Posted on June 25, 2019
by Steve Janowick
He was running late…as usual.
The man needed to be out the door in the next five minutes if he wanted to make the meeting on time. So, after a few bites off a cold, leftover slice of pizza and a few slugs of Coke Zero, he scurried to the closet to grab his leather Burberry shoes, his best black belt…
and the faces that he’d be donning today.
He kept them in a box next to his baseball caps and neckties. Various facades that he’d wear for whatever the particular occasion called for. He had one for every situation. Masks of distorted perceptions. Veils of false realities: the man was a master at finding the perfect face to present whatever disguise of himself he wanted to, and today he’d need many to get through this meeting.
He was a first timer at this particular business networking luncheon, full of overzealous, a-type personalities looking to schmooze. With their glossy business cards in hand, rehearsed pitches on point and toothy grins finely tuned, the group mingled about during the introduction portion of the meeting.
Then, it was individual presentation time-and since the man was the new guy-he was first up. He was now on the clock and knew the show was starting, the judging about to commence. He stood before them at the head of the table. Feeling their burning stares. Watching their salivating lips widen to expose gnarly fangs-ready to chew this outsider into shreds. So, he quickly pulled out his first face-and began to speak. His voice was loud and reverberated with authority. He stood straight and powerful with shoulders back and used big, important words like “acquiesce” and “capitulate.” He was far from a supremely confident man and he barely finished high school, but his face was fooling them. Fooling them all and fooling them well.
The presentation moved along, and he inconspicuously replaced his mask with another. During his speech, the man’s knock-off Rolex just happened to slide from under his shirt cuffs and become visible as he placed his palms on the butt of the conference table-a technique for effect he had mastered through the years. He could see a few of them checking it out and reveled in their envy. Their imaginings of his wealth and status. Of course, under the mask he was living in a small suburban apartment, in debt up to his eyeballs and completely ashamed and embarrassed of his financial lot in life.
But the show must go on. He had to keep the charade alive.
He quickly put on his last face and ended his presentation with an anecdotal story chock full of funny one-liners and inspirational fluff. This would surely convince them that he was a cheerful guy with a real positive and motivational outlook on life. A fine example of the man who has it all together. The perfect display of the perfect man.
And as he walked back to his seat, amidst the claps of adoration, acceptance and approval, he hoped like hell they couldn’t see all the pain and insecurity behind this face. All the negative emotions. All the disfunction. The total contradiction of everything he just said. Because he was anything but the man he just presented them.
His many faces-his masks-worked. He had fooled them all.
And as he sat and listened to the other men in the group, watched them fumble with their own faces and masks, he realized that these exaggerations and lies and sleights-of-hand were born not from malice or bad intentions. But, rather from survival. From instincts. From centuries of societal norms and pressures. We all sat in that room knowing full well that each of us was telling his own fantastic tale of grandeur. We were frauds. All of us. But being a fraud was a hell of a lot easier than being exposed and naked and vulnerable.
Being weak. Being a failure. Being less of a man.
When the man got home from his meeting he got undressed and carefully and neatly replaced all his faces back in the box. They were important to him and he handled them as such. He felt like he couldn’t survive without them. He knew he’d need them again soon when his wife got home. He’d need them when his kids visited or when he met his father for breakfast. He’d need them when he’d call his friends on the phone and when he’d coach his kid’s team. He’d need them all the time. The man would sometimes dream of the day he could throw them all away, but deep down, in places he rarely visited, he knew he’d probably keep them forever.
That evening, he went into the bathroom to clean up before bed, and after washing his hands in the icy water, his spine straightened, and he was standing erect. What he saw startled him, at first. As he grabbed for the towel and began to mindlessly dry his hands, he paused and reflected for a moment. And after a few more moments that reflection turned sullen. It turned melancholy.
Because staring back at him was the one and only face that knew, and would always know…
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