Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mask Appeal


There was a musical that came out in the 70's called "The Me Nobody Knows."

I never saw the show, but I always loved that title.

It seems to say that we all have this fabulous inner self that the rest of the world doesn't know about, that we're not just another drone in the army of working schmoes, but a unique, vibrant personality.

If only we could get that me to step out from behind the curtain.

It's been freezing here in New York for the longest time and it snowed earlier this week. I had to get out in front of the house with the shovel and spread that ice-melting crap so I won't be hit with a fine from the city or get whacked with a lawsuit by some Whiplash Willie who decides to take a dive in front of my crib.

There's slop all over the streets, particularly on the corners. The other night I came out of the subway and was heading to my local grocery store when I heard screaming from behind me.

"Mother fuck!"

I turned and saw this young man with a cellphone plastered to the side his head, stomping up and down on the sidewalk like a goose-stepping three-year-old. I figured our boy here was too busy running his mouth into the cellphone to notice the slush piled up around the corner of Fourth Avenue until it was too late.

I certainly don't wish anyone ill, but there is a price to pay for completely ignoring your surroundings.

It's been so cold lately that I've taken to wearing a mask when I go out. Only my eyes my visible when I put this thing on, so I look like a terrorist in search of a video camera.

It's not stylish, by any stretch of the imagination, but the mask keeps out the cold and when the temperature drops this low and the wind kicks up this high I don't give a damn what I look like.

I was wearing it the other night when I went to one of my bank's branches near City Hall. I was actually going through the revolving door when it occurred to me that walking into a bank with a ski mask on was probably not a good idea.

You never know how the security guards might interpret that kind of headgear, so I quickly ripped it off my head.

I had it on Thursday morning when I got off the train at Rector Street. I saw a young mother with a baby carriage waiting for the crowd to pass through before tackling the stairs with the kid.

I walked up and offered to help her carry the baby carriage and-wouldn't you know it?--she readily agreed. So I put my gym bag on my shoulder, grabbed one end of the baby carriage and up the stairs we went.

The woman had a beautiful baby boy who sat very quietly as we chugged upstairs. I hadn't taken off my mask yet, so perhaps he was too terrified to make a noise.

"I hope I'm not scaring him," I said.

We got to the top of the stairs, she thanked me and we went our separate ways. I realized that we could run into each other again some day and she would have know idea who I was. It bother me for a second, but you should not do good deeds in expectation of praise. What would the Green Hornet say?

The funny thing is that I used to fight my poor mother to hell and back to keep from wearing hats and long johns or any excess winter gear. Either I felt stupid or, in the case of long underwear, it was too uncomfortable.

Each morning in the winter my brother and I would walk up the block with our friends and the second we reached the funeral parlor at the corner and were out of sight of our parents--whoosh!--we'd pull off our goofy hats or pull down those retarded hoods...and freeze.

The long johns were a little tougher as I had to literally pass my mother's inspection to make sure I was in fact wearing the coarse, uncomfortable things beneath my Catholic school/Nazi uniform.

Thank You, Masked Man

I had this trick of putting the long johns in front of my stomach and then putting the pants on over them.

Once my mother inspected me and was satisfied I was safely attired, I went into the bathroom, pulled the long johns away, dumped them in my room and went off to school to be beaten, harassed, and tortured by deeply-disturbed women in black.

And then one day she caught me. My mother spotted something asmiss and pulled the long johns away.

"What is this?!" she shrieked and sent me back to my room to put the accursed underwear on for real. From then on the inspections were far more rigourous and I could only pray for spring.

I toyed with the idea of cutting to pieces off of the legs and slipping them over my ankles, so I can just show my mother my legs and let her believe I was obeying her command. But I never did it.

Yes, I was being ridiculous, but kids live by Fernando's rule that says it's better to look good than to feel good. And that hasn't changed much with adulthood. There was an old episode of Seinfeld when Kramer--before Michael Richards turned into KKKramer--goes to a party on a cold winter night wearing only a sport jacket.

When he's left freezing on a street corner and George or Jerry asks him why he's not wearing a winter coat, Kramer starts to whimper.

"I wanted to look good for the party!" he whines.

I know the feeling, but as I age, I'm starting to care less and less about looks and more about warmth.

I trudge through the streets of Manhattan, bundled up like a penquin, and I see young people wearing the skimpiest of jackets, men with shaved heads like my own, walking around with no hats--no hats? What's wrong with you idiots? Do you want the top of your head to turn blue? Christ, I sound like my mother.

And I'm wearing long underwear now, but only at night. The oil burner goes off in this house at night, so I put on my long johns, my father's pajamas, and sometimes his old nightcap and jump under a pile of blankets three-miles deep. I know Mom would be proud.

Last week, I finally made a decision about a class I've been meaning to take for over a year now. A comedy club called the People's Improv Theater is offering a class in how to do a one-person show.

The class caught my eye last year, but I didn't have the nerve or the time to sign up for it. Now that my dad is gone, another reminder about how short life is, I decided to sign up.

It took a while for me to actually do it. I would click onto the PIT web site every evening, read the description of the class and promise that I would definitely sign up for it. Tomorrow. I did this last year until one night I clicked on and saw the class had sold out.

My shrink calls this winning by losing and I see what he means. You could sit and your rear end and do nothing until the clock runs out and then whine about how you got short-changed. Yes, you did, but only by yourself.

So I signed up. The class cost $360, which I guess is reasonable. It starts March 5 and runs to the end of April, meeting on Monday nights from 7pm to 10pm. You work on a five-minute show which you then must perform at the end of the class.

The thought of performing in front of an audience, no matter how supportive, makes my stomach do cartwheel, but I think it's a good move, because if nothing else, I'll be doing something I've never done before.

I said this would be the year without fear, so here I go. The class could suck and I'll have wasted close to 400 bucks. But that's the risk you take when you go out into the cold, cruel world.

It'll be warmer by the time the class ends, the days will be longer, and maybe I'll know myself a little bit better. Maybe I'll find the me nobody knows.

5 comments:

Calamity Jen said...

Excellent move, signing up for that course. It will be uncomfortable, much like longjohns, but very, very good for you.

Rob K said...

Hmm, maybe I'll do a one-man show about longjohns...in my longjohns!!!

Anonymous said...

Rob, you are such a tealented writer; I would love to come out and support you when you perform your one-man show. Keep us posted.

Anonymous said...

I mean talented. Slip of the finger.

Rob K said...

Thank you so much. I appreciate the support.

And I don't mind being called "tealented." God knows I've been called much worse.