Monday, December 10, 2007

On Clothing and The Company of Drunks

Spirits were invented as a way of augmenting the worst features of the assholes among us. It augments their voices, for starters; and it also augments their divisions, their dislikes, their deep-seated prejudices (even ones their sobriety covered up), their paranoias, and more. Moreover, no one is immune from this effect, since everyone has the potential to be an asshole. Drink tugs at our masks and erodes whatever civility we weave around ourselves.

On Saturday night, my fiance sashayed and wiggled and undulated through another belly-dancing performance with her teacher at Merry's in Long Beach. This tiny Broadway shop offers clothes and baubles from all over the world, in addition to classes in tribal dance and drumming. It does not do well as a performance venue because of the limited floorspace. There is no stage, and the place quickly becomes a crush of people. Some of these people are dressed as pirates and you do not want to be crushed up against them for fear of lancing your spleen on their swords. While these demonstrations are pleasant in themselves, and I am always happy to watch my fiance swirl around in her veils, the crowd does get to me after a while and I must retreat to the curb outside the shop, being sure to nab one of Merry's mozzarella sticks on my way out.

This little block of Broadway was bopping with activity - literally, by the high-hat of the jazz quartet across the street. A barbershop next to Merry's had been converted into an art gallery for the evening, generously doling out free liquor, exhibiting tattoo-inspired works of art and drawing a crowd of tattoo-inspired drinkers. After a cursory scan of the art, most of the patrons took their red plastic cups out to the street.

The Merry's crowd and the tattoo-inspired drinker crowd mingled there. For the most part, this mutual sizing-up was conducted silently the way we animals do. A few 22-year old louts, however, manners liberated by free booze, cast themselves as loudmouthed sports commentators narrating the whole proceedings with derisive comments and loud, sniggering laughter.

The Merry's crowd favoured attire from various parts of the world, shirts with mandarin collars or arabesques sewn on, tassles, veils, kufi hats. Besides the full-equipped pirate mentioned earlier, there was a fellow wearing expensive eyeglasses and a conservative haircut who was modeling the wardrobe of a Bedouin playboy complete with turban. Others incorporated some of these elements into what they were wearing, without stumbling across that line where style becomes a costume.

Where is that line, if it even exists? What of the style favored by the tattoo-rocker-drinking crowd, most of whom ignored the art but hung out together modeling for each other their tattoo-rocker attire? The de rigeur black leather jacket, the scuffed boots or shoes, the studied disrepair of their denim and flannel, the carefully positioned watch caps? Had they really dressed less carefully than Abu Greenberg over there, or me in my tie and porkpie hat?

It is easy enough to make fun of or cast scorn on a man dressed as a buccaneer who probably hasn't boarded ship since the last time he rode "It's A Small World" at Disneyland. Yet, as I scanned the crowd for potential security concerns (my future wife and our future child to consider), I noticed that these were folks dressed as tough people. Not one of them looked as though they could take a punch, or throw one.

Most of the time, we wear our uniforms and make our impressions on each other without commentary, but there was a lot of liquor flowing through the crowd on the street, and because Merry's store was stuffed, I had to wait outside and listen to the kids experience their alcohol.

"Look at de pirate! Whaddya you a fag? Aaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha." "Omigaaad lookit dis faggot! Aaaaaa hee hee hee hee hee hee hee [snort snort]." "Ay you snorted! Omigaaaad!" The girl didn't have much to say, so she affirmed her membership in the pack by loudly guffawing at anything that was said. Really, anything.

Somehow I became "Harry Potter." My status as a "faggot" was not clearly established but remained suspicious. They threw a few "faggots" at me to see if I responded. I was too busy, peeking into the cramped shop for a glimpse of my fiance, and then scanning Broadway north and south for any hint of a coffee shop.

* * *

Later in the evening, everyone had "gotten their tribal on," with drums and fire dancing in the alleyway at Colorado Place and Broadway, and it was time to solidify tribal relations over hot food and beer. A group of us landed a table at a nearby pub where large plasma-screen television monitors were broadcasting "ultimate fighting." This is a sport in which two men get their own tribal on by pummeling each other until their faces look like uncooked hamburger. Judges give them scores for this.

Feeling thoroughly primal, cooked meat and ale was brought to the table and we engaged in the ritual of grunts and gestures the experts call "hanging out." There was, however, a disturbance in our tribal structure, as it became apparent that one member of our party had dove a bit deeply into the strong waters.

What we learned about this fellow that evening is that he is one of those folks who becomes a different person when drunk - and the new person is not a pleasure to know. In fact, the new person proved very difficult to be with: foul-mouthed, homophobic, and temperamental. It got bad enough that the evening had to be aborted so the lout could be disposed of properly.

Interestingly, I had seen this man at the beginning of the evening, very carefully ironing a shirt he had selected for the big night. With much care, he had designed his appearance and prepared his costume - only to upstage himself by unraveling in such a spectacular manner.

For all the effort he put into making one kind of impression, he will now be remembered for an impression he made carelessly.

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