Tag Archives: sociology

In Costume.

Last week, many of us watched as impending superhero arch-villain Ultron made his appearance at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie in which he would be so grandly introduced. Of course, the actor himself, the inimitable James Spader, was wearing yellow-tinted hornrims, an oversized charcoal grey suit jacket, and a white knotted tie with some red icons sprinkled across it. But, he described in characteristic detail his Ultron costume for the film: bands of velcroed techno-attachments, and a large, overhead pole bearing two antennae, at the ends of which were tiny cameras. The rest? For the viewers, computer-generated cloakery.

This is a particularly personal observation. I don’t expect anybody else to relate. Perhaps you’ll call it a purge. Just let me say it, and be done.

Not sure where human society got its penchant for entrenchment patterns. Don’t know why people with similar traits self-segregate. I just know it’s true because, from early childhood, I was watching. The Plymouth Brethren taught me how.

Borne in Dublin, Ireland, and then branching out to include the following led by John Nelson Darby, this self-generating Christian Fundamentalist sect was all about exclusive separatism. The objective being to establish the purety of “the Lord’s table” (meaning: the communion fellowship), the distorted belief held that, by raising the standard for selectivity, only those living lives of alleged sinless perfection would qualify.

Therefore, of its nature, and following the parallel of social patterns, those deemed most readily acceptable were first the ones whose carriage matched that of the determining few. Anglo-Saxon bearing, its physicality and mentality, were pre-eminent. Anthropologically speaking, ya hadda look the part and then ya hadda act it. And, best if you could imitate the Royals, albeit subconsciously.

Henry Sweet definitely fit. Short, broad shouldered, strong of profile and mind, he was invited by the panel of experts to join the local fellowship after migrating from the eastern end of the Commonwealth and appearing, in full form, as a street preacher. So also his wife, Mae, of saintly bearing and trusting countenance.

Mum was one of four sisters and, at least in all the photographs, the one with the purest face. Ironically, while she fit the picture, she dreamed of a life that burst the bubble and expanded the frame. Therefore, when Dad appeared, all handsome and dark and feisty and bold, she tore up the pattern into little bits and threw herself in his direction.

When their firstborn son came into the world, he was as princely as he could be. Miraculously, his gene expression had chosen to defer its more swarthy dominance; he had all the right colors – hazel eyes, sandy hair, small regular features, and intellectual precocity. And, he would grow to achieve a prominent place in the sectarian’s hierarchy.

Here’s where I come in.

From birth, I bore every insistent trait of my father: dark brown eyes and hair, olive skin, and the kind of active, expressive intelligence that knows no restraint. There simply wasn’t any other child in any of the rooms who looked anything like me. I was the gypsy, the starling, the odd one out.

You think me a tad preoccupied? You may. I will give you that.

But, on with the show.

Self-acceptance, they’ve been saying for a few decades now, is key to a successful social life and, probably, life in the workplace. One must celebrate one’s strengths, acknowledge and then improve on any weakness, and strive to accomplish, seeking solid relationships and worthy endeavor.

But, we are taught from birth to do exactly the opposite.

We have for our models those who teach us to select what is acceptable. We learn whether or not we fit from the time our ears are developed enough to hear “What a beautiful baby!” As soon as our eyes can see, we observe the directions people take, either toward or away from us. Our tactile sense picks up the accelerated heartbeat of fear and uncertainty, our chemistry the signals of alignment or incompatibility. And, we begin to mirror all these. We behave towards others as those closest to us behave toward us.

I’ve been wearing costumes as far back as I can remember. The one that attempted to match the family of Anglo Saxons, and their precise, daily ways. Later on, the one that more closely resembled what I saw in the mirror. Neither one was really the girl who wore the clothes.

Nakedness becomes some. There are bodies that bear such a natural aesthetic you’d almost weep at the sight of them. Mine is not one of those. Perhaps yours is. One thing is certain: I know how to recognize truth and beauty.

Somewhere, somehow, I got that part right. In fact, my comfort is found within, whenever I look out at the world around me. What I see in you brings both awe and inspiration, pleasure and wonder, to my eyes. So, if you feel me watching, just go about your business. Wear whatever costume you need. But, know that I am truly glad you’re in the room, because I see who you really are.







© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

4/21/15   All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.


“No – ! You’re Fine!”


It was time for the match game.

Benjamin Moore had migrated to the remote outskirts, where people live who have lawn ornaments on the porch and keep dead cars in their yards. After fifteen years staring at #886 and #815, I had lost all desire to drive 47 minutes just for two gallons of #008. So, Yo, Ho-Ho, it was off to Lowe’s she goes, for the Valspar equivalent of The Best Paint Ever Made in 1993.

Those couple years in the art department had, apparently, stuck; with surprising speed and accuracy, I almost found it. “Pink Kiss?” or, “Apricot Pit?” They were open til 8; where was the attendant?

One register light, lit. One sack boy, willing to page Paint.

Oh, but there she was.

A shorter, if wider, woman, long hair, younger. Body pressed against the left end of the counter, facing north. Glasses, and a cell phone, and the bearing of one who would get her way without a peep.

I made my beeline – for the right side of the counter. And, pressed my slightly taller, slightly less voluminous body against the counter in tandem. And, probably said something out loud to myself and nobody in particular, within earshot of the woman on the left end who waited much more quietly, keeping her body especially still.

Red Queen vs. White Queen.

But, this wasn’t Wonderland.

Then, the White Rabbit. Zooming out of Aisle 5, heading straight for the counter – and, the woman on the left end. “Can I help you?” he said – to HER.

Decades of fighting my own battles, of winning some and losing many, bearing the weight of all the crap you’ve already read about for the past five months. Ye Gods; I could have just about had a baby in that much time about 30 years ago.


“I’ll be the bully here. I’m the one who called for the page.”

Yes. That was my voice.

And, then, inevitably, the ensuing guilt – of the same number of decades, for all the reasons you’ve, yeah you know.

Turning to the woman on the left end, I tore into my persuasive prattle. The part about being in a hurry. The next part, something about …but, she was already prepared.

And, she said it. Shaking her head.

“No  ! – You’re fine!”

She wasn’t in a hurry. She had tomorrow off. She had all day to paint. Yeah, well. I had hired a guy. Not strong enough to take a ladder, or lift the…..

But, get this straight.

I am not “fine.”

I am never all that. I’m a tiresome, oppressive load. A chronic melancholic. A self-obsessed compulsive with a preference for immediate gratification. One who longs for an ideal totally unreachable in our dimension. A hopeless romantic caught in the throes of gritty realism. No. Fine, I am not.

Now, she’d said it with the effortless inflection of one who likely did so every day, to at least two people, perhaps a shit load of abrupt customers at Wal-Mart. Well-rehearsed, she’d long since forgotten how it made her really feel to say it. Rather, she spoke the words with the conviction of one who had gradually, obliviously, become familiar with herself as a conforming little slut to political acceptability. No matter that the people to whom she ascribed the phrase were largely unforgiving, self-serving, adult brats; more importantly, she had polished the appropriate response to sinless perfection.

With deft efficiency, the paint attendant cheerily provided me the computer-matched gallons in place of “Pink Kiss” and, smiling, turned his red-eared back, and walked. He was done.

But, I wasn’t.

That poor creature stood patiently while I took her back to the year my long since ex-husband had first painted the walls of my house which we shared for that blip on the screen we called our marriage. How, color blind, he’d brought home #815 instead of #813, and joyfully presented me with a living room completely covered in aqua. Not ash blue. Aqua. “It’ll fade”, Lena, mum’s Italian dressmaking client, said when she’d come to pick up her niece from piano lessons. Lena knew something I didn’t. She knew that wall paint would fade – in seventeen years. And, she wasn’t about to tell me I’d be waiting that long. Enough just to have faith and accept, like a good Catholic wife.

I don’t know how many minutes passed at that counter, me babbling, she listening, me and my self-conscious drive toward the embodiment of a pathetic apology and she just letting it all play itself out, she with her day off all day to paint. She, the self-actualized single girl, one hundred per cent self accepting, just riding it all out and looking forward to her blue rooms that she would produce all by herself in the house that would become her spouse. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that part. Best that she just have faith, and accept, when the time came. And, it would, soon enough.

Meantime, by some act of Providence, I looked down at the counter. There sat my two gallons of computer-replicated #008, and my bag of dry plaster, just waiting, rolling their lids at me. I looked up. She looked back. OH? Wait! I’m done here! I’ve been done. It’s my turn to take my stuff and go now, to the sack boy in the lit register.

The White Rabbit was sly. He’d gotten me what I wanted, and left me with it, just to see what I’d do. Nice move, that. He’d been in this scene before.

“So, which do you prefer”, I laughed, embarrassed. “Passive aggression, or in your face, put it all out there?”

She looked at me and smiled, nodding. “I think I’d wait for “Nice.”

This made me crow. And, I did. I threw back my head, and indulged a deep one, right from the belly. “Nice”, indeed !! Yeah. I’d never been nice, either, I told her.

But, she probably had. Like being politically correct, she’d attended enough self-help seminars to know that “nice” and “kind” were the only two attributes that made people truly like you. She held the secret. That was why she could stand at the counter, and wait, and laugh while the rest of the world agitated their way through the scenes they were so compelled to create. To her, this was nothing short of the purest of Sunday evening entertainment.

And, so it was that she took what I said with a grain of philosophy. For a fleet moment, I saw her as genuinely nice, perhaps always nice, born sweet, a joy to everyone who knew her.

And, her paint was ready. I looked to the right, to the other woman who had gradually crept into the frame, waiting her turn with net neutrality, just tired, wanting to get whatever and get home. OMG. I tried a funny face. Charm was the device of the devil, and it worked every time. Only convincing the charmer, grand relief for everybody else in the room. Time to let the rude, remedially grown up bully babe gather her things and return to her fraught little existence.

I scurried away, glad to leave them both with a “nice”, tight punchline. Success. I had what I needed, I’d gotten there first, and now it was everybody else’s turn to tie up whatever remained of the value of the moment. My damage was long done. And, I’d accomplished it being neither nice nor fine. Like sand paper, coursely grained, just enough to make rougher edges smoothe, I’d just been a little bit real. In the end, after a good, sound spanking, God would bless us all. I had the faith to accept that much.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

copyright 4/19/15 All rights, in part or whole, those of the author whose name appears above this line. Thank you.


We Do?

Do we ever feel like one person in our own bodies, but then see ourselves in photos and videos and think: “But…..that’s not who I thought I was?”

Our body language, the way our personalities play across our faces. It’s no small baffle, really. But, I’m talking about something else.

Maybe mine is a preoccupation of sorts, in more recent decades. Say, since 911.

Prior to that tragedy, being the Mediterranean in a room full of standard white people was the norm for me. To some, I was the “exotic” one, meaning of course that, to them, I was different. One guy actually saw me performing from a distance and thought he was looking at a girl straight from the Old Country. He told the conductor he wanted to meet “the woman from Italy”. And, his parents were both Italian. Go figure.

Hah. Ah, well. It was a fun year and a half. Too bad my shabby apartment, grey suede fringed boots, and acute lack of scholarly gravitas put him over the top. I was teaching marching band, for God’s sake; give me a freaking break.

Oh. Both my brothers have since been to Italy, the elder five times or more. The younger went to Rome on his honeymoon. Sure enough, he said: “All the women in Rome look like you. ALL of them.”

Okay, then.

After 911, I began to see something else in the mirror. I profiled myself, and was found wanting. I had the facial bones of a suspect.

Invigorated by regular summer travel, I’d been across much of Europe (though, not Italy) most recently for a third round to Scotland in August of that same year. Now, it was clear; no wonder the little children in Selkirk had stared balefully at me, their unblinking eyes wide with fear. I did not board a plane thereafter until 2006.

Now, as our American society becomes increasingly global in its representation, the Millennials seem completely immune to any effect from categorical differences. Whereas we from their parents’ generation notice Asians, Middle Easterners, and other fairly new nationalities as soon as they walk through a door, these kids never seem to look up. Or, if they do, the subject is addressed and dispensed with in some fleeting informality (“Are you, like, Thai? Okay. That’s cool.”) most probably because, among any group of six or more, there is likely to be a greater mix of types than ever before.

My problem, yes, so it is, might likely be related to having grown up surrounded by Anglo Saxons, never associating with my Dad’s side of the family. Being the brown one. Being the odd one. The boys took after mum. Being the only one.

In fact, I have a dear cousin I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years who, seated beside me at a family wake, kept repeating rather self-consciously: “You really look Italian.”

Hmm. Okay?

For all of these reasons, postulates, theories I see images of myself, and the first thought that takes shape is: ” I look like the girl whom many people don’t trust. I look like the villain. Hard, severe, and type-cast in my own body.”

For starters, people around this town, for multiple generations, saw a dark toned Medi and thought: “Roman Catholic, west side, multi-generational family; probably Sicilian, or Calabrese. Somebody’s niece. Father worked for the city.”

All wrong.

[Former] Sectarian Fundamentalist, east side, second generation; mom’s side indoctrinated English, nobody’s niece anymore. Dad was a barber, from Boston, and his father was Napolitan. Didn’t know what gnocchi was until I bought my house on the west side.

Wrote a short poem years ago. It’s in my original poetry; you can find it. “Ode to the Ethnic Child.” That’s actually the second title. The first one was: “Ode to the Unwanted Child.” Yeah, well. Changed it, when I thought such a moniker wouldn’t sell. I’m shrewd like that.

Oh, and just to deflect that percentage of the readership that is poised to find complimentary ways to respond, I’m really not addressing relative attractiveness. This is about what makes people feel warm, secure, safe, comfortable.  For all their attributes, “exotic” and “ethnic” to those who are neither, well, they don’t make that cut, do they.

See, the term “ethnic” has undergone its own evolution. Some social factions think the term applies to black folks. Still others think it must include Latinos. Really, “ethnic” to these people applies to any nationality not already appearing in their own DNA.

[ insert winking smiley icon]

As for “exotic”, many shop at Pier I because they want to add a certain element to their decor. More drama; striking texture; the unexpected image. To them, that’s exotic. Imports. These bring it.

(No surprise to anyone, I love Pier I. Feels like home, to me – !)

The interesting thing about the exotic element is, were people to be brutally honest and open they’d have to admit that decorating their entire home in exotic images, shapes, textures, and elements might just make them feel, well, a tad uncomfortable. Exotic elements are meant for accent pieces, or that one, relatively small room featured when they entertain.

Touche. Like the court jester, trotted out to amuse the King.

Now, all this would be a benign yawn were we not talking about a real person with, allegedly, a soul and a mind, a heart, feelings and, that load, needs. But, we are, see? We’re talking about a girl. With a look that didn’t match who she thought she was when she entered a room. With a presence that still might leave all kinds of misleading impressions in her wake.

In fact, this might be one of the reasons I started this blog. Beginning with those in closest proximity and reaching all the way across the planet, I sought to dispel myths. Myths, first, about myself, and then well beyond merely me to reach all those baseless suppositions that push people apart instead of bringing them together.

We, perhaps instinctively, seek our own. And, we self-segregate. Yes, we do. It’s about familiarity, which is synonymous with comfort. We don’t call ourselves bigots, because we don’t feel like bigots, and we certainly aren’t prejudiced because we hate prejudice and self-loathing is not healthy.

To one extent, I might be the only formally Caucasian woman who understands how black folks feel in American society. Or, the newest of Middle Eastern immigrants. Not because I have a rich Mediterranean heritage, because I actually don’t; my father was displaced from his immediate family at birth, remotely connected to them thereafter, and absolutely none of the customs of the Italian American were ever a part of my life.

How I do relate with these is as one who appears to be different. I know how it is to be superficially accepted, to be gently patronized, to be called “striking” (please stop), to be kept, ultimately, at arm’s length – just beyond the mainstream of power and influence. You know, like the “ethnics” in the perceived majority of American society.

Perhaps actors are the only group immune to all this agonizing self-examination. They probably take a frank look at their faces and body language in some Movement or Characterization class, acknowledge their “type”, and proceed to compile their qualifications into a series of head shots and demos. They learn to believe Who They Can Be and, by some mercy, can forget who others might think they are.

Maybe this is why, for all my life, I have been so transfixed by thespians. You know, the ones who can put on a thousand masks and be whatever their role asks of them. Who can enter any room at any given moment, and bring whatever they choose to be. I can’t imagine where they go for trust, or comfort, or any sense of reality. Perhaps they are as protective of their own as the rest of us, and place a premium on their families. But, beyond this, at least they have a community of distinctive and disparate individuals, all under the same tent – clowns, tragic heroes, buffoons, tyrants, ingenues, matrons, sages. Like the children of our generation, they look past type and see one another.

Can we do this, too?






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  3/22/15; edited 7/12/18

all rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you.

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