Mask for Masc
I’ve always embraced the idea that art is everywhere...it fills our everyday lives...from the chalkboard illustrations at the corner coffee shop to the carefully curated collection of flowering pots on my neighbor’s porch. Graphic T-shirts, whimsical lawn ornaments, printed fabric...it’s everywhere. Art is there to inspire emotion, to reflect life, and at its core, engage us...to encourage conversation.
Today was destined to be a good day...
I managed a hair cut recently, so the face looking back at me in the the morning mirror, is familiar again...if not fuller. There was that little extra pep in my step that comes from a nice shower, a clean shave, and a regular intestinal tract. I had awoken an hour earlier than necessary and instead of going back to bed, rewarded with no need to rush, I spent some time in the studio laying out my next piece before getting dressed for work.
Today was destined to be a good day. As many of you know, when I’m not painting, sewing, or making in my studio, I work as an event designer...where I basically do the same stuff, but instead of an art fair or gallery, those creations are destined for a hotel ballroom or country club for someone’s party or event.
With the arrival of Covid 19, we’ve seen all of our hard won events canceled or postponed. First, my staff and I were furloughed, and told to shelter in place. I took full advantage of this time, taking an online course in color theory and subsequently churned our several paintings exploring new techniques. Then, through the help of the government’s PPP, and the diligence of my employer, we found ourselves with 8 weeks of work, so I put my brushes down, and returned to a job that I love. Unfortunately, events were still canceled, so the work available to us was the monotonous maintenance work, that is necessary but not particularly fun. We repaired rental items, we cleaned and scrubbed, we inventoried and organized. We also took the time to create items we would need when we could get back out there and do what we do best.
We made respectable uniform masks for our team members, and the employees of our sibling companies...and then my soft goods crew and I rummaged through our personal stashes for any novelty fabric we had put away. Suddenly the solid color, and subtle striped fabric masks we saw around the warehouse were replaced with sports themed fabrics, chickens, jungle animals, ice cream cones, watermelon, tractors, pin up girls, and the like.
The eight weeks flew by, and like a white trash boyfriend, the PPP ran out. This Friday was our last day before being furloughed again.
But still...today was destined to be a good day. We had an actual event to set up! I was so excited I showed up 20 minutes early, and was there to see my team arrive 15 minutes early...they were as excited as I was. The install went great. It was wonderful to do what we do. I felt energized, if not a little breathless...our grey uniform masks were stiff and hot, so when we finished and I got back to the car I ripped it off. We were done sooner than expected, and with nothing else scheduled and still on a high from our setup, I decided to run some errands before heading home.
We needed some supplies for a small project so I ambled off to the Home Depot. I parked and made to get out of the car, when I remembered that I would need a mask. I looked at the sodden grey work mask, thought “ech”, and reached for one of my fun print cotton masks instead. I slipped the elastic behind my ears, and headed to the paint department. I maneuvered through the aisles, skipping from “6ft” sticker, to “6ft” sticker, casually placing my feet on top of the footprint icon like the rule obeyer I am, ever inching towards the counter.
Finally it was my turn to give them my custom color requests. I’d been watching the trio of employees working in their paint department plexi glass cage; I like to “bet” on who will finish first to take the next client. Would it be, the suburban dad, the “my mom said I had to get a summer job” pop star princess, or the young nerd who has apparently never seen a Proactive commercial? The employee that ambled over to help me was not the princess; a pretty black girl with a nose ring and cascade of neon pink braids, that you know is doing TikTok videos to Beyoncé, with the gay boy from gardening, behind the lawnmower display on their break. Nor was it the nerd; a young Asian man with a funny T-shirt picturing a sloth (the icon of slow service...ya know, Oprah says “when people show you who they are, pay attention”) under his orange, paint stained vest. Oh he had bad skin...really bad skin. I Inexplicably found myself remembering a Dr. Pimple Popper video, and was therefore distracted when the suburban dad asked how he could help me.
I did a quick revision of my earlier assessment, and upgraded him from “dad” to “Daddy”. Late 30’s, shaved head, well filled shorts (he did not skip “leg day”), and an obvious proponent of second amendment rights, as I was immediately ushered into the “gun show”.
For my opening gambit I went with what I like to refer to as my “I’m not like your other customers, I’m a fun customer” smile. I should point I’m under no false impression about my physical appearance...I’m fast approaching 60, and more than 60 lbs. overweight...my goal is to hit that “adorable little old man category”. You know, “he was cute...give him some extra stir sticks” kind of deal.
My smile seemed to miss the mark. Mr. Suburbia stared at me slightly confused, but all business. I thought, if I’m hoping for a free paint can opener, I need to up my game...wait...duh, I’m wearing a mask, no wonder my smile didn’t work. He walked over to the paint contraption and started tapping in the pigment code. I prepared to share with him that I was a personal friend of Sarah Berh, daughter of the man who developed the machine that he was currently using...cuz I’m cool like that, when he fixed me with his sharp gaze and dazzling smile. I froze, and he said “you know, I used to be a fitness model”.
I did not know.
I also did not know what I expected him to say, but that was not it.
He went on “...obviously I had a lot more muscle mass then”. Was I supposed to interject here? Was he expecting me to say “I can’t imagine you with more mass, you’re perfect as you are” so that I could get discount on a drop cloth? He pounded the lid back on to the first can and swung it towards the shaker. He hit the start button and then struck a classic pose, and held it. What the fuck was going on? I looked to those behind me in line, but no one was engaged. He continued on, naming a local artist ( a well known gay artist). He asked if I was familiar with him, (because we all know each other).
Before I could answer, he was loading my second can of paint with pigment, while telling me that he was the model/ muse for several of the artist’s prominent pieces. “He used my torso for this piece...he used my back and arms for this piece...he used my ass for this piece”. I bit my tongue to keep the “I bet he did!” from leaping off my lips.
As if sensing I was on the verge of contributing something meaningful to our exchange, he came closer and in a conspiratorial tone informed me, while waving a hand around his groin, “he always used the same model for the really important bit, not that there is anything wrong with my equipment”.
Let’s take a second and recap, for those who are skimming.
-I am in a crowded Home Depot
-A total stranger is sharing his physique related career choices with me while flexing & posing.
-He has assured me, with accompanying hand gestures, that there is nothing lacking in the area of his personal endowment...in public.
This could only mean one thing...my new haircut was sexy AF!
I’m speechless. He ducks down to retrieve my paint, opens it, marks the color on the lid, and putting those biceps through their paces, his rubber mallet seals the deal. He slides the cans to me, under the plexi glass shield.
He places a stack of stir sticks, and a complimentary paint can opener on top of my purchases.
With a smile and a wink he leans forward and tells me “we’ve got a good deal on disposable drop cloths, and...you keep doing you”.
Thinking “what the hell does that mean!” I work my way through checkout, and out into the parking lot; my head still spinning.
I slide into the drivers seat, catch my reflection in the rear view mirror, and froze...I saw the mask on my face, and all questions were answered.
It was art...just doing its thing.