The power of disguise

Vanessa Pralle

The night prior to The Month of Slaughtered Turkeys, fellow 21-and-older faux Howard Sterns, Spidermen, cereal killers (yes, you read it correctly), nurses, Ronald Reagans, Madonnas and heroin addicts alike crowded into The Wild Onion to share drinks in the spirit of ghoulish Halloween.

In the pulsating upstairs heat, Ron Burgundy and his member interviewed fellow Onioners as Big Bird did shots of creamy Baileys mixed with zangy peppermint schnapps. Zelda the warrior princess socialized freely with the Ghost Busters, while countless other Carebears, G.I. Joes and Bob Marleys conversed over beers and nachos. Harmony was infectious as vicious vampires and poofy pink Princesses alike shook hands and compared costumes, suddenly akin just by virtue of their getup.

Even Little Red Riding Hood mingled and chatted, completely uninhibited by the prospect of a lurking Big Bad Wolf. The tradition of Halloween promoted a mentality matched with the likes of freshmen orientation all over again: strangers approaching one another at random just to talk or to guess at the identity of the face under the mask.

Fast forward ten days and I’m out with girlfriends in Manayunk, sans the costumes, yet including a degree of anonymity. We seek “more mature crowds” and “an opportunity to check out some other bars,” a quest deserving of quotation marks. After buying our own drinks at one establishment, we huddle in what is known as the traditional female circle, previously fashioned by our cave-dwelling ancestors as a means to staying warm.

As we form the circle of busts, the guys cluster, cluster around the bar that is. Rejecting the traditional female circle, the male species engages in “the cluster,” a tactic in which, like sperm vying for access to the precious egg, they wave their arms like flopping flagella, signaling a need for more drinks from bartender.

Our intent in Manayunk was firstly to celebrate one of my roommate’s birthdays, but it was still surprising that the 25+ crowd abided by the same ancient rituals as Brownie-goers.

This prehistoric mating ritual makes me begin to think about costumes, and in particular how we act under the guise of disguise. On Halloween for instance, inhibitions were replaced by newfound freedom because we weren’t us, we embodied them. I transformed into a pillow-stuffed, sunglasses wearing, tattoo sporting, 5’8″ version of Britney Spears accompanied by my not-so-sugar-daddy blue-eyed, stencil-bearded Kevin Federline sporting a shiny diamond earring along with the signature wifebeater. No longer intimidated by the prospect of being judged for me, I chatted with confidence and ease, something I dare say I wouldn’t normally do, with the night in Manayunk as a prime example.

At the same time, there’s always a flip side: the actions we take while masked can prove far uglier than anything we’d do in public. I’m not referring to any occasional nose-picking or a slip of the eye onto the class protégé’s test, but larger scale things, like how we act while zooming past someone while driving a car.

On Sunday, a friend and I set off down Montgomery Avenue from Bryn Mawr and into the direction of Villanova to check out Old Gulph Road, a route promising foliage bursting with a myriad of color. The ride begins peacefully enough, two girls exercising on an unnaturally warm November day (thanks, global warming!), relishing the crisp air laden with the scent of chimney smoke, memories of lying in the earthy-smelling piles of leaves when – HONK! “Get the f*** off the road!” shatters our idyllic utopia.

As I struggle to regain my balance, instinctively I look up in time to catch a glimpse of the silver, window-tinted Audi proudly displaying a Vanderbilt sticker stretched across the back window. For the sake of professionalism, I’ll decline to mention my modus operandi for retaliation, but the incident triggered thoughts regarding how different our daily lives if we acted as impulsively towards one another without the masquerade.

Had that driver been face to face with me, I bet he wouldn’t have dared to honk or share inarticulate obscenities, but since he sped by without risking identification and public culpability, he was able to act rudely with no consequence. Imagine blowing a horn into someone’s ear in the produce department after they swipe the last asparagus. Or flippin’ the bird when called on to interpret a text in class.

The paradigm of freedom and restraint captures the essence of disguise, a newfound confidence for better and for worse. No need to be alarmed if a statuesque Britney Spears impersonator approaches you for conversation. Just expect her to unveil her true identity.