On Unmaskings and Dressings Down of Various, Terrible Sort

Day two of my June writing experiment, “30 for 30 in under 30,” in which I write thirty randomass essays with minimal editing, to be finished in under 30 minutes.

(FYI: I pulled this together from a few pre-written bits.)

I really dig those moments in life when the universe hiccups and you are allowed to peer behind the proverbial curtain. To see the hidden bits of daily life, be they shameful or comical or nonsensical.

Like when you are watching a movie, and, just for a moment, you spot the boom mike bobbing up and down in the top corner of the screen.

Or like when a politician doesn’t know his lapel mike is on and he goes into the john and takes a super long and loud piss and it gets broadcast all over the building, to pretty much everybody’s glee.

Or when you catch a super friendly and upshot waiter rolling his eyes in disgust as he leaves a neighboring table, a smile plastered to his face and a filthy, sopping rag in his back pocket.

Relatedly: Sometimes I like to go on Facebook and look at the profiles of people who are either getting married or are in what appear to be Very Happy relationships. Then I go to their photo albums and scroll backwards through their photos until I come across the pictures they were posting four or six or however many odd years ago. Often, these strange bits of personal history pop up – my friends, tangled up lovingly in the arms of exes, a random digital hangover from flirtations and relationships long-since thrown out or forgotten.

However, stolen moments of shamefaced cyberspying don’t even have a patch on real-life, real-time unmaskings. These are vanishingly rare in our highly orchestrated culture, but they do happen.

When I was a kid, about six, I once went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a classmate’s birthday party.

For anyone who isn’t American: it’s a kid-themed pizza palace arcade presided over by a life-sized gray mouse named Chuck E. Cheese.

He’s got razored little buckteeth, curly, optimistic eyelashes and oddly effeminate hips.

Chuck E. Cheese’s has one of those pits full of colored balls – the kind in which people always claim their friend’s brother found a dirty syringe or a poisonous snake – plus all kinds of arcade games that dole out little strips of prize tickets, which you can trade in at a magical prize counter and when you sit down to eat your crappy, cracker-crust pepperoni pizza, you do so in this strange auditorium with a stage on which this weird band of animated life-sized puppets crank to life and play Kid Standards like “Old Macdonald” at intervals.

This was THE place to throw a killer theme party among the pre-pubescent set circa 1988.

Back then, the slogan was “Where a kid can be a kid.” I just looked on the website today, and they’ve changed it to, “Fun for all. Fun for less.” Which just doesn’t have the same ring to it, if you ask me, but anyway.

There was this one really naughty kid named Grant at the party, and when some poor schmuck dressed in a life-sized Chuck E. Cheese costume came out to walk around the arcade and say “Hi” to all the kids, Grant ran up and somehow managed to unzip the back of the Chuck E. Cheese costume and underneath it, the guy was wearing boxer shorts with hearts on them and the whole thing was hilarious and horrifying.

Because we weren’t meant to see it. Because it belied the ruse we’d all consented to by coming there at all, and revealed to us the monstrous levers cranking beneath.

Those behind-the-curtail moments are especially big when you’re a kid, because you rightly have the strong sense that most of the time, most everyone is putting you on. Lying about the true configuration of things.

Per my Facebook spying, Romantic Love, too, is a rather outrageous fiction when you consider it in the context of a person’s longer life. You have to have amnesia for the past, I guess, to make any kind of bearable present, let alone future. You have to will yourself to forget.

Scrolling backwards through those photo albums feels somehow like watching one of those time-lapse videos of a flower blooming and then rotting away and then getting carried off, piece after piece, by scads of industrious black ants.

These are the kinds of stories I want to tell – the ones that are already telling themselves, and on you, when you’re not looking. The kinds that expose you at your most raw and fickle and hopeful.

The kind that can unmask you and leave you blushing furiously three or ten or twenty years out with your pants around your ankles and those heart-print boxers just hanging out for all the unsympathetic world to see.

Love blossoms and then wilts. Shit comes apart. People fall out of love, and into the arms of waiting strangers. Dust to dust. But none of it is every really gone away from you. All those other people you used to be, and all those other people you used to love while you were busying being all those other people, are really only just a bored arrowclick away.

How calamitous is that?

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