Sunday, October 31, 2010

What We Pretend to Be

Halloween afternoon. I was going to have two stories up for you today, but I keep trying to push myself to get more up here than I reasonably can in a single twenty-four hour period. I'm delaying the late-September story into early November, after the election - yes, yikes, but it has to be done.

Anyway, defying the norm, here's your October story, in October! Just in time for Halloween. The story's theme, no less! Could it possibly be more of a coincidence? (Yes.)

Hit that jump. It's short, but not quite as goofy as the previous three years' awkward Halloween stories.

What We Pretend to Be

As each October draws to a close, everybody looks forward to the one day each year on which it's considered socially acceptable to strap even more masks to our faces than we usually do. Human beings typically find it too difficult to endure prolonged exposure to the world without the aid of numerous filters to protect themselves, much in the same way that no astronaut's likely to survive a spacewalk without their helmet.

Why is it that we're so afraid to be ourselves around each other? What is it that we fear that sends our honesty packing for the hills? That if we didn't protect ourselves, we'd soon find ourselves at the mercy of others' teeth and claws? Or that we might see ourselves reflected in a similarly unflattering light? We do pride ourselves on thinking that we're higher creatures, but even our pettiest of day-to-day interpersonal conflicts seems to contradict our idealized self-image.

We get up in the morning and force ourselves into our clothes when we'd rather stay in bed - the sheets always feel their softest when leaving them is the last thing you want to do, but you have no choice. We groan into the mirror as we brush our teeth and relish in that no one at work sees us in such a state, unkempt and disassembled. We go about our routines to make ourselves presentable to each other, as so to avoid triggering anybody's predatory instincts, and we form unspoken strategic alliances - there's only so many rungs on the ladder that any of us will climb, so let's at least make sure that guy doesn't get anywhere, if nothing else.

We don't divulge any information that we judge to be too personal. What we dream about at night, what we'd rather be doing with our lives, when we lost our virginity, whether we've been the victim of a crime, whether we've ever contemplated suicide, whether we've ever been angry enough to consider killing another person, whether there's really anything wrong with any of us. Put the mirrors away, keep eye contact fleeting. Never a moment of vulnerability, surround the rawest nerves with a mile of plating, and keep the surveillance camera lenses from getting too dusty.

When Halloween comes, it's time to dress up and tell the world who we are. The cool-headed gunslinger from some fantasy of the old west; the ferocious dinosaur; the flesh-eating zombie; the spooky skeleton; the faceless ghost; the killer robot; the sexy any-occupation-imaginable; the lazy pop culture reference; the dog-lobster; the internet meme; the cute animal of choice - or anything else, really. Nothing is off-limits and everything makes some sort of statement.

The way we want the world to see us is projected through the costumes we choose to wear, just as we attempt to manipulate and construct others' impressions of us through the way we behave around them. We're adaptable, if not outright inconsistent, each and every one of us. We're a hundred different people each day depending on whom we're speaking to or whether we're alone. And we fear the day these constructs disappear and we're all revealed nakedly to one another for who we truly are. Some of us may accept one other, but others would tear into one another without a second thought. If there's such a thing as a biblical apocalypse, I imagine that would be it - the cute squirrel wouldn't be safe from the tyrannosaurus rex, no matter how endearing their mannerisms; the tough cowboy might not even be able to comprehend the audacious dog-lobster; and the sexy everything would have to watch out for nearly every other male with functioning genitalia. Every vulnerability is to be exploited, after all. It's only human nature.

Some have fun putting together haunted houses and making a few bucks scaring the bejeezus out of attendees looking to be spooked. Others transform the outside of their homes to both draw and terrify trick-or-treaters. I'm not that interesting. Sometimes I stay home and watch television. Other times I hit a friend's party and get buzzed. Either way, decorating is too much effort, and I'd rather not see the kids, so I just leave a bowl of candy out on the front porch. You never know who the little angels, devils, goblins, and princesses will grow up to be. The worst thing for them would be to grow up and be me.

Me? I'm that one guy injecting cyanide into the occasional peppermint patty - the one you've always heard rumors about.

You're welcome.

1 comment:

Rose said...

After recovering from the devastating blow that you only posted one story instead of two, I had some time to think...

I've often wondered if only a small segment of the population even thinks about any of these things. Is it that people lack the courage to say what they think and feel, to be themselves... OR, are they just the reality tv watching, cheap beer chugging, ignorant, mindless robots they appear to be?

Of course, I am just as guilty of the masks, the cover-ups, the fake smiles. Sometimes being honest is too painful, especially when someone has been burned in the past for doing just that. But I am just stating the obvious.

Now, where did I put my peppermint patty?