March 8, 2007
"Beware the beautiful masked woman on Purim."
I texted a young friend after midnight on Saturday night, before my carriage turned into a Purim pumpkin. Because when he saw me, he didn't know it was me.
I suppose I couldn't blame him: My hair was blown out straight and silky, I was wearing a fancy lace strapless number because I'd been at a wedding that day and, for the occasion of Purim, I donned an extravagant purple-feathered eye mask.
I didn't exactly mean to go incognito, but when my friend Ben didn't recognize me -- even after chatting with me for a minute at the noisy Purim carnival -- I realized I was onto something: I could be anyone.
Don't get me wrong, I like myself. I "really, really like me." Most of the time, anyway. But there are scant opportunities in life to observe other people at their most boisterous and maintain anonymity -- unless you count watching reality television. This was my chance to actually interact with people who were being completely and totally themselves, albeit dressed up as something other than themselves.
Costumes have a way of doing that for a person; paradoxically, by shifting their persona, they can shine and be their best selves.
This is probably why I have always loved "fancy dress" parties. Growing up religious, Purim was one of my only opportunities for wearing a costume, aside from theme parties (preppie/nerd, literary characters, etc.). In the last few years I've added Halloween to my repertoire, but here in Los Angeles a costume party seems to be an excuse to dress as sluttily as possible -- which, in principle, I'm not necessarily against -- but bearing one's belly button, to my mind, defies the whole notion of not revealing oneself.
For me, just dressing up is not enough. On Thursday, at a Purim party at Pearl's, sponsored by Atid, Stephen S. Wise and Taglit/Birthright, I was a flapper in a white shimmying dress, white stole and long cigarette (I didn't inhale). It was glam and fun (I won a prize! Although I came in behind "Jews for Cheeses").
But at Saturday night's Ikar social justice carnival I realized what I really want from a costume party: To be masked. Concealed. Hidden. Veiled. I suppose I could have gone in a burka (topical, yet modest!), but I think my dramatic streak has always yearned for masquerade balls of old -- women swathed in layers of satin, bewigged in piles of curls, corseted in laces that squeezed the lifeblood out of them, ensconced behind bejeweled masks -- identities so subsumed they could lose themselves for the night.
And so it came to pass, in the Time of the New Millennia in the land of Angels ... at J-Connect's party on Sunday night, I went completely undercover. To match my purple mask, I wore a purple lace vintage dress (wire stays instead of corset) and the most mysterious smile I could muster. Because, apparently, it's not the eyes that are the window to the soul, but the smile.
"Is that Amy Klein?" said my friend Avi, who had overlooked me in a group conversation until I grinned.
"You should write more because I want to read about someone who feels as miserable as I do," he said.
I quickly pulled my mask down as I made my way around the room, eavesdropping, conversing, listening and flirting.
Meeting people in costume is a double-edged sword: It's mysteriously alluring, but what if the man under the sufi hat has no hair?
"What if your cheeks are as fuzzy as your mask?" one suitor asked, begging for a peek. Since it was only my eyes, I lifted the mask for a moment, to assuage him that I wasn't Chewbacca.
"Do I know you?" others said. I shook my head, no, with a smile.
Tonight I didn't want to be known. Amid the sea of costumes, from the store-bought (policeman, red riding hood, etc.) to the topical (a dead-on mustachioed Borat) and the minimalist (cowboy/girl, pirate, kitten) and a scantily clad belly dancer or two (see: Halloween), I was one of the few to remain faceless.
What does that say about me? Am I secretly afraid to reveal my truest self? And what does it say about those who don't dress up at all? Are they so unabashedly themselves they don't need to hide behind a costume? Or are they just afraid to let go? Do they not know the beauty of the Purim commandment, to get drunk enough so you don't know the difference between "Cursed Haman" and "Blessed Mordechai?" (Do they even know who Haman and Mordechai are?) Do they not know that Purim is a time to shake it up a bit; be someone you normally aren't -- or at least different from how others may see you?
That was what my costume afforded me: the ability to escape others' perception of me for the evening. Yes, behind the mask, it was still me in there, intermittently wondering things like, what am I doing here? Why can't I be lying on my couch reading the Sunday New York Times? Does red wine stain? But no one knew it was me, and that allowed me to mostly escape myself. My sometimes fabulous, sometimes neurotic, multifaceted, misunderstood self.
So yes, t'was I behind the purple plumed feathers. Sorry if I didn't say hello.
But heads-up for next Purim: I think I'll be wearing a burka.
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