The Masks We Wear – In Two Acts

Beautiful Cellarette

Act 1

I walked into the gleaming glass high-rise on 44th Street in Manhattan and grabbed the elevator to the 82 floor. I was shown into a conference room by the receptionist. Seated around a black walnut table that probably had its own zip code were six men. “Keep your seats gentlemen,” I said. They ignored me and the obligatory glad handing began. Every last one of them were dressed in Armani suits and Italian shoes with names I could not, nor wanted to know how to pronounce. I did, however, chuckle to myself when I noticed that apparently none of them would be caught dead wearing the watch of the commoner, a Rolex. It was all Patek Phillipe, Piaget, and Cartier. The whole scene was a study in ego run amok. The only man in the room who didn’t look like a peacock in a hoot dash was my business partner and life-long friend, McKenna Chevalier (Mac) who had traveled with me.

I was there to perform due diligence on their company. If the process went well, Mac and I were considering investing a substantial sum of money to help them expand their operations nationwide. During the several hour meeting, the men were friendly, exceedingly polite, and accommodating to a fault. Of course they were. They needed money. I had access to it.

We wrapped up the first of three days of scheduled meetings. The CEO suggested we make the short 4-block walk to his favorite watering hole and restaurant. Off we went – Mac, me, the peacocks.

Act 2

A stylish and beautiful young woman greeted everyone warmly, most by name. She led us to a private dining room and the tuxedo clad waiters were hovering within seconds. Then the manager appeared.

“Good evening gentlemen, may I start you off with cocktails?”

“Everyone good with bourbon?” the CEO asked. We all nodded our approval. The waiter returned a few short minutes later looking distressed.

“I’m so sorry Mr. Ellery,” he said. I’m afraid we are out of Michter’s, sir. Could I perhaps offer you something different?” Anger flashed across Ellery’s privileged face.

“Are you kidding me? Seriously? John, you knew damn well we would be here tonight – with guests. I know this because my girl told me she confirmed the reservation this afternoon. And now you want to feed us some cheap ass, gut-rot whiskey. Bullshit.”

“I’m so sorry sir. We had plenty of Michter’s on hand earlier but a large table at lunch made short work of all of it.”

“I don’t give a flying f**k. Why didn’t you carry your ass to wherever you get that sh!t and get more? Jesus, I guess it really is true, you just can’t get good help these days.”

“Again, I am so sorry Mr. Ellery. Please allow me to compensate for my mistake on your bill. We’ll do better next time,” the manager said.

“Next time? Fat chance! Just bring us some damn menus. We’ll do our drinking elsewhere. Somewhere that has competent staff.”

“Yes sir, right away.”

The shattering difference in how this man had treated me and McKenna just a half hour earlier and the venom he spewed at the restaurant manager was abominable. That’s putting it politely. I looked at Mac, saw the agreement etched all over his face, neatly folded my napkin, and said,

“Gentlemen, I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure.” Mac and I left the restaurant, grabbed a cab, and headed out into the city to find a couple of slices of New York pizza and beer. The would be no investment.

Looking back at it now with a bit more perspective, the whole affair was a textbook study in roles. We all play roles. If you have some modicum of self-awareness, you will sense it in yourself daily. We slip into and out of roles as deftly and easily as we breathe. We are one character with friends, another with customers, another with a boss, and yet another with a lover or spouse. There is nothing inherently wrong with this.

Where we run into trouble is when we don’t realize that all of these roles are inauthentic in some way. Our interactions are not between authentic people but between the roles we are playing. We build mental constructs based on comparisons. Am I better than him? Is she better than me? Everyone is doing it all the time and all have agreed to the rules of the game. It leaves us with the stark reality that there is no real relationship taking place, there are only the fictions playing out in short, two act plays. The playwrights craft their scripts such that they get what they want. Everything is transactional. Everything is a means to an end.

While not easy, we can all strive to give up defining ourselves through comparison to others. Just as well, we can become wholly (or at least mostly) unconcerned with how others define us. When we dial back the roles and begin living authentically, we come alive. This is where we are at absolute our best. This is when we are at peace.

This is when we are happy.

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