Sunday, December 30, 2012
I had spent the last few hours stressing and obsessing over my attire. The annual office Christmas party was scheduled for today. An email had been sent yesterday, reminding everybody that the party was at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were all required to look “presentable.” The men were required to wear a coat and a tie. The women had to look just elegant enough without going past a certain invisible line. Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
This is where the ordeal started. I pulled out almost every outfit I owned, every last shoe, everything I could find in my closet. My cousin was on the other side of the video phone watching me as I tried on one outfit after another, approving and disapproving my choices with a clear discernment that I simply didn't have. I had no idea how to dress, what to wear and what not to wear. The subtle rules of this masquerade escaped my mind, I had never been privy to these intricate instructions.
I thought of this while I ran to the bus stop early in the morning. Why did I worry so much about what to wear? Why was it so important to control how I looked, how others saw me? What was the meaning behind the requirement to look presentable? What did it say about me? What did it say about them?
Through a change in clothes, I would disguise my wild and chaotic nature, I would pretend to be in complete control of my own persona, my actions, my thoughts. I could be as normal and as mature as they were, as they seemed to be, as I assumed they were. There I would be, looking like them, wearing the uniform, part of the group. A question wrapped in a lie, a stumbling fish trying to swim over quickly drying mud.
I was gasping and stepping into the bus stop when I was suddenly greeted by the face of a dirty homeless man. He was so blonde and fair, and he was so happy, so happy I thought the sun had come down to say good morning through his wide open eyes.
"Look, look!" he said cheerfully, “A guy just dropped three thousand dollars in cash!"
I looked down at his hand. Between his dirt encrusted fingers there were rolls and rolls of $100 dollar bills, a package of myriad possibilities squeezed to the size of a fist. As I looked at him again, I saw him turn back into a dull, dirty old man. It was the bills that were shining like gold on his fingers.
I realized he was probably right. To judge by the amount of bills he was holding, there was probably a good three thousand dollars there, or even more.
"Put that back! Put that back” I told him, realizing suddenly that his appearance and the money didn’t go together, they would clearly stand out like a sore thumb in this mostly empty street.
He was putting himself in danger by boldly showing this treasure he had just found, this anonymous treasure that had just found him through some unknown random process that had now chosen to include me.
There was an obvious disagreement between his attire and such a large amount of money. Gold and rags, riches and dirt, power and weakness. People would stare, they might call the police, they might beat him up, they would accuse him of having stolen it.
“Please!” I asked again. “Put it away, don’t let anybody see it”.
He looked at me, suddenly realizing I was being serious. He sat on the bench and the smile faded from his face while his eyes were fixed on mine.
“I don’t care about the money.”
The tone of his voice had changed. He was no longer a homeless man, he was now a being detached from society, detached from this planet, detached from his mask. He was a kid, a grown kid who saw the world as a giant playground. He was once again shining brightly, he was the man I had seen first before I noticed his costume. The money in his hand turned into a dull plastic object, with no possible value.
Its only value was the adoration a child gives to a toy when he is playing with it, a gift freely given, a gift easily taken away. Only while playing would the toys shine with life, they would then be forgotten and cast away.
I saw him, my eyes wide open. I listened to him very attentively as he started to narrate his story: he once worked as a contractor, he made a lot of money. He used to live in San Diego, big house, two kids, a wife, a dog. His daughter was making good money now.
“Do you have any children?” he asked me.
“No.” I answered while gazing to see if the bus was coming.
“Do you make good money?”
“I make enough, I guess.” I said, while getting myself ready to board the bus that was now stopping next to me.
“Would you like a hundred dollars?” He said with a mischievous smile.
“No, I am ok,” I said, while slowly walking towards the door of the bus.
“Take it!” he said, “Just one bill!”
“No, thank you!” I said while smiling and walking up to the bus.
I sat next to a nicely dressed lady who was texting with her smart phone. I couldn’t help thinking of this man.
There was a clear disagreement between his shiny golden treasure and his dirty appearance. The mask didn't fit the event, the event cast an unflattering shadow on the mask. A man dressed in rags could not be so lucky, could not get so lucky, could not.
I looked down at what I was wearing, the costume I had worn to pass myself off as one of them, the lucky ones. I adjusted my scarf and slid backwards on the seat. I prepared my face for the masquerade that was waiting. One more among many. One more mask to hide a question I couldn't even begin to answer.