Christian A. Dumais

Commentary #10.5 (of 28): MASKS

masks-titleEvery so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. Actually, in this case, this story does not appear in the book. But hey, it’s FREE! I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.


This is Halloween of 1999.

One of the things that’s interesting is how Halloween has evolved with our generation, how we haven’t quite let go of it. It’s gone from being an event for children to something a little more risqué and mature for adults. Every year when there is the inevitable scare or warnings about the dangers of Halloween, it has always felt that this was our way of stalling a child’s involvement with the holiday, at least until their older, as if to suggest that Halloween was meant for adults all along.

One of the things about being in Poland these last six years was watching Halloween get bigger and bigger every year, and the celebration is clearly meant for adults. And we take it so seriously too, really embracing the ambiguities that come with the costumes and pretending.

I was playing the part of a successful writer, living in an obscure apartment in New Jersey, writing endlessly, waiting for all the words to die. She was playing the part of a brilliant artist, living in a skinny house in Georgetown, working passionately, waiting for her canvases to catch on fire. We were meeting because at this moment in the chronology it required that we meet and offer one another soundless inspiration; we were to be reciprocating muses. The set was a bar where the music was too loud and the beer was watered-down and cheap. We sipped our beers through our masks, read our lines through the eyeholes, and waited for the director, the one who disappeared behind the bar after he turned the camera on, to return and finally end this scene.

On reflection, it’s interesting that considering I had a fairly respectable job at the time, how often I lied about what I did for a living. Before, when I was simply a pharmacy technician, I never hesitated to tell people what I did, even when it clearly revealed how little money I made. But when I was in DC with Jenny, I’d lie without thinking twice: “Oh, yeah, I’m a writer…a successful one in the New England area,” or “I practice in Tampa. I have three offices in the bay area and I’m thinking of expanding.” Saying I was a writer wasn’t lying exactly, but the successful part was certainly wish fulfillment.

Still, this idea of pretending was an unavoidable theme when writing about Washington. I rarely met anyone there that had their shit together and were comfortable enough to be themselves. I never quite understood how Jenny could handle it as well as she did.

On the way, I accidentally make eye contact with God. I decide to steer clear of him, but as the bartender hands me my beer, God is suddenly right next to me. “I’ll pay for this one,” he says.

He slouches over a bit on his stool and tells me that out of all of his inventions, his favorite is blueberries. “Delicious, absolutely delicious.”

I don’t know what I was shooting for with the scenes with God, though I like the mention of blueberries. As an atheist, I have a fascination with fictional depictions of fictional beings, and it’s fun to pretend what such a being would be like if he or she were suddenly in the room with you. The idea of a drunk god who was a little lost made a lot of sense in 1999. And in many ways, still does.

I remember Jenny not being particularly enthralled about the making out scene.

Go figure.

Next time, back to Empty Rooms Lonely Countries with “$24.99”.

Previous commentaries:

#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#2.5 “Playing With the Dead”**
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#12 “Maintaining”
#13 “Before Waking”
#14 “Re:Flux”
#15 “This is Not for You”
#16 “The Mariachi”

1 comment

  1. Nfpendleton

    I’d never read this story before getting the book, so that was a real treat. I love this one.

Comments are closed.