I went to an interesting dinner party last night, invited along by my friend Dustin. It was a small but eclectic affair. Among the guests there were two gay couples (one of whom has been together over 40 years, the other younger and just back from several months spent in Mexico), the lovely host who had just moved into his new apartment, Dustin and myself (of course), and finally a man named Édouard.
Édouard claimed to be a designer who was born to Dutch parents in the Belgian Congo and raised in Lille in northern France until his departure in the early 70s. Having lived in France for many years myself and loving any opportunity to speak French, I tossed out a few bon mots during the early part of the evening, but Édouard never really took the bait to say anything in French in return. As I listened to him speak, I became fascinated by his accent, which wasn’t so much like a French person speaking in English, but more a kind of amalgam made up of equal parts Pepé Le Pew and Marlene Dietrich. Occasionally something resembling The Bronx would slip in as well. Having given me his story about Lille, I started asking him what he thought about the city. As a young architect, I had once worked on a large TGV train station project there and I wondered what he thought of the massive transformation the arrival of the TGV had had on the city. He told me that he was very familiar with the project and then started to speak about it in terms that made me fairly certain he had never seen it.
I started to get the idea that Édouard was really Ed or Eddie, and that he had moved to LA many years ago from some less than glamorous place and decided to be a designer. As a designer, he probably felt that he needed better street cred than a Peoria pedigree could provide and so he concocted his born-in-the-Congo, raised-in-France story and set to work scrubbing any trace of American from his accent with more effort than Madonna. As he began to meet people, it would always be as Édouard and he would do his level best to maintain the illusion.
Most curious to me were the friendships Édouard had developed with this group (and others) over the years. It must be odd having to be “in character” at all times with people you have known for many years (but who, in all likelihood don’t know you at all). Then again, how different is this from the “act” that so many people put on every day in different settings? This person at work, that person at home, another one out for drinks. Often times in life we are playing this or that role, and sadly sometimes even playing the role of ourselves, the one that we think others want us to be.
Note: Names may have been changed to protect the not-so innocent.