Recent Travels and How We Wear Masks

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I have had the pleasure of traveling to what are two very diverse venues. The first is Las Vegas, where the evenings and mornings have little distinction. The second is the greater Toronto area, where I traveled for business.

I had never been to Las Vegas before and it was enjoyable to bask in the warm weather and eat good food, ignoring the fact that my credit card bill would later taunt me. I was struck by the variety of personalities on the Strip. There were older couples in expensive suits and dresses, college kids stumbling in an inebriated state, rough-looking folks with torn and stained shirts. At times I felt out of place, being a tattoo-less, middle-class suburbanite. I didn’t come with money or flair.

My wife and I are not big gamblers, but we did manage to see a couple of shows — Criss Angel and Cirque du Soleil: Mystere. I am a sucker when it comes to magic shows (my favorite by far was at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles — you have to go!). What I saw from Criss Angel was a mixed bag. He did some amazing tricks, disappearing and reappearing at lightning speed. I was turned off by the Vegas-style raunchy humor, particularly when it was focused around a 14 or 15 year old. I mean, seriously — how long can you joke about the number 69 before it isn’t funny anymore (the answer is 0 seconds). But overall, I’d give it a B for cool props and stunning tricks.

There is not much to say about Cirque du Soleil other than it is Ah-May-Zing. The sheer strength and balance of the acrobats defies natural physics more than any magic show I’ve seen. I absolutely loved the show. Maybe the best show I’ve been to of any form. There are several Cirque du Soleil shows and I would definitely go back just to watch another one.

In both shows, the showmen and women were outfitted in various costumes. Some wore masks, others wore outfits that gave the audience a different perception of who they were. Outside of the show, I wondered if some of the vacationers were wearing figurative masks as well. Las Vegas. Sin City. Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. How many people go there with an adventurous personality that isn’t their own? Wearing sequined dresses and black jackets to live it up, secretly doing things that some of their friends or families wouldn’t approve of. Finally able to hide in unanimity among other sin-seekers. These are the masks I saw many people wearing (or perhaps masks unveiled for the first time).

I contrast this with my recent trip up to Toronto. Here, people showed genuine friendliness to me, the foreigner. A cleaning lady at work offered to wipe the table I was at and then wished me safe travels when I left. A stranger gave me advice at where to eat. A lady at the gas station helped me when I couldn’t get my credit card to work in the machine. People helping people. A sense of genuine compassion. There was no masquerade ball. Come as you are, outsider. You’re welcome here.

I came to realize that there are many places where we are more inclined to wear masks. Perhaps the most common place is the internet. My profile shows me atop a camel in the desert sands of Jordan, but don’t be fooled, fair readers — I am not the jet-setting vacationer that this post and my profile make me out to be. I am an ordinary guy who lives in midwestern suburbia. I have a wife and kids and a steady job and happen to love reading and writing.

Others use their children as masks or develop an online persona that is completely different from who they are in real life. It’s not that people are fake — I don’t think that is the case. In some instances it is the desire to have privacy. In others, it is a desire to grow to be someone better than who they see themselves.

I think my ideal state is one where I don’t need a mask. Where I can act the same way around my family as I do my work friends as I do around the people at my church. As I do with people online. This is not always an easy thing to do.

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