Comedian Jackie Mason used to tell this joke:
“I went to my first football game, and when the team got into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me.”
Primarily, this is an “I don’t know football and I let my extreme paranoia run away with me” joke. But it’s also a joke about feeling left out. There are people in a group. And you’re not one of them. Your self-esteem takes a debilitating hit.
It starts early if you were, as I was, a Junior Sibling.
“Can I come in?”
“Big kids only!”
And it continues on from there.
I call it the “Not You” Syndrome. A typical scenario: There’s a place. There’s a door. There are people going through that door. Qualifications for access vary with each place, but the delineating principle of all of them is the same. It’s “Them”, but – providing the syndrome its moniker –
The “Not You” feeling surfaced most recently for me last night. And I can testify, the experience never quite loses its sting.
During my late teens, I used to fly with some friend or other to New York to see the shows. I remember attending the matinee of the hit Broadway musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. There, down an adjacent alley to the 46th Street Theater was the mythical and exalted
The words were actually stenciled right on it: “Stage Door”. Below which, in equal-sized print, were the words,
“Authorized Admittance Only!”
I arrived early, so I could watch the performers go in. I hungered to be them. Filing in to prepare for the matinee of a Pulitzer Prize winning musical to the enthrallment of a sold-out audience of adoring fans. There they were – the cast, the stage crew, the orchestra musicians – the “Authorizedly Admitted” – passing casually through that hallowed portal.
It was entirely understood that if I tried to pass through that Stage Door, somebody who’s responsibility it was, would, politely or otherwise, deliver some words that my sensitized brain would immediately convert into the appropriate message:
I once visited the White House. I was with Al Franken. Before he became a Senator. We were working on a show called Lateline, and I was only a “Me” on that occasion, because Al was a “Him.” I was a “Me” by association. Though I was issued my own I.D. badge.
Finding myself momentarily alone, I decided to test my I.D. badge’s parameters. Exiting the side door (the only door we had credentials to traverse), I walked around to the front of the White House, to see if my pass would get me through the front door as well. I immediately got my answer: A resounding
For a while, I was a “Me.” I worked at various Hollywood studios, and I passed through their gates freely and without intervention. (Except for the I.D. checks and car searches, following September 11th.) It was a heady experience, which, over the years, lost less of its fizz than one might expect it to. Studio access was an exuberating “high.” It felt great being a “Me.”
But in time, my commercial usefulness became suspect, and, once again, I found myself on the other side of the gate, an exiled and newly reconstituted
So there I am, last night, once again looking at a door specifically marked,
“Authorized Personnel Only!”
And experiencing the familiar “Not You” reaction.
I am watching people go through that door. And they know that I’m watching them. I can tell that, because the process of being watched has caused them to develop a noticeable swagger.
Now I am not talking about some trendy hangout for celebrity high rollers, with its velvet rope and its exclusive “Short List” of names. That’s not the point here. The point is the door. Last night, the location with the restricting “Authorized Personnel Only” door that left me feeling demoralized and excluded was
The California Chicken Café.
The experience got me thinking. Virtually every place I go these days –the supermarket, the DMV the 99 Cents Store – there’s a door somewhere saying some variation or other of,
“Authorized Personnel Only!”
It’s kind of democratic, in a way. You do not have to be rich, or wellborn or specifically gifted. You could be what society calls a “nobody” and still have a door you can go through, but “unauthorized” people cannot.
I must admit, this makes me a little jealous, as I do not currently enjoy such a door myself. Except – if you’re willing to stretch the concept – for the front door of my house.
I wonder if it would cheer me up any if I put up a sign.