September 9, 2010

The Suits of our Labour

I have lived in Salem for about a decade. I have been a local historian and tour guide for the past six years. I am usually a respected member of the community, but, because of my appearance, am often treated like a lower class citizen. This type of thing happens to me too often to fully document here, but I feel like I should mention a few instances.

Yesterday I had a group tour with about fifty kids from Spain. It ended up being a great tour and the kids were really cool, it was what happened beforehand that bothered me.

I was smoking a cigarette before my tour so I was standing out of view of the kids because I don't want to be a bad influence (I always do that). I was around the corner from the Visitor's Center on Essex st standing in front of some offices for the Peabody Essex Museum. A man in a suit watched me out the window for a minute and slowly walked out the door while staring at me, a long-haired and bearded guy, standing there wearing a backpack smoking a cigarette.

"Can I help you?" he said.

"Nope, just smoking a cigarette before my tour and I was standing where the kids couldn't see me because I didn't want to be a bad influence," I responded.

"Are you a local?" he asked.


"A student?" At this point it was becoming clear something about me bothered him and he was trying to casually express that.

"No, like I said I am a local tour guide and historian," I was beginning to get annoyed.

And here's where it gets interesting: "Well, you're on camera."

I looked at him very confused but still giving him the benefit of the doubt and said "Yep, they're everywhere downtown nowadays."

He looked at me angrily and said in an accusatory voice "Well, we are always watching you, just so that you know," and walked away in a huff.

I yelled after him "Yes, as a local I am GLAD there are cameras and I like that the museum puts them around," but I don't even know if he heard me.

So.... How dare he? Seriously, just because this guy answered a Craigslist ad for a security position at the museum and they gave him a suit and tie doesn't make him better than me. The security guards at the PEM don't even actually do security, their job is to stand near displays and say "Please don't touch the displays" all day.

I doubt this guy has worked in town very long and can assume that he probably doesn't even live in Salem, or only has a little while, if he has never seen me walking around with my tours. I am out on the streets downtown leading groups of people around at least four nights a week and usually three or four days a week during the daytime tours. Anyone who spends any amount of time on Essex st usually knows me. That ignorant old fart.

I mean, am I not a member of the same community as he? Am I a lower life form?

There are so many other stories I could tell, like the time a man accosted me and yelled at me to "Leave that poor woman alone!" as my wife and I sat on a bench waiting for a train. We weren't arguing or anything, just hanging out, but because she is all pretty and normal looking and I am a freak the guy just assumed I was a bad guy messing with her and it was his knightly duty to defend the fair maiden. I had to actually run away from him to avoid being attacked.

I know that if I shaved my beard and cut my hair and stopped wearing weird clothes people would treat me differently, but this is who I am. I am not some rebellious kid trying to be different - I AM different, and I AM a member of this community whether people like it or not. I live in Salem and I love Salem - I rep Salem, I live and breathe Salem. No one is ever going to make me feel unwelcome here... Ok actually, they totally do. I guess that's why I am upset.


If you would like to know more about my feelings on suits and conformity just watch my favorite music video by one of my favorite bands, The Faint: Agenda Suicide.

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