He had a messy memory of messes. Messes big and small, by governments and bosses and parents and neighbors... messes from the wind itself and quakes and eruptions. Messes from bad luck and bad decisions... and like he told a reporter from the Toledo Blade, he found his escape was to become the characters that he played on the stage. This is very much applauded in movie stars of a certain ilk, but he was a fifty seven year old convienance store clerk who was bucking a company policy on red hats and t-shirts to dress in drag for a small part in a way, way small theater company. This would have been a lot easier had he been gay, and not divorced and actually half hoping to meet a woman someday...
Though none of his customers showed any outward sign that they were judging him, the general frost on the night was apparent to him a half hour into his shift. One young white guy who looked a little gay himself was particularly nervous, made him lay the money down on the counter instead of taking the bills and change out of his hand...
Another couple in their teens burst out laughing the second they were out the door. One of them yelled something he half heard, but he was pretty sure it had to do with 'aids bait.'
He had figured the southern accent he had effected would clue people in that he was an actor, but he was wrong. During a moment of extreme anxiety that came on the crest of three cups of coffee and maybe ten cigarettes and two candy bars, he simply put a small sign out on in front of the register reading, "I'm just rehearsing for a role. Don't be alarmed."
Of course three or four customers later was a gay guy who pointed at the sign and told him, "Man, I guess you think that gay people are alarming or something, huh? That's just pathetic."
He apologized, pulled the sign down... told himself that he should have known better. And he wondered why, no matter how much he wished it were not so, he gave a shit what strangers thought of him... For the first time in over forty years of acting in this or that community production, he wished to all hell that he had just given up on his principals on this one occasion... no one had cared when he talked in character before, or even when he dressed like a hood, or whatever... his boss had shown up one night and bitched him out for being out of his uniform, but mostly the fifty year old leach ignored the night shift completly.
He felt so shitty that he almost just closed early, but that would really have meant his job, and the small commercials he occasionally did were fewer and farther between as he started pushing out gray hairs and an ever larger gut.
An hour or so before his shift ended, a guy in drag came in. The man in a dress stopped just inside the front door, put her wrists on her hips and yelled, "Oh, you are so brave!" Then he bowed to him. When the guy left, he sat back in his chair and looked around the empty store, down the white linolean rows lined with snacks, into the glass door at the frozen pizza, and felt a little better about his decision, though he knew he wouldn't do it again.
He was letting go of a method of acting that he had believed and half expected to feel bad about it but he didn't... he was surprised to find himself relieved, even. 'I really don't have to do that to be a good actor. In fact, I am not going to be santa from the second week in November until December twenty fifth.' The change would be a real break in tradition with him, since he had taken the part time job almost fifteen years ago, and always seemed to almost magically have no parts about then.
He held his resolve right up until what would normally have been his third day in a Santa suit. He was looking through a pile of bills with one hand, sliding them over the coffee table, while with his other he held the tv remote and flipped through the rotation of seventy five cable channels for the third time in the last fifteen minutes, when he lost his inner struggle, just simply allowed himself to meld into Santa, dropped the remote and ignored the bills, walked almost robotically to his closet, reached in and found his coat, hat, pants and beard.... and he stayed in the red costume with itchy facial hair until he got home from a bar at three am christmas morning, fed his goldfish, set his alarm for work, and went to bed.
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL THE WRITINGS OF JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY... YOU CAN EASILY GET PERMISSION FOR A NON COMMERCIAL REPRINT BY CONTACTING MY EMAIL.