Everyone's always branding themselves here. It's more obvious after spending over a week with a European guy who's not so indoctrinated with the impulse. At Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, hassidic guys walk an uncharted perimeter, posture and glare. “We aren't you,” they're saying, “and we don't want to be.” On 42nd, perfectly manicured women in heels bound down the street with manic purpose, and a guy on 34th in a three-piece suit hatefully dodges umbrellas and mutters under his breath at all of these people wasting his space as his silks get ruined. We all have to see he's got somewhere to be, something much bigger than we could possibly understand as we stupidly idle through puddles, unlike the guy in a three-piece and a Yankees cap in Prospect Park, paper tucked under his arm, showing us the game doesn't own him. Everyone's got a brand, and if you're not careful to pick one for yourself, one will find you. I'm still trying to figure out which one chose me.
I came out to the big city by train, and left it the same way. On my way in, on a Sunday night in a shit bar in Chicago's Union Station, I met a guy, Michael, who had to be in his early 70s, retired from the advertising game, fresh from an anti-aging seminar. This is a guy who fell for his own game. Later, passing through Poughkeepsie, he looked me deeply in my eyes and told me that he would live forever, that he deserved to, and to hell with the welfare leeches, and the other idiot lessers of the world. There was something to eugenics. This world should be claimed by people like he and I, people with a spark in their eyes, people working things out. And I didn't have to fuck him on Long Island. His hand lingered on my thigh, I refused another drink of wine. I took his number, lost him outside Penn Station. We've all got a brand, and maybe mine is simply looking lost enough to buy into someone else's.
But who is Michael, really? He's not a Mad Men level manipulator of the masses, and probably never was. He's an old man, reaching his end, childless, with a lonely mini-mansion on Long Island, bird-watching over breakfast and desperately hoping to get a girl in her 20s to save him from himself. And the women on 42nd, and the ruined three-piecer in the rain, wouldn't an easier pace, or the simple command of an umbrella show us they were truly in control? All of the anxious posturing shows us exactly what people wish to hide about themselves.
W understands the branding, understands that it's a game and a tool to be used lightly for a slight edge toward social easiness. A softness of accent, good suit jacket, an easy gaze can go a long way, but they don't make you.