “members only” vibe to things[ii], the party had been good. And I had kept my mask on the whole time. Nobody I met at the party knew what I looked like.
With one exception. I was standing outside in the wee hours of the morning when the host, The Dude – at this point bent all out of shape on who knows what, and all the cuter for it – asked me if I had worn the mask the whole time. I replied yes. She took me by the hand and led me toward the trees and shrubs next to the fence. How many streams of innocence and intrigue cascaded and churned in that moment! I was at once in some film or young adult fiction, being led into the bushes by the girl to have an unforgettable formative experience. I was beguiled and intoxicated. I didn’t have the heart to refuse. She would see the man behind the mask.
She lifted my mask when we were safely away from the rest of the party. I tried to read her reaction but could not. She turned me back toward the house and the party to face the light. I crouched to hide my face behind hers. The mask came back down and she wandered back into the party. I was disappointed to know that she wouldn’t remember what I looked like, that our warm little confidence would be lost – ‘like tears in the rain’.[iii] Just before we left, I was still quietly reeling, a little hurt at the knowledge that we would pile into the car and ride back to our friend’s house – analyzing every angle of the party along the way – and my concealment, my social experiment, my frivolous deception, would be whole and complete.
[i] But not THE Joker, who was there with Harley Quinn. They seemed couple-y and stiff and didn’t talk to me about our costume synergy. There were also two Batmen, one a woman who had a friend take pictures or her punching me.
[ii] It was a kitchen, but could have been a “nose powdering” room of sorts. In which case it makes sense not to have visible drug consumption going on in the common areas of the party. Still, my friend’s GF, dressed as Miley Cyrus, said that she had been looking through a glass panel in the door when a hand reached and pulled a curtain shut over it.
[iii] She was pretty far gone.