Offline Profile – Looks Like a Kook in That Costume

Nick Roberts in “Little Red”

They say that clothes make the man. They can also unmake him.
  Before I turned my attentions almost exclusively toward creating images on canvas, I spent years acting. Between that, and a lifetime of embracing a Gothic aesthetic, I’ve collected quite a number of what one might call costume pieces. In acting, I was cast time and again as monstrous villains and/or drug addicts. Apparently, I have that look.
I’ve also been told time and again that I look like Johnny Depp. When my hair was dyed black and ratted out, I was regarded as Edward Scissorhands. I’ve since gotten similar comments regarding several subsequent Depp roles. These were usually featured in Tim Burton films, but when I grew out the facial fur and donned a full flowing shirt, I was also equated with Captain Jack Sparrow. I’m not complaining. I’ve enjoyed Depp’s work, (I’ve seen The Ninth Gate countless times, and Secret Window at least three or four.) My point is about perception, how we process appearances. I don’t look like Johnny Depp, not remotely, not in the slightest, but people aren’t looking at bone structure. They see things like hair and clothes. Though this can work in one’s favor, all too often the opposite is true.

  I’ll get back to appearances in a moment, but first, let’s talk about run ins with the law. (I promise, the two threads will weave shortly together.)
  Upon request, I’d once bought a “Love my country but fear my government” bumper sticker for a loved one. There was hence a sudden drastic increase in police tailgating her. They were intent, apparently, on proving her point. Eventually, she took took the sticker back off, and found that the cops backed off as well.
  Hence there are no bumper stickers on own my car. I’m going for “Invisible to cops.” I truly can’t afford the tickets they sometimes dream up. Yes, I’m ashamed to admit that part of my voice is self-censored, for financial reasons. (‘Tis but one example of what a friend calls “Poverty Tax.”)
  I can recall a time when I’d been pulled over for a legitimate safety reason. A headlight had gone out, unbeknownst to me. (In midtown, there are so many bright streetlights, that I truly didn’t know.)
  Then the cops got a look at me.
  As you now know, I’ve been told that I dress like a pirate. (The shirts are very comfortable.) Perhaps the local constabulary thought that I might actually swing onto other cars, rob the drivers, then have them walk the plank – or walk the tailgate. They certainly thought I was drunk on rum. They told me to get out of the car for a sobriety test.
  They first had me do a balancing act. Perhaps due to numerous painful inner ear infections I’d suffered in years past, my sense of balance is pretty shot. The dizzy spells aren’t generally bad when I’m sitting, as in piloting an automobile, but when performing for the police it’s another matter. I managed to keep my feet, but I hate to think of how I might have been swaying.
  They then gave me the breathalyzer test. I’d never taken it before. I was told to blow into it. I blew into it.
  One of the cops, growing impatient, then told me again to blow into it.
  I might have blinked at him. “I thought I had been blowing into it.”
  “Oh, you thought you were blowing into it, did you?” The inflection indicated disbelief, and dark amusement at what was taken to be my poor grasp on reality. It was finally explained that I had to blow hard, like I was inflating a balloon.
  I explained that due to my pneumothorax – “Collapsing lung”, I amended upon seeing the blank stare – that I was not supposed to blow up balloons.
  No matter. I was to try again.
  Blow, baby. Blow hard.
  I did, and passed their bloody test, and still got the Fix-it Ticket, rather than a just verbal warning, which would have been enough.
  I know it’s not just me getting such treatment. I’m reminded of the hassles that disabled people regularly endure under the T.S.A. No explanation of medical conditions gets an official to ease off. I do hope that uniformed men never order my father down on his knees, ’cause after having excruciating surgery on both, he can’t physically do it, and would thus have literally no choice but to disobey people who wield guns.
  The profiling goes on and on. When I drove an ugly old van, the cops asked if I was high. I wasn’t.
For dressing in dark Victorian formal wear, one uniformed man said that I “matched the description” of someone desecrating graves. I was clearly there with a camera, not a shovel.
  Unfortunately, it’s not just cops who leap to such conclusions. When I had the worst nosebleed of my life, the emergency room doctor (who finally saw me after I’d been bleeding for twelve straight hours) assumed that I was a coke-head. I’ve never touched the stuff. Yes, I was dressed to exhibit my art at a heavy metal show, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a drug addict!

Nick Roberts in “The Writer”

Of course, I could cut my hair short, shave the Mephistophelean Van Dyke, dress conservatively, and thus circumnavigate the presumptions that I am a criminal. (I might then have the look of a Wall Street swindler, but we know that white collar crimes don’t count. A corporate head can not only afford lawyers, but can influence public policy with a campaign contribution.)
Ask yourself, what if there was some superficial trait that one couldn’t change? If it was perceived as a negative, what sort of aggravations might come? The friend that coined the term “Poverty Tax” has experienced a lot of it. I happened to be with him on one such occasion.
  We’d been hanging out at his place, after which he drove me back to mine. Still deep in conversation, we sat parked for a while. Suddenly, cops surrounded us, blocking off the street in both directions. It turns out that someone had seen a black man sitting in a car, and assumed that he was casing the neighboring apartments, looking to break in. Now we were parked across the street from said structures, and he hadn’t even been looking in that direction. He’d been looking toward the passenger side, chatting with his passenger. There was nothing at all on the passenger side to steal.
I presented to the police my identification showing that I actually lived there.

  Papers, please!
  It was scary, but just a fraction of what my friend had already been through in his life, in a world where people still feel the need to make such qualifying statements as, “–But he’s very well spoken.”

Nick Roberts in “Drift”

  For all the times it’s been assumed that I’m high, just imagine if I did smoke a little chronic to take the edge off my various chronic pains. There are many, many such poor dopes behind bars. Or imagine that I wasn’t raised on Victorian fiction and the BBC, and instead spoke in the undereducated manner that the police expect. Hell, imagine only that I lost my temper at having been profiled for the umpteenth time, and told one of these armed fellows in uniform just what I thought about it all. There’s a lot of different ways one might get locked up, perhaps even beaten.
  Now I have jury duty coming up. It’s come up more than once before. After spending a day with my somewhat agoraphobic self packed tightly into a room with others who are also unhappy to be there, it has always been the prosecuting attorney who has eventually dismissed me, no reason given. Part of me thinks, “Yay! I can get back to my artwork!” Another part of me mourns that defendants are not likely to ever truly face a jury of their peers, or of anyone who might be sympathetic with someone who’s also had unpleasant encounters with the law. Anyone who looks remotely like the defendant will not be hearing the case.
  I know that justice, or what passes for it, is not blind. It sees clothes. It sees hair. It sees skin. I does not always look deeper.
Master Nick Roberts © 2012
  In the United States, there are people on death row who “matched the description” of a killer. Evidence to the contrary is sometimes suppressed. Public defenders are not always studious or competent. These are just some of the ways that the justice system sometimes goes astray. Innocent people have been executed, and still more are scheduled to be killed.
  No matter how disenfranchised you may feel regarding the system, now matter how insurmountably flawed it may appear, I ask you, I beg you to vote. No matter how afraid of violent crime you may be, or even how hurt you may have been by it, the death penalty is not the answer. It takes innocent lives.
  If you live in California, please vote Yes on 34, and replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.
  Thank you for reading this far! If you’d like to read more about, here are a few words from a former D.A., a former supporter of the death penalty.
  Here’s more even info.
   Thanks again!

I’ll be back tomorrow with something more cheery than this. Stay tuned!

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