I’m a pretty decent guy. I treat people with respect and compassion most of the time and generally try not to be a scumbag. For some reason, though, I’ve always found it very amusing to be perceived as a scumbag. When I was a kid, my mother and grandfather went to great lengths to instill in me the notion that image was of utmost importance. My hair was close cropped and parted neatly on one side. My clothes were of a conservative (albeit very inexpensive) variety. Much to their chagrin, my taste for the flamboyant developed within a couple of years of my graduation from high school. I still remember the look on my mother’s face when I first came home with a shoulder-length mop of curly, bleached blond hair. “You look disgusting,” she said with a hurt look on her face. All I could do was stifle an evil chuckle. When I added a beard to the ensemble, it elicited a much more mirthful response from my grandfather. “Benjamin,” he said in his Italian accent, “You look ridiculous! You look like jesus!” I mean jesus, what’s not funny about that?! It made my mother’s pain truly worth it.
Since that time, I’ve gone through several different styles, of varying degrees of ridiculousness. Whether involving clothing, hair, facial hair, or some combination of those elements, they usually produced groans, sighs, worried frowns, and other subtle and not-so-subtle signals of disapproval from the ol’ nuclear family. “What’s with the beat-up motorcycle jacket? What happened to that nice jacket i bought you for your birthday?” my mom asked, her brow knitted into a worried frown. As a substitute teacher at a high school, nothing was more amusing to me than showing up at work looking like a criminal, all decked out in the motorcycle jacket and a pair of beat up jeans, sporting chuck taylors and a pair of huge black sunglasses. The kids no doubt thought I was some sort of drug dealer. Like I said…hilarious.
The latest ill-advised fashion cue involved shorter hair, but in lieu of long hair or weird clothes was a ridiculous 70s-style handlebar mustache, which I must admit made me look quite the creeper. There were a number of different clothing ensembles I could choose from to accentuate the skeeziness of the John Holmes ‘stache, but my favorite usually involved a crappy t-shirt, one of those orange vests that people go hunting in, and a pair of brown-tinted aviators that looked like they fell out of Burt reynolds’ pocket when he jumped out of his ’78 Trans Am in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
That’s how I was dressed one evening when I decided to meet some friends at a party down the street from my house. I’m usually not inclined to wear fancy collared shirts out on the town, and since this was a run-of-the-mill neighborhood party, I was even less inclined to do so. Off I went in my aviators and hunting vest, ‘stache perched proudly upon my lip in redneck defiance of the changes in fashion which had occurred over the past twenty or thirty years. I was standing there talking to a friend and minding my own business when two rather well-dressed girls approached me. “Excuse me,” one of them said in a foreign accent that sounded vaguely familiar. I took a step back, staring in disbelief at these two gorgeous women, looking around for who they were really talking to. Both of them were wearing what looked to me like designer dresses. “Yes, excuse me,” she repeated.
“Who ME?” I asked incredulously.
The other one stepped towards me, leaning in close, licking her pink lipstick-smeared lips and whispering with a seductive smile on her face, “Yes, ah, we were wondering where to find the co-ca-yeena.”
“The WHAT?” I stammered, at first thinking they were joking, but seeing in their eyes that they were serious, actually thinking that I was a coke dealer. “Oh, ah, ha ha ha…I’m really flattered that you think I’m a coke dealer,” I said with an earnest grin on my face, scarcely able to contain my amusement, “but I really have no idea where to find any coke. Sorry!”
“Really?” one of them said doubtfully. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, man,” I said, laughing. “I’m not being overly cautious about my, er, business or anything, I’m just really not a coke dealer!”
“Oh, eets just that you look like American coke dealer from movie, and we thought that ees what coke dealer look like.”
“Where are you guys from?” I asked.
“We are both from Milano,” she said. Italians! No wonder they looked so chic! I began to speak to them in my severely limited Italian, but was able to make myself understood. A couple of greasy-looking dark-haired guys came over when they heard Italian being spoken and introduced themselves. I don’t remember their names, but to me they looked like the coke dealers! One of them was tall and spacey-looking with one of those classic euro mullets, and the other had his oily dark hair slicked back, ala used car salesman. Oily hair said he was Sicilian, so we had something to talk about for a few minutes, until he tried to convince me that he was part of the Gambino crime family. I couldn’t eat that load of shit, so I politely excused myself and rejoined my friends.
Smiles and high fives were the order for the rest of the evening as I regaled everyone I knew with the story. I had graduated to the hallowed PhD of douchbaggery — coke dealer. To me, that’s even better than people thinking you’re a pimp — pimps dress way too classy. The only thing that might have been better is if the girls who had approached me had been white trash girls asking me if I cooked methamphetamine or something. Now that would’ve been the ultimate honor, for sure sending me to the scumbag Valhalla. For the time being though, I was able to bask in the warm glow of amusement. At the end of the day, I know I’m legit, and my friends know I am, too. Hell, even my family, although they disapprove of the way I look sometimes, knows that the guy inside is ok. No matter what label people slap on the outside, only those who probe a little deeper will find the value of a person. I’ve met clean cut guys and pretty girls who are some of the nastiest motherfuckers walking the face of the planet. Conversely, it’s been my pleasure to know guys who looked like spicoli and women who you might assume just walked off the set of planet of the apes who are not only intelligent and intellectually stimulating, but some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. It sounds cliche, but I guess it just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover — it might not actually be a coke dealer inside.