Pecs and the City


Nerd. Jock. Fag. Geek. Brain. Slut. Burnout. Bitch. Loser. Druggie. Freak. In high school, labels were applied as liberally as an emo’s eyeliner. Trying to pigeonhole individuals into a certain category seemed to be an all-encompassing hobby. Even if you were a hybrid, like a brainy loser, one label always won out over the rest.

Some of these were accurate, especially when an athlete showed his mettle on the field or an honor student brought home a straight-A average. Some were merely attached with poison rumor — the drama student who may or may not be gay and the beautiful girl who put out on the first date — or did she?

These are the labels that can tarnish someone’s reputation and turn teenagers into bloodthirsty vipers ready to attack at a moment’s notice. We all know now that high school is not real life — not by a long shot — but the person who we were will always be floating behind the surface of our grown-up gaze. Maybe we were the gay kid or the slutty skank or even the doped-up rocker. The question is: can we escape our past?

In high school, when you finally graduate after what seems like 20 years, you take what you want and leave the rest behind. When I was in high school I went from scrawny quiet nerd to scrawny loud theater geek to scrawny bleached blonde skater boy, all the while being called every variation of fag that you can imagine.

Granted, I was every inch a fag, but I also knew other guys, especially in my theatre and skateboarding experience, who weren’t. But because their ears were pierced or they could sing or their hair stood up in spikes apparently that meant they were supposedly fags, too. How succinct.

The word fag is tossed around quite a bit even now. “Don’t be such a fag” basically translates to “don’t be less than what people may or may not think a man is”, as opposed to what it really means, which is “don’t be such a homosexual who provides the world with beauty, art, drama and culture while wearing $300 jeans and showing off your gym-honed body in tight t-shirts”. At least that’s how I translate it.

So you remember how it was in high school, right? People calling each other names and making fun of the way other people dressed or looked while secretly wondering if everyone else was doing the same to them.

So what makes that any different now when you hear someone called a slut or a drunk or a cracked-out mess or a stupid muscle boy? There is no difference. Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t, but the labels could merely apply to your past — that inescapable ball and chain we all drag behind us.

For example, years ago when I was out every weekend tossing back the drinks, snorting up the powder, popping whatever pill made the lights brighter and the music better, you can see how I might have gotten the reputation of being somewhat of a party boy, right? However crazy I might have been acting back then, as opposed to the less altered state I currently reside in, the people I encountered in that haze of narcotics will remember me as that type of person. Once again, just like in high school, my new label is applied with Super Glue. And a brand new past is written, painted over whatever I was in the 11th grade.

I also discovered that labels come with certain, shall we say, professions. Since I used to take my clothes off for a living, people would assume that I was also a trick-turning slut. Anyone who’s shaking their ass in a jockstrap in front of complete strangers has to be willing to do just about anything, right? That’s the presumption that comes with taking on a job which gives you paper cuts from new dollar bills in places that should never have paper cuts, and owning way too many pairs of underwear that have never been worn under anything.

Suffice it to say there were plenty of boys in this revolving stable who lived up to exactly what people assume strippers act like both in the club and outside of it. Me, not so much. But I did learn first-hand about guilt by association as did the other guys who didn’t take it to the next level, so to speak.

Nowadays, people still bring up my halcyon days as a stripper — I’m sorry, I mean, a dancer. Right. To paraphrase Showgirls, I don’t know what I did at this club, but it wasn’t dancing. But I can tell you this: it earned me another label that wasn’t true. And I can guarantee that any girl who has found herself swinging around a pole to Warrant’s Cherry Pie has the exact same label applied to her whether she’s a single mom or studying to be a lawyer or just plain needs the attention. Funny how that works, right?

The past just doesn’t hold who you were or what you’ve done. It also holds the people who remain in your memory; the ones trapped like flies in Kodak amber. They smile in your photographs, their faces frozen forever in eternal happiness no matter how your relationship came to an end or faded away like the stars at dawn.

See, that’s the thing: there are never any pictures of people having a horrible time. When you look at old photos, everyone is smiling and everyone is happy regardless of what was going on behind the scenes. These people populate your background like movie extras, occasionally showing up and bringing memories rushing back with stories you had forgotten and details that had escaped you about the person you used to be.

They are lost friends, past loves and all the people I’ve mentioned in this very column: the one-night stands, the cheating boyfriends, the secret crushes, the too-young lovers who have finally grown up, along with all the people from yesteryear who stare at you vaguely, thinking that they see a shadow of the person you used to be buried beneath the new identities that you’ve created throughout your life.

Just like these people, the places and streets that are painted with your narrative surround you like a studio backlot. They stand like painted facades, the memories of you captured inside. Drive through the city you’ve lived in and the reminiscence about all of the things that make up the pastiche of your character which are hidden behind the brick walls of the apartments you laughed and cried in, the high school you narrowly escaped from and the clubs where you danced the night away. Each place holds a facet of who you were and each persona you adopted adds a new history, a new label and a new character to the person you used to be; the person who haunts your past like an awkward ghost.

With each new experience and new encounter you can rewrite your history and reinvent yourself as someone new. Tired of being a nine-to-five brainiac stuck behind a computer with your head full of binary code? Strip down to your underwear and dance up on a box. Tired of being a gym rat with veins full of supplements and a head filled with reps and sets? Put on some Clark Kent glasses and start studying neuroscience. The opportunities are limitless just like people’s perceptions of you. They will remember you as the person you were when they met you, but that doesn’t mean that they know your true identity.

Past can also be written as p-a-s-s-e-d and just like time, your life story continues onward. You can leave it behind like you left behind braces, acne and high school or you can hold onto it to remind you where you’ve been and who you were. Albert Einstein said that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. And if anyone knows what they are talking about, it’s him. Even though he was like, a total nerd.


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