I got a new t-shirt this weekend from MoveOn.org, gray with an image of Obama's face nearly life-sized, screened so it's breaking up into dots; his face resolves more clearly when you're further away. OBAMA in big orange letters across the belly. I decided to wear it today because I'm wanting my passion about this election to be visible, so off I went wearing a message into the social space. I took the train to Penn Station, where I kept finding myself disarmed by people smiling at me. Since we don't do a lot of that in New York City, my immediate internal reaction was something like, Who are you and what do you want? But then I found myself realizing why they were smiling and then smiling back.
It IS odd to wear a big message through Manhattan though; it makes you realize how much we want, collectively, to meld into the mass, slip by unnoticed, not put too much of ourselves out there. This self-protective coloration is understandable, but somehow when you go out wearing a message on your chest you suddenly feel brash and loud, like a shout. A well-received shout, in this case, but still.
How much do we want to be known? It's a constant paradox; on the one hand, I think we want nothing more than for people to hear our stories, see our struggles and pleasures, really look at us. On the other, everybody likes to hide, no one wants to be judged, and there's some element of risk about allowing yourself to be seen -- in the train station or the street no less -- for who you are.
Things shifted a little in Newark Airport. Some European-looking fellows were nudging one another when I walked by, with a little air of excitement, as if they'd been hoping to see some stirred-up Americans. A guy who looked like a college student appeared in the same security line, wearing the same shirt; we seemed to be the only people in all the great human rush of EWR sporting a slogan instead of a logo, and we said, simultaneously, Hey, great shirt. Were the security people (all of whom were black or hispanic) extra nice to me, or did I imagine it?
When I walked onto the plane -- bound for Houston -- the social temperature shifted immediately. A blonde flight attendant eyed me doubtfully; was I going to be trouble? As I walked down the aisle, a thirty-something bear glared at the face on my chest. He didn't look at me, just went on steadily disapproving of Senator Obama, and it did cross my mind to enjoy the fact that I couldn't move forward, since people ahead of me were fiddling with their many bags,so the Senator's pointilist aspect floated in the guy's unhappy gaze for quite some time.
And that was it for interest or incident. I'd expected that walking through the airport in Houston would be strange, in part because last week I'd seen a young woman there wearing raccoon-ish eyeliner and a bright green IRISH FOR McCAIN t-shirt, which she was actually congratulated for wearing by some Texans strolling behind her. It made me feel queasy. But tonight nobody in the airport even blinked; they actually all seemed to be too weary to even look at each other.