Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Woman In The Uniform


Sylvia has two unusual qualities that make her a bit of an outcast.  First, she likes to dress in uniforms which she purchases at thrift stores and then carefully modifies them to remove any organizational tie.  At first glance, she appears to be a park ranger or scout leader of some kind.  For example, yesterday she wore lovingly shined vintage brown leather boots that came to her mid-calf.  Khaki pants billowed from her thighs like she was a lion tamer.  Tucked into the pants was a neutral tan button down shirt with amulets.  The look was topped off with a neckerchief and a flat-topped kepi style cap like worn by Charles de Gaulle.  This is not a look shared by many women in their late 20s and tends to make others nervous.  Young boys scatter when they see her, assuming she is an authority figure of some type.  Sylvia never seems to notice her effect on others and maintains a slight smile like she has just remembered a private amusing story.

Sylvia has a proclivity to spend hours upon hours wandering graveyards.  She can be seen tramping around any cemetery of historical interest, usually carrying a cloth satchel where she keeps her supplies to make her etchings.  On a good day, she must be able to make dozens of etchings.  She appears to be particularly interested in gothic tablet stone designs, but this only my opinion based on casual observation and not one she ever shared with me.  I often notice her walking great distances around town in her various uniforms, almost always alone.  It appeared she had a friend from the Art Institute that liked to accompany her from time to time and take photographs, but she must have graduated as I can’t recall seeing her in the last couple of years.

I met Sylvia when she sat next to me at a restaurant with an extensive vegan menu.  She placed her satchel on the stool next to me and was slightly humming as she glanced at the menu.  I thought she was in some type of youth corps based on her outfit until it hit me she had no insignia of any kind.  When the waiter came over she asked a series of very deliberate questions about many of the vegan options on the menu.  She finally ordered a cheeseburger eliciting a frown from the guy behind the counter.  I couldn’t help but ask, “You didn’t care for the vegan options?”.  She turned towards me with the slight bemused smile and said, “I don’t like vegan food very much.”  Well, why did you ask about the menu options in such great detail?  “I like to know stuff.” she answered. 

That would have been my opportunity to ask about why she was wearing a uniform, but her food arrived before I could get into it.  She happily dug into the burger, swaying her head back and forth slightly as she continued the almost imperceptible humming.  She almost radiated joy.  It made me recall a conversation I heard once between a doctor and patient in a movie.  The patient said "Doctor, I just haven't been happy lately.".  The doctor looked at the patient for a moment's pause and said "You know, there's a large section of the population that is never happy.  Maybe you need to enjoy the periods in which you are happy a little more and try to better get through the periods where you aren't."  It's a grim diagnosis but probably realistic.  Yet somehow this young woman in her costume clothes had figured it out.  She always appears happy and with purpose.

Maybe there is something to the idea of wearing a modified costume every day.  In the beginning, every day would seem like Halloween.  I think you couldn't help but feel self-conscious.  Then you would slowly forget you were wearing a 1920s looking Mexican Federales uniform and it would transition into "your look".  The risk is that one day you wake up and find yourself to be working as an aging clerk in a store while looking like a pirate in comfortable trainers, sort of like Keith Richards on a budget.

There was a man I met in Stuttgart once that went to a Daredevils show, Frau Schmutz.  He lived a very meager life in a small apartment.  He would save his money to attend two or three live events a month adorned in special clothes he made himself.  It was noteworthy that his clothes in this case were assless chaps and a sparkly gold skin tight t-shirt.  It wasn't festish wear so much as his own idea of a personal style.  He was completely ambivalent about other people remarking on his skinny pale exposed ass and mocking his appearance.  He liked what he liked and could not care less about expectation or social norms.  When we played, he danced right up front, 100% focused on the music.  He gave himself totally to the experience.

I had heard Frau Schmutz died earlier this year alone in his apartment, surrounded by the racks of clothes he had made himself.  He had attended a live music event just days earlier, and by all accounts, had a great time.  He lived on his terms, regardless of how out of step they were with the prevailing trends.  In a way, he might have been one of the most "punk rock" people I have ever met.  It takes a special person to walk their own path, especially when that path is controversial. 

Today I will keep an eye out for Sylvia.  The weather is favorable to make some nice etchings.  I suspect she will have a small secret smile as she steps out the door today, resplendent in whatever homemade uniform she has chosen.  People dismiss her as "weird" or at best "a character", but it seems like she might have something figured out.       

  


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