The Observer got out to the Arkansas Arts Center over the weekend for its annual costume sale, when the Children's Theater there cleans out the closet of all the outfits they have no more use for. We fully expected the joint to be mobbed, overrun with people playing dress up and dress down, dress all around, chicken pirates and spy squirrels, invaders from Mars and Kansas farm girls dreaming of no place like home. But when we got there it was just the vast, empty theater, a table on the stage manned by some bored-looking folks spending a perfectly good Saturday cooped up indoors, and a handful of people wandering around.
We went up and joined them, poking through the costumes: rubber duck heads and chicken feet, a hideous rubber pig mask; funny hats; clown costumes; shoes; boots; moccasins; jumpsuits and spacesuits and business suits; a complete foam-rubber brain with wires poking out of it: everything one might need if they were hankering to become somebody else, or several somebody elses at once. We didn't find anything we couldn't live without, but we could see where the sale could be a daydreamy kid's paradise. To boot, everything there was thrift-store cheap. We could have filled the trunk of the Mobile Observatory a couple of times over for less than the cost of a meal at Waffle House, and might have, were the tiny closets of The Observatory not already stuffed with so much junk that Spouse worries we're edging toward a need for a televised hoarder intervention. So, we left it all there, for the next dreamer.
It's been a while since The Observer has been on the stage, and while Spouse picked through the clown shoes and princess dresses, we stood there for a minute and looked out at the empty seats, all set on a slope for the best and least obstructed view, and imagined how intoxicating it must feel to stand there and look out into a thousand eyes, to hear the laughter or weeping, and know you were directly responsible. The Observer doesn't have the face or build or voice to be an actor, unless someone is looking to cast a particularly portly Falstaff, but we've been in love with at least the idea of the stage ever since we played Jack Be Nimble in preschool, accidentally busting our candlestick but good while attempting a not-so-nimble leap over it. The unexpected peals of laughter we got from the crowd when we dropped to our knees and frantically attempted to screw the waxy shards back into the candlestick holder so we could continue was enough to turn us into a world-class class clown and attention hound, which is — come to think of it — part of the reason you're reading this right now. Lives turn on tiny things, friends. Dragonflies beat their wings and create swirls that create breezes that create winds that fill sails on ships that bear young lovers apart, the sea forever between them. Don't ever believe it isn't true.
And so, The Observer stood there on the stage, looked out, and imagined a life unlived and a path not taken: someone else's clothes, someone else's words, but a passion and voice and intensity provided by Yours Truly. "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow, you cataracts and hurricanoes, 'til ye have drowned our steeples!" Or: "We are waiting for Godot." Or: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." The Observer, who has long looked at passing cars on the highway and distant planes winging through the blue sky and thought what it must be like to be an entirely different someone, going about his own life, with his own problems and concerns, could, in all likelihood, really get down with the idea of pretending to be someone else for a while. It must be a frightening and exhilarating thing, we think: "To be or not to be ... that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them." What a life that must be.
Soon, however, Spouse tired of looking at the donkey tails and comically large glasses and hitched up her purse onto a shoulder, which is always our cue to exit stage left. Adieu, my dear imaginary audience. You have been wonderful. From the depths of this poor player's heart, we thank you.