Identity is a slippery game. We conduct ourselves one way with one person, another way with another person, and yet a third way with yet a third person. We contain multitudes. We are kaleidoscopic. And yet we are forever stuck with ourselves. Which can be exhausting. And suffocating. And imprisoning.
Which leads us to Halloween. How delicious to put on a mask and be someone or something else! How totally invigorating to be, say, an honest investment banker by day, but Pablo Escobar, or a zip tie-bound Kim Kardashian, or a castrated Donald Trump on October 31st!
My longtime friend Marcus Dash talks a whole lot, often nonsensically, occasionally brilliantly. 37 years old, married, two young kids, Marcus remembers Halloween as one of the highlights of his childhood. And he never stopped dressing up—even through high school, college, and in his early years as a restaurateur in New York he played with his persona, blurring, obfuscating, slithering. He has a lot to say on the subject, as I found out over a recent drink at a noisy and brightly lit gastropub in Brooklyn.
“Escape has become a big theme in adulthood. There’s less wiggle room, what with the wife, kids, and mortgage. I see friends try to escape in dangerous ways—drugs, alcohol, double lives and all that that implies. It’s like we’re just looking for people to see us in a fresh way; it’s like we’re chained to our past. And though we might wake up in the morning with the intention to start anew, or to reinvent, or to kill off the sides of ourselves that we’re tired of, or that don’t serve us, the people close to us, our wives, our kids, our families, they want consistency. They might be coming from pure love, but still they’re wanting us to stay who we are. They might even be holding us back. ‘Cause let’s be honest, it’s scary to see your spouse or partner make a radical change!
I’m a big fan of that movie ‘The Passenger.’ Jack Nicholson’s a married man, a documentary filmmaker, on assignment in Africa. Not a bad life, but when the opportunity to fake his own death and assume the identity of a stranger falls into his lap he takes it. It’s like Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, I’ll take any life other than my own! Jack speaks for a lot us—in most of his roles, but especially in ‘The Passenger.’
In college I used to fantasize about my funeral. I’d see my ex-girlfriends there, weeping, sniffling, bringing Kleenex to their nose—and there were hot ones! I did well at college. And then I’d see my dad and my brother, and my dad nudging his elbow into my brother—‘Kid did well, didn’t he? Probably better than his old man even.’ And then my brother going, ‘Shush!’
Anyway, that’s a real long rant, probably more than you bargained for, but long and short of it is this: Hell yeah, I love Halloween. I dress up for Halloween. I even wear strange outfits when it’s not Halloween, stuff I’d normally never wear, stuff that presents me as someone I’m not, false advertising if you know what I mean. Masks, costumes, uniforms—they’re not really about who you’re playing, they’re about who you’re escaping. It’s like a drug-free, airplane-free, mistress-free vacation from the monotony of your own life. It’s like a refresh button—and you don’t take down the whole family in the process…”
Marcus went on like this for a long while, mixing wisdom with hyperbole. He drank ginger ale—he’s been sober for nearly five years—otherwise I would’ve thought he was a bit tipsy. He told me he looks forward to taking his kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. He said there’s a neighborhood not far from his Williamsburg home where they give out premium candy.
Who is he going to be this year?
“Well there are some great options, aren’t there?” he said, chugging the last of what must have been his seventh ginger ale. “I was toying with something anthropomorphic, like a polar icecap that’s both melting and weeping, like it just hates that we human monsters have ensured its demise. But then I’m also thinking Edward Snowden. I’m real afraid of this whole transparency thing. You know me, I love the veils.”