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"Clothes make up the man more than make him."

Writing this morning, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd commented on Our President's mask peccadillo, how his refusal to wear the mask his administration prescribes unmasks him and how his insistence upon constantly projecting a public personna has left him without evident personal identity. Nobody has a clue who he might really be beneath his masking exterior, which leaves him a definite minority in a society increasingly identifying itself as dedicated mask wearers. Our new masks don't so much cloak as identify who's careful and who's careless, who's courteous and who's contemptuous, who's comfortable demonstrating their vulnerability and who's in reckless denial. Curiously, as Dowd notes, our great masking seems to have unmasked who we more authentically are, with those too awfully invested in playing dress up suddenly relegated a lower social standing.

The America I grew up in performed like a continuous carnival with each in the costume commensurate to their role.
I came up in a society where I dressed just above my station, always critically careful about who I publicly projected myself to be. I wore suits to jobs requiring no more than a shirt and tie. I spent each Sunday night steadfastly starching and ironing my upcoming week's shirts for I would never show up wearing wrinkles at work. I was who I pretended to be, as were all the more upwardly mobile around me. Who knew who we were in private, when we became our shoes-off-selves? The entry level clerks spent a quarter of their paychecks to dress up for work, lest anyone on the street mistake them for just another entry level clerk. This Land of the Free and Home of the Brave was populated by image slaves. The Muse was taken aside just after she entered her corporate life and counseled about dressing for success, a lesson she took to heart. My mother-in-law gifted me with a book that disclosed the awful truth about brown suits and what pre-consciously clashes in the eyes of the upper classes. Both The Muse and I could pass.

Now that operations have been suspended for the duration of the Pandemic, no uniform's required. Make-up's wasted when worn beneath a mask. My formerly carefully groomed head of hair seems determined to range everywhere. I wake up looking like Mayor McCheese and wander around appearing about a week short of a formerly much-reviled full mullet. (Me in a mullet?) I feel my cloaking evaporating along with my formerly phony sense of security. Just who am I supposed to become now that my facade has started crumbling? Whom do I have the pleasure of being now? I feel reasonably certain that my once innate-seeming clothes sense will not return. My closet full of formal business clothes haven't fitted me for at least a decade, but my closet's still filled with them just as if I might one day regain my interest in ever dressing up again. One dresses down for writing, yard work, and pandemics, and once dressed down for a long enough time, I begin to feel as though I'm not the sort who dresses up for anyone, not even for myself.

Who does this condition leave me being? Who are any of us anymore? Our President will probably always insist upon being the sort of bore who always insisted upon living behind a carefully projected personna, but the rest of us have been liberated from that coil. My former status symbols now reside in the bottom of my underwear drawer: my frequent flier identity, my Nordstrom card, my membership in the august society where I steadfastly practiced pretending to be. Most of those identities seem behind me now. It's remaining to be seen whom I will alternatively turn out to be, once the defensive identities fully wash away. I carefully set my background stage for my weekly PureSchmaltz Friday Zoom call, but I never even think to wear a tie. My identity, once so insecure behind my serene exterior, seems somehow more secure now, though still in flux. It might be that nobody ever finds the secure identity any coutured exterior suggests they possess, that the dress-up was only intended to deflect and never to disclose. Clothes make up the man more than make him. Only fuller disclosure can ever make me what I am, mask and all.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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