Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Coming Singularity of Facial Discomposure

In a posting titled "Mask Laxness", I wrote:
I worry that once we finally cast off our masks I may be unable to stop the mouth-breathing, brazen smirking, silent mumbling, old-mannish lip-licking, and shoddy face-shaving.
Hope you enjoyed the clammy imagery. But that's not all. There's also the part I've carried with me from the before times: startling, off-putting discomposure.

I'm not a composed person. I don't practice in front of mirrors. I don't mask myself, metaphorically (only literally!). Much like Aretha, I want to feel like a natural woman. Well, "want" is the wrong term. I've backed myself into a corner. Having chosen not to pose or prevaricate, and to concentrate entirely on being rather than seeming, my affect is that of someone who's stepped in from a whole other movie.

"Excuse me, sir; can you tell me how to get to Rigel 04-1170?"

With regards to my face, while my features are all more or less where they ought to be, aside from a very slight asymmetry which forever excludes me from "10 Hottest" lists (even "10 Hottest Trombonist/Food Writers"), I don't wear my features with any composure whatsoever. It all flops around. I'm like a walking Picasso painting. Wait; is that his left eye?

Mostly, it's because I'm just not trying to sell anybody anything. You might not think you are, either, but, hahaha, oh, you are. You are. This is Planet Glengarry Glen Ross, and, believe me, you always be closing. Since I'm not using my face to constantly convince people who I am, it all just sort of flaps around. It's a little eerie. Sometimes I plant a befuddled grin, which reassures no one.

But widespread discomposure is imminent, and I can hardly wait. In a few months, when the COVID masks come off, and everyone's temporarily out of practice on the facial composure front, I'll enjoy a brief glorious moment of fitting in. I will dash from bar to bar, chatting up women who'd normally be deemed "out of my league." I will pass people who don't cough (I've previously noted that usually when people walk by, they cough. "Always the same short, dry, phony cough, releasing some of the tension. God, how I loathe that cough."). I will amiably shake strangers' hands, introducing myself and randomly offering food tips.

There will be a brief respite. Sex-occupied people won't interpret my discordant affect as lechery or perversion. Homophobes won't suspect gayness. Paranoids won't spot threat. The insecure won't read sneering superiority, and conformists won't see Tasmanian devil chaos. For a blessed day or two, I'll be just another human with no recognizable marketing agenda writ large on his face.

Back when I was more normal - more sales-minded - I had a terrifying glimpse of my future.

At age 26, I was strolling through the market in Tangiers, Morocco a couple of hours before my avante-jazz concert in the local cultural center. I found myself walking behind two women wearing formless abaya over-garments plus head-covering hijabs. Maybe I was intrigued by the exoticness of the full Muslim monty right before my eyes, or perhaps the abaya had inadvertently passed on a few bytes of topographical contour data sufficient to seize my attention. Who knows. But I found myself daydreaming about the very different lives of these women. Simple, pure, devout. Like nuns, only more so!

Suddenly, in mid rumination, I was startled out of my wits. The women had been conversing with animation and lots of hand movement, and one of them, sensing something behind her, partially swiveled her head in mid-conversation to peer back through the corner of her eye. I didn't expect her face to be bare, nor did I expect a level of disorienting, soul-bursting beauty that had never occurred to me as possible. What's worse, our .75 seconds of eye contact downloaded a few yottabytes of information, which I instantly parsed as far deeper, richer aliveness than I'd ever imagined this world to be capable of offering. She lived in vibrant technicolor, me in drab black and white.

Simple nuns my ass.

It was nothing as corny as "love at first sight", or spotting a particularly cute chick. This was graduation day, to a level of existence entirely unknown to me in my suburban shopping mall upbringing of foosball and slice pizza. A window had opened to reveal an infinite, enticing landscape and I could never again feel content in the airless little box I'd called a life.

That's what unfolded inside my head during those .75 seconds. Outside, my normally reasonably well-composed face at the time (ABC! Always be closing!) flapped around like a startled flounder. It was my first instance of facial Picasso. I wasn't even composed enough to express "disoriented confusion" or "bashfulness". This was what a face looks one-ninth of the way into forming an expression of bashful confusion. Neurons twitching and muscles lurching. This was what a mouth does as it struggles to form the initial "w" in "WTF".

The Pinnacle of Human Experience effortlessly pivoted her head back to conversation with her friend, and, in the blink of an eye, they turned right onto an adjoining street and vanished into the crowd.

I didn't follow, because I couldn't imagine what I, a mere ant, could possibly say or do to merit the attention of such higher life forms. My opportunity had passed, and my face had just waved around like bonito flakes.

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