Why do People Wear Masks in Life

Dress Rehearsal

Being Goddesses

I try to exit the dance floor again, moving against the tide of people at 80s Night. In front of me is a drag queen I’ve seen a few times, originally at a GLTB mixer in Poughkeepsie (he was one of the organizers and wore a gigantic blond bouffant wig) a few weeks ago. Last week, I recognized him, even sans wig, and greeted him. He affected diffidence and said, “I don’t even know who you are,” before I pointed out that he’d had dinner with me. He conceded then and reintroduced himself as Alphonso, finally saying in parting, “It’s because you are not wearing glasses.”

Tonight, he is dressed fully as a woman – as much as a drag queen ever is – in a short silver dress, fishnet stockings, a black wig that might actually be worn by a woman going through chemo, make-up, and five-inch heels that would break a real woman’s ankles. He looks me over as I am trying to get past him and says, “I still don’t know who you are, you keep taking your glasses off and putting them back on. I can’t recognize you.” Though, obviously, he can to be able to say this.

I reply, “I remember you, and you weren’t even wearing a stuffed bra last time.” He doesn’t hear me or pretends he doesn’t for the effect of it, the added aloofness.

While certainly extreme as an example, the concept is not atypical. There is something in 80s Night, something that is perhaps inherent in all bars (but I’ll have to take you at your word), that invites disguise. Alphonso – or Isis, as he is apparently called in full drag – at least is forthright about most of his costume. I conspicuously notice what people wear – from the simple uniform of jeans and a short sleeved standard issue among some of the men (myself included), to the woman who brags of knitting her on top that does not conceal her back or stomach, to the middle age man in a torn shirt reading “I’m not Mr. Right, but I’ll pretend until he gets here” – because they invite notice. These are the costumes we have chosen for this dress rehearsal.

Why do you let me around you with a camera?

We all hide – and yes, I feel I need to include myself in this – from our daylight lives while inside Cabaloosa. It is a world apart, one that is kept from bleeding over into reality. A touch of sun would turn the events of 80s Night to ash. I pity anyone who wakes up next to someone they lusted for in the smoking area or at the bar, because our human faces cannot be seen in the dimness.

There arrives a man, an associate but not necessarily friend of those I am with, wearing a leather biker jacket and thick steel chain around his neck – the type of chain you would use to lock iron gates shut, not the sort one uses as jewelry. Rosie whispers, “Him? That’s the Demon Prince. He says he can punch you with his mind… but his fist is faster.”

“So noted,” I laugh. “Jess has mentioned him before but I never pictured him so… ostentatious. Aw, it’s cute that he is trying to hard.” Judging by Rosie smirk, this was the right response. I remember this sort keenly from my adolescence – one cannot hang around Wiccans for any length of time without encountering them – and reiterate gratefulness that I never cared enough to own more than one pair of vinyl pants (long since consigned to a Salvation Army bin). He is dedicated to the mystique and wants to draw others in.

Don’t you realize what is going to happen?

I think he recognizes the inoculation in me – that I was exposed to a weaker form of this memetic infection and am immune to doing anything but stifling a laugh at how seriously he takes himself – because he consciously doesn’t speak to me even when we are in the same circle of people.

As the evening progresses, as I orbit around Rosie in hopes she will motion for us to dance again, she tells me one secret or another. While alcohol certainly broadens the mask some here wear, it allows hers to slip. “I’m only telling you this because I am well lubricated with alcohol but…” and I learn something about her that gives me fuller clarity to who she truly is and has been. That this helps pretenses drop further, that is allows her to confide in me as though I had earned it yet, makes me like her so much the better.

Rosemary then chides me for referring to her in writing as safe.

“Oh, but you are safe,” I tease. “You wouldn’t do anything, now would you?”

“No,” she concedes after narrowing her eyes at me, “but that’s only because I like and respect Melanie so much.”

“Good, but you haven’t even met her.”

“Yes, but the pictures of you two together just seem so… perfect,” she says without any malice or sarcasm.

“She had that effect on people, I’ve noticed.” This isn’t to say that Rosie didn’t imply that she has thought about sleeping with me (in that she referenced a boy there and said she would crush him between her thighs but that I would likely survive), which I laughed at. And later, as I rescue her drink from the bar and deliver it to her as she dances with someone else, she tries to kiss me on the cheek and misjudges the distance, landing her lips mostly on mine. But I know an accident when it happens to my face, so I just smile and give her space to dance.

Loren was there for the first time I have been able to witness, fresh from breaking up with her boyfriend. I do not get the details, since those will have to wait until a quieter place where alcohol is not served. Loren’s every movement and word screams liberation. While I didn’t take her relationship with her unnamed boyfriend to be a negative, I feel that she would be just as thrilled and eager for new experiences had she just dumped Prince Charming. She doesn’t seem the type to mourn a change in status, particularly when it can be toasted. Since she was not here last week, I have no baseline for her behavior at 80s Night, but grant that this might be standard. There is no time to waste, the drinks weren’t getting any fresher and the dance floor waits for no woman.

No chickens here.

Jess has previously spoken of the Dance Goddess triumvirate of Loren, Rosie, and her, and I can see how the former two are keen to assume their mantles as they climb up on the shelf that constitutes a stage. Since I am only newly acquainted with not feeling achingly awkward on the dance floor and only barely branched out from dancing with Rosie and near Jess (who was once told that her dancing contains Funky Chicken DNA), Loren’s dance of liberation was simply a bit too much for me, more so with every drink she had. I’ve slowly felt Rosie out and I think, without speaking, we have a certain understanding on the dance floor that I will exploit as long as she lets me. Loren has no such agreement and has no reason to abide my prudishness and fidelity. She cannot be safe and I am positively bristly with any physical contact for which I am not utterly prepared, more hypocritical given how physical I am now and flirtatious I was once.

After a bout of dancing – Rosie says I have attained discernibly better rhythm since last week – she says she is going to get a drink. I look at the mass of people between her and her libation. I wrap my arms around her and whisper-shout in her ear (for the music is very loud), “I’ll love you forever if you get me water.” She smirks at this and leaves me on the dance floor. I begin dancing by myself to some Michael Jackson song I cannot remember immediately afterward – tonight was Cabaloosa’s musical memorial for him – and quickly a dark-skinned girl with glaringly blue eye shadow dances next to me until we make eye contact. Then she is dancing with me. She lessens the space between us on every eighth note, like clockwork. I am against the wall, standing near the door to the smokers’ area so I cannot possibly miss Rosemary with my drink; I have nowhere to go, so I count the notes until this stranger is against me. I recall the thought experiment of how a constantly halving distance cannot ever reach its destination and search the woman’s eyes on every seventh note so I can watch her come closer with my acquiesce. I am enjoying dancing with her, trying to exist in the moment, when Rosie walks by.

“I have to… she has my drink,” I mouth to the woman. The tenderness in her eyes leaves more quickly than I can. When she sees me later in the smoking area, I note a certain hesitancy from her in looking my way.

“So you don’t drink?” Rosie asks when I join her.

Now why you gonna throw a perfectly good girl away like that? They don’t grow on trees!

“No. Not as such, really. I’ve never been properly drunk and certainly never in public. I don’t fault other people it at all, it just isn’t for me. I want to… to remember, I suppose. And I don’t want any excuses for my actions. If I do something, it is because I damn well want to.”

“I’ll allow this,” she says, “but only because you are actually fun sober.”

“I try,” I say, meaning exactly that. I know I have to compensate for the fact that I cannot be loosened by alcohol.

Before the night is out, I’ve witnessed three fights (and had to avoid a fourth when a White Knight tried to grab my camera and screamed “I’m not gonna let you do it!” when I tried to take a picture of Jess and Loren drunkenly snogging). The first happens shortly after Miles – one of Rosie’s associates from her job – runs up to us and boasts of the fact that “two neckbeards” are going to have it out for no stated reason. We turn and, like the eye of the storm, watch the crowd expand in a circle around two men, who begin yelling and threatening one another. Without sound, it would seem that the men fight simply because they find themselves at the center of the circle, like the participants in some exotic dance. Before punches are thrown, security guards in Cabaloosa shirts appear to eject them.

“Why do I have to go?” one of the neckbeards protests.

“Because I’m wearing the shirt and I say so!” the guard yells back.

“That’s right!” I shout at Rosie. “Clothing predicates behavior, bitch!”

She laughs back and says this might be the quote of the night.