Today on the way to work, I passed one of those offices that does people’s taxes.
Not H & R Block or one of those companies that can afford to advertise on television, but one of those sketchy looking places that are always located in strip malls, have America or US in the name and only seem to be in business from January until March 15.
Outside the storefront was a young man dressed as the statue of liberty, complete with the pointy headdress. He was holding a plastic torch in one hand and a sign that said “Free Tax Preparation” in the other.
The guy was probably in his late teens or early twenties, had shoulder length hair and glasses.
He wasn’t like the Elmos and Minnie Mouses you see on the street corners of Midtown Manhattan, looking bored even though you can’t see their faces. The statue of liberty wasn’t bored at all. He was dancing.
I don’t mean he was moving around a little bit because his boss told him to dance. No half-hearted dancing for his guy. He was all over the place. His arms were waving, his feet were flying, and his hips were wiggling.
He’d dance facing the cars coming in one direction and then dance himself around in a circle until he was facing the cars coming the other way.
I got the impression that he would have been dancing if there were no cars on the road at all.
I wasn’t sure what to do exactly as I drove passed him. Should I wave? Smile? Honk my horn? Ignore him?
I ended up doing a feeble wave and quickly averting my eyes.
But then I wondered why I was so embarrassed by the dancing statue of liberty.
Embarrassment is usually my first reaction when I see people dressed in costumes on the side of the road or in front of a store. It seems like a demeaning job. I would guess that you are usually hot or cold and you’re standing on the street in a ridiculous costume, for crying out loud. Who could possibly enjoy that?
So I don’t often wave back or even make eye contact with these characters. I don’t want them to be even more embarrassed about their job than the already are, so I pretend I don’t see them at all. Interacting with them seems like it would just further their humiliation.
But the statue of liberty this morning was apparently having a grand time. He didn’t seem embarrassed in the least. So why was I still embarrassed for him?
Part of me thinks that I’m just a snob. I mean, who am I to say it’s a demeaning job? Just because I would be mortified to have to dress as Elmo or the statue of liberty and dance around on the corner, doesn’t mean that other people might not really enjoy it. That guy this morning was having fun.
And at least it’s a job. There are a lot of people who can’t find employment. What’s wrong with being in a silly costume on the side of the road as long as you’re getting paid? It puts food on the table.
I think I actually look away because it makes me more comfortable, even though I say it’s to keep them from further embarrassment. I don’t want to have to see some poor kid dressed like a symbol of America, selling tax preparation services. It embarrasses me, not him.
Then I thought that maybe it makes it worse when people pretend not to see them? After all, their job is to get people to notice the store or tax place or whatever they’re advertising. Am I giving the impression that they aren’t doing their job well when I look away? Do they think that they can’t even get people to look at them when they’re wearing a costume and jumping up and down?
Talk about demeaning. The only thing worse about having a crappy job like that is failing at a crappy job like that.
Years ago we had a mattress store that hired an older gentleman to dress like a mattress and stand at the entrance of the shopping plaza where they were located.
It was really quite sad because it wasn’t even a nice mattress costume. It looked like a mattress that had been left out in someone’s front yard for a couple of months before being hauled away to the dump.
And he was there all the time, no matter when you drove by the shopping center.
People even called him Mattress Man. If you said “Mattress Man was eating an Egg McMuffin this morning,” everyone knew exactly who you were talking about.
Then one day Mattress Man was hit by a car and killed. Not while he was wearing his mattress. He used to ride his bike around the town (again, not wearing his mattress) and I think someone hit him while he was riding along the side of the road.
I remember everyone talking about how Mattress Man was killed. He was dead and people were still calling the poor guy Mattress Man. That’s even sadder than the shabby mattress costume.
I never waved to Mattress Man. I always looked in the other direction. And I hadn’t thought about him in years until this morning when I saw the dancing statue of liberty.
I hope I didn’t make Mattress Man feel like a failure. I wish I had waved to him, or at least smiled as I drove by.
I think I’ll take the same route to work tomorrow and if the statue of liberty is out there dancing again, I’m going to give him a wave. Not a quick, desultory wave. But a big one. And a real smile too. I might even honk my horn once or twice.
After all, we all deserve to feel good about the work we’re doing, even if it involves a costume and a sandwich board.