Nicole Garbutt, local make-up artist extraordinaire, came over around 6 p.m. A glass of wine was poured, and we got down to business. I had already dyed my hair to a dirty ginger and shaved a receding hairline deep into the top of my head. Then off came my facial hair. My wife, Erika Nyyssonen, was horrified. I could tell she was struggling to place me visually. “Being able to observe the step-by-step process, each step took me further away from you,” she said.
My instructions to Nicole were: “I want to look like a 45-year-old divorced accountant who gave up on life at about age 15. No hobbies, doesn’t do anything interesting. I want to saddle up to the corner of the bar and have people be annoyed with the old guy harshing everyone’s vibe.” Two hours later, we were done and, my wife sufficiently weirded out after taking the following pictures, I made my way to the party.
Friend looked right through me
As soon as I stepped in line, a friend glanced and looked right through me. I was filled with a mixture of excitement and dread. It felt sneaky and kind of exciting to be pulling this prank, but I also suddenly realized I’d just signed up for a night of being a complete nobody.
I instantly felt a lack of confidence, which ironically played well for this character of an old, broken-down man. My shoulders slumped, I stared at the ground silently and started to genuinely feel sad as friends and good acquaintances walked by with zero warmth or recognition.
Joel Maillet, a friend of mine and local artist, stood in front of me for easily 10 minutes. “At first glance, I saw a sad old man and a socially oppressed creep; one who goes to group counselling sessions only to eavesdrop on other people’s affairs,” he said later.
I definitely felt like an outsider who did not belong. I had to play this role, or this would have been all for naught, so I just sort of slowly slithered through the bar not connecting with anyone. I could tell women were revolted as they made sure to give me a wide birth as I passed.
Even my female friends were truly revolted and didn’t trust me. “You totally creeped me out. I didn’t know it was you until afterwards…Still didn’t want to talk to you,” wrote Melaw Nakehk’o. “His look reminded me of a sinful man with polluted fingers,” was the review from Stephanie Stark. Even photographer Angela Gzowski, who took the picture up top for her photo booth, didn’t realize it was me until the next day. “I had no clue it was you…I did think ‘who the hell is this guy, a pedophile or just a weird creepy old dude?’”
Even some of the guys eyeballed me with what seemed to me a concerned annoyance.
“He seemed to be looking for something specific while avoiding direct eye contact and displaying avoidant body language. Had I not recognized that it was you, a red flag may have gone up in my mind as a person to watch,” said Byron Sawatzky, another friend.
Feeling the need for a drink upon realizing I might get my head kicked in if I didn’t play it smart, I stood at the front of the bar for about 10 minutes while the waitress quite obviously avoided me entirely.
At least three people behind me got served before I did, until I leaned over to my friend Jill Mazur and said hi. Once Jill was up to speed, she kindly offered to take cash and buy my drink.
And this was generally how the rest of the night went, feeling like a loser. My good friend, photographer Pat Kane, had heard to expect something shocking from me. He thought it was funny at first, but also couldn’t quite place me in the same way that my wife couldn’t. “I watched you walk close to people and they gave you a suspicious look and many pulled away uncomfortably. But the thing is, you didn’t do anything. People judged you on the way you looked and the vibe you gave off,” he said.
When the fire alarm went off around midnight (there was no fire), and we all poured into the street, I was actually relieved. It gave me a timely forced end to what had become a very strange and off-putting social experiment for me. I hopped in my truck and as I drove home, literally tore my face off and threw it out the window. I asked Nicole what she thought of all of this since she played a huge role in creating it. “I didn’t see you out that night, but from the sounds of things no one else did. Everyone looked right through you.”
The whole thing’s given me a new perspective on the social ostracism many balding, middle-aged dudes probably experience without any clear reason, and the next time I see a lonely looking weirdo saddled up in the corner of a bar, I’m buying him a drink because he probably needs one.
photo Pat Kane