I know a man who wears fake clothes. Well, the clothes are not fake because the cheap material is real, but the labels that the clothes hide behind are as a fake as the plastic flowers that sit on my desk. For almost a year I have been meeting this man for lunch and I had always been very impressed by his nice clothes. He often appeared to just walk right out from the pages of a fashion magazine. A few times when I glanced at the label on his clothes, sunglasses or hand bang I was surprised to see such exclusive names such as Dolce and Gabbana, Versace and Prada. “What is this man who works as a Waiter doing wearing such expensive clothes?” I always wondered. I never asked him this question, because as it turns out, I did not have to.
Not to long ago, one afternoon in the middle of our lunch together- this man confessed to me that he was a fake (for the sake of maintaining this man’s privacy I hope readers will not mind me referring to him as this man. I think we are all entitled to our privacy no matter how much the things we do and say deserve a wider audience). When we first met for lunch that day, I noticed that he was not looking good at all. His black shirt was not tucked in and his gray suit jacket was wrinkled. The hair on his head seemed to be out of line and the bruised bags under his eyes collected the water from the previous days rain. “I am a fake….I want you to know this,” he said in a serious tone while putting the noodles from the chicken soup into his mouth. “Everything on me….is completely….fake….it is time I come clean.”
I was surprised by his confession but not entirely clueless. I had read an article a few weeks before about how people who make certain choices that hide the truth can often feel like fakes. The article went on to describe the detrimental psychological repercussions of knowing that you are fake and explained how easy it was for a person to fool others but how impossible it is to fool yourself. After I read this article I did not think about it again until the afternoon that this man sat in front of me eating chicken noodle soup and confessing to me his fraud.
“Prada, Armani, Zegna, Gucci, John Varvatos, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace….I dream these names….I hang pictures of the clothes on my wall….spend hours loitering in the finest department stores…..I try the clothes on and weep….they look so good on me….they feel like a million dollars….but I cannot afford them….the fact that I cannot afford the man I want to be kills me…. keeps me up at night….I spend hours wondering up ways to steal the clothes….ways to make quick cash and buy them….but these are all just dreams….so I travel into the tenderloin….go to a little shop that sells the next best thing….all this stuff is fake…. my $65 Armani suit….these fucking $10 Prada glasses….my $18.99 Versace shoes….and the fucking $1.00 special Gucci socks…. all of it is fucking fake….I can not take it anymore!”
Now I had the answer to my question and it all made sense. As this forty year-old Waiter dressed in fake designer clothes sat in front of me with tears running down his face and noodles coming out of the side of his mouth all I could do was think about myself. I thought about my own preoccupation with clothes. I had always liked to dress nice and I remembered that as a child I often dreamed about growing into a man who wore fine suits everyday. As I got older this dream seemed to fade away and I became content wearing t-shirts and jeans. Sometimes I shop at Banana Republic because I like how the clothes fit me, but if I do not have the money to go clothes shopping I will happily go many years without even buying a pair of socks. I had never thought that deep down it could be a source of repressed sadness for me that midway through my life I am not able to afford any sort of designer clothes. I have done a good job convincing myself that I do not need these things- but as this man sat in front of me confessing his counterfeiting ways, I could help but see a part of myself in him.
“I have the entire world fooled,” he lamented on. “Everyone wonders how I can afford such expensive clothes….on a Waiters salary….they think I come from a wealthy family….am independently wealthy…. this makes me feel like less of a victim or failure….it gives me a sense of power and pride….knowing that other people think I can afford the most expensive labels around….but I know….I know….that these clothes are fake….even though others might be impressed….I cannot make myself believe….that these clothes are real!!!!no matter how hard I try to convince myself….I shiver every time I pass by a department store window with an Armani or John Varvatos display….or when I notice a person who is wearing the real thing….I feel like a complete….such a complete looser.”
He was talking so loud that some eyes in the restaurant looked over our way. My eyes also looked around the restaurant and wondered how many of these nicely dressed people were wearing fake things? How many of them look good on the outside but are feeling fake and uncomfortable on the inside? Even though this man sitting in front of me has tears running down his face- how many of these people have tears running down their souls? I tried to offer some advice, to be of help to this man but I found that I had little to say that could repair his soul. “It is okay Randall….you do not have to give me advice….I just needed to tell the truth to someone….this is all the help I need.”
A month passed before I saw this man again. I thought about him almost everyday and since his confession I had not been able to stop noticing other people wearing designer labels and wondering how many of them were fake. We met for lunch at our regular place but this time something was different. This man was dressed in “normal” clothes. A plain t-shirt, jeans and converse shoes. I was surprised. “I just got rid of them all….every fake label I owned….ended up in the trash,” he told me with a confidence within his words that I had not heard before. “It is much easier just being me….no matter how much I wish…. I was someone else,” he said. I could relate and told him that I understood. “Knowing that I was a fake….a counterfeit….ate away at my soul….even though now I know….I may not look as good….or successful….or stylish….I feel like I have been set free.” I felt glad for this man even though when he crossed his legs I noticed a Gucci symbol on his green socks. He had found a happy ending for himself and seemed to come to terms with who he really was. We had a nice lunch that afternoon and as we were leaving he put on a pair of sunglasses that I noticed had a Versace label on the side of them. “Hey, what is with the glasses?” I asked him, knowing full well that they were a fake. “These my friend….are the real thing,” he replied with what looked like a sinister smile and we walked out into the light of day.