The red-and-black papier-mâché mask hung on the wall of my brother’s childhood bedroom for years before I asked my folks on a recent visit if I could take it home. It’s been a decoration in their house for decades. I don’t know if anyone ever used it as a mask.
I think we got it on a trip to Italy when I was twelve or thirteen. I don’t remember the circumstances but I’m pretty sure I picked it out. It’s a Capitano or Scaramouche, I believe; one of the stock characters. Who knows what attracted me to it?
When Preston says he’s dressing up as a wizard this Halloween, I decide to dress up for my bar shift as well. I know exactly what I’ll wear. The mask’s been decorating my studio the past year or so.
When I take it off the wall, it barely fits my face because it has warped inward from humidity. I stack three oversized art books on top of it to flatten it out. A day later it fits fine.
I buy black hairspray and face paint at CVS and wait to put it on until just before leaving the house. When I get on my bike for the ride to the bar I feel cold rain coming down so I go back inside for a stocking cap. I don’t want the cheap black dye to run.
This is the first time I’ve dressed in a costume in a decade or so. The last time was with Shay. She loved Halloween. I was a creepy ghost-faced priest.
A few cars honk as I ride north to the bar.
Some drinkers are a little disconcerted, others pay me compliments. Someone asks what movie I’m from. Another, whether this is my Halloween costume (which, I suppose I should be offended by). Only one woman recognizes it as a commedia mask. When I mention commedia dell’arte by way of explanation, I mostly get blank stares.
After last call, I peel the mask off my face. The inside is coated in sweat. Over the course of the night I could feel the mask molding its shape to my face. Mike jokes that he could clone a dozen Dmitrys from the DNA on its surface. I say that one is more than enough. He doesn’t disagree.
When I get home I shower the black hairspray off me. It takes a lot of soap and shampoo to get clean. It gives me a renewed appreciation for women who wear makeup every day out in the world. Having that layer between my skin and the world is a true challenge.
Some use it as armor but to me it feels like a barrier or obstruction. To disguise or transform a face can be a powerful thing but I mostly felt trapped. It’s a useful exercise but I don’t feel changed; only relieved it’s not my everyday.
A couple days later I bring in my other commedia mask in to the bar to take photobooth pictures. I don’t wear it while I work as it’s a little too tight to function in. I’m not interested in a repeat performance either.
It’s no surprise that the pictures in the old mask turn out better. If you don’t commit to the bit, the results can’t help but turn out half-assed. It’s not the same if you don’t suffer at least a little.
Listen to The Story of RR 1: Healing Fantasies.