“Alter-egos” was a thing started by Amie*, a coworker of mine from the interactive science museum where I worked in my 20’s. She was so cool. Tall, thin, and dark, she had the slow, mellow confidence of someone who was comfortable in their own awesomeness. Looking back at all the crazy shit she guided me into, I realize she was lost in her own quest for self just like I was. I did a lot of cocaine with her. When she got really drunk she would cry about her fucked up childhood. And shit, she was always dressing up in completely different personas. Surely that’s a sign of someone who is struggling with some demons. It’s funny how beautiful people can hide a lot of their pain and broken-ness behind great skin and a thin waist. (*name changed to protect the supporting character)
Amie had an entire wall in her bedroom devoted to wigs and several racks of costume clothing in her basement. She had an old-school Polaroid that she carried with her to take staged pictures of all of our Alter-egos when we went out to bars. (Interesting, what a short time ago that was, but we didn’t have cameras on our phones to collect instant images. One grainy picture on my flip phone used up so much memory that I’d have to start deleting my contacts.)
It wasn’t long before I was building my own collection of wigs and costumes. There were a few one-time Alter-egos I tried on that aren’t worth remembering, but the one that I made famous was “Max Malone, P.I.”.
Max was born when I found a salmon-colored polyester women’s leisure suit in a retro resale shop. She was reminiscent of Jackie Brown (a Quentin Tarantino film heroine who came out around the same time) or any of the other 70’s era lady bad-asses. The salmon suit was 2 pieces, tight around the hips with flared legs and a button up jacket with a butterfly collar. (I was no stranger to the disco polyester look – as a pseudo-alternative 90’s rock chick in my teens I bought a lot of my clothes at vintage shops; the larger the bellbottoms, the better.) Max completed her look with a short, brown, white-girl afro with headband, large square-ish pink sunglasses, platform shoes and a cigarette in a vintage long-stem holder. Of course she drank vodka tonics. And talked like a Jewish New Yorker. I went full-out. I really owned her character. She had a backstory and everything – Max was a jilted lover who had caught her man cheating, so she vowed to save all women from other slimebags by starting her own Private Investigation business. I would stay in character and keep my accent all night when I wore Max Malone to the bar.
Well, at least until I got too drunk to stand. Then she devolved into slurry hot-mess Vixen Lea in a costume and crooked wig.
I know why I loved being Max Malone. She was tough, smart, and sassy and she knew it. She never took shit from anyone. I loved how confident Max was in her own skin. She wasn’t afraid – not of looking stupid, or fitting in, or being alone – all things that terrified me, Vixen. Max could do or say things that I felt Vixen had no right doing. Max had never been the last one picked. She always knew the right comeback to diffuse the haters. Max wasn’t traditionally beautiful, but she was in-your-face bold with her look and she didn’t care what anyone thought about it. People wanted to be around her and hear what she had to say. She was funny and wild. She rocked outrageous moves on the dance floor because that’s just who she was. She was Max Fucking Malone, people!
I could never be that free as just plain Vixen. People might… what? Judge me? Laugh at me? Hold me up to some unattainable social standard that doesn’t really apply to me anyway??
I feel a familiar bit of her bad-ass self rise up occasionally now that I am peeling through those layers of fear: When I write the words of my stories without denial; When I sing and dance with abandon at a concert even though I’m sober; When I fart in yoga class and just keep downward-dogging; When I can run and be goofy with my kids at the playground while other moms stand at the sidelines watching.
I used to worry that people were always judging me, that their eyes on me should cause me shame and that I should therefore be less than myself. But now I realize that deep inside they want to live out their own inner Max Malone and are shackled by those very same fears.
©Vixen Lea 2020