Warning! This post contains “un-masked” language!
Everyone wears one. I’m about to put on “friendly retiree exuding enthusiasm for Valley Art Co-op Gallery and Gift Shop.” It’s a neutral face, easy enough to wear. I think (anyway I do) we even wear masks when we’re alone.
Interestingly, one of the earliest dreams I had as a kid was of a long hallway with black and white tiles and green walls. I’ve often wondered if this was the hallway in the hospital in which I was born — St. Lukes in Denver. There were doors on both sides and I ran down the hallway afraid. I tried a door and inside was a face, and the face pulled off a mask, and another, and another, and another. It was a terrifying dream. I woke up screaming and my dad came with a glass of water, took me to the bathroom and tucked me back in. In a sense that is life. There is falsity — malicious and not; chicanery, illusion, pretense everywhere. The biggest question of my life has been, “What’s real, anyway?” I do not recommend asking that one unless you’re ready for a wild ride.
Fellini was fascinated by the masks people wear even in front of themselves. Maybe especially in front of themselves. The day Fellini died — Halloween, 1993 — I was in the midst of personal upheaval, the beginning of the ripping off of years and years of masks. That night — before I learned about the death of my favorite film director and hero — I was struggling aginst the depression that would ultimately throw me down. It was the beginning of a strange and confusing ride.
My plans for the evening were to meet a good friend at a coffee house downtown (Bassam’s in San Diego) and go from there to a Halloween party at Cafe Sevilla. I’d been out the whole afternoon with other friends listening to Tibetan monks do throat singing.
I don’t know if that comes across as surreal to you as it was to me.
I got home and realized I’d given no thought to a costume. I painted bones on a pair of leggings and put on a black turtleneck. I went into the bathroom and went at my face with makeup, painting an honest self-portrait, and went down town.
Here’s the poem I wrote about that night. The language is rather blue so be warned and the poem is pretty bad, still, it’s an homage to Fellini who strove with all his films to tear the masks away in the most loving and compassionate manner. If you’ve enjoyed his films, the poem might make sense.
I had done my makeup;
The top of my face, Marcel Marceau;
The lower regions, Nosferatu.
I had lost track of time,
brushing the pattern of bleached bones
on black leggings when the alarm went off
telling me to go.
My friend, wearing a slouch hat
Black eye, fake blood, looking like
a railroad bum thrown off at a lonely junction in western Oklahoma
waited outside that coffeehouse, owned by a Palestinian
who always wears berets.
“Jesus! You look scary!”
I had nothing but ennui, incomplete visions,
unfocused depression, hair in my eyes.
I felt the space already, in the places where your films inoculated me
intravenous plugs of sodium pentothal and delight.
My friend ordered me coffee, then, as small talk, he said
“Did you hear? Fellini died.”
My numbness and ennui made sense.
The cappuccino came
The tongue depressor stir-stick stood
erect in the cream.
An old, tired woman wearing a flowered, floppy hat came through the door,
Selling roses; red lipstick sliding down the corners of her mouth.
She peered into my face and jumped back.
“Dio!” she cried and crossed herself.
Your most recent, ultimate news dripped from my painted sockets.
Carnivals and sheets,
Music, tits, lusty buttocks clothed in red wool, on a bicycle,
a peacock (mechanical) in the snow, a beautiful illusion;
Wandering rejection and sex un-sexed
thorny phalluses, spinning dildoes, desperate cunts,
libidinous balloons, children tucked in bed,
the great mass jerk-off in the old Ford,
the immortal romantic dance, the spiraling dream,
the little nun, the tall old crazy uncle,
Volpina — all that we really are, unmasked, all we will always be
the illusion and its never-ending battle.
Silhouettes on the sheet, the Japanese video journalists,
“Bere il latte!” My laughing friend, my radiant self
Gino Soccio, punk teenagers, cabbages, Dobermans,
vaginal vacuums sucking-up coins.
At the party I danced, sad-faced, bored,
to throbbing Brazilian music.
You would have won the costume contest,
dressed convincingly as someone dead.