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The Persona Store

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

'Be the person you admire most', said the sign in the window. 'As low as $399!'.

I like browsing the boutiques on Madison Avenue. It cures me of any good opinions I might have of my fellow men. Case in point: The Persona Store.

It's a small shop in the fifties. I waddled into it recently expecting to find the usual share-the-wealth East Side clothing store: high prices, low quality, and snooty sales people.

Instead, I met Mindi, the thoroughly modern woman. Almost good looking, though she does her best to hide it. A dress like the one my grandmother uses for dusting, jogging shoes, gaudy jewelry, and a farmer's handkerchief tied conspicuously around one knee.

She virtually leapt upon me. "Boy!," she said. "You got here just in time!"

"Just in time for what?"

"No, I mean that we can really do a lot for you..." She sized me up from head to toe, frowning. "Who did you anyway...? I hope you got your money back."

"Who 'did' me?"

"The look. The look. Who - or should I say what - is responsible for that?"

I said: "If you mean who dresses me, I do."

"Well, that explains it..."

"Explains what?"

She held up her hand. "Don't take offense. I just mean it looks like something someone would do for himself. Especially a male someone."

I was wearing charcoal grey slacks, a white shirt and a black leather baseball jacket. Comfortable black loafers and my very best smile. No fashion plate, I'm the first to admit, but clean and decent and respectable. And I am not accustomed to being looked at like one of the 'homeless'.

"It just won't do," she said. "But, of course, you know that."

"I do?"

"For sure. Why else would you come here?"

"In order to become the person I most admire?," I asked.

"Exactly! So what would you like... Yup? You'd make a good Yup. Got the right build for it..." She took a tape rule from the pocket of her dress and began to measure my shoulders.


"Yuppie," she said. "You know. Young, urban, professional. The perfect persona for the unfathomably unfashionable. Almost no effort, but it looks like you went to all that trouble, if you know what I mean." She grinned.

"I'm not sure I do... You sell personas here? Personalities?"

"That's right. Finest in the city."

"Finest personalities?"

"Absolute best." She began to tick off points on her fingers. "Not just fashion. Hair. Walk. Speech. Likes and dislikes. Eyewear. Food - "

I cut her off: "You sell likes and dislikes?"

"No, no! We teach you what to like and dislike. We have classes in behavior modification, how to become the person you admire most."

"Who is not yourself..."

"Obviously. Take Yups for instance. Most people think Yup is just a look. Wear a baggy suit, running shoes, carry a sloppy briefcase and you're a Yup, right?" I shrugged. "Wrong, wrong, wrong. Yup isn't just a look, it's an attitude. Non-plussed, the walking dead. Head always turned to forty-five degrees."

"But then you can't see where you're going."

"Exactly! When you're Yup, you don't need to see where you're going. Other things: the Goofy jaw droop - "


"You know! The Disney character. No matter how baggy your suit it, you can't be a Yuppie until you learn to look like Goofy."

"Enough," I said. "It's not for me."

"Well, what about the Mandonna look?"

"'The Mandonna look'...?"

"The latest thing. It's the Madonna look for males. We have all the basic items, plus accessories. And we offer two classes, Ragpicker I and II, to help you maintain the look. In just two weeks, you'll be indistinguishable from any slob."

"Why would anyone pay to look like a slob?"

"It's a very hot persona..."

"...I don't think so."

"Well, how about Banker's Grey. That's always in style. Comes with free horned-rim glasses."

"But I don't need glasses."

"Every banker needs glasses. It's part of the persona."

"But I don't even work for a bank... Besides, I don't like the way bankers look."

"Well," she said, "you've got to be somebody."

"I am somebody."

She gave me a dubious look, then erased it. "Look. You think I want to sell you something..." I nodded. "Well... I do, but it's not what you think."

"Isn't it?"

"No. I like my job. I'd do it even without the commission. You see, I like helping people find themselves."

"What if I already know where my self is?"

"That's not what I mean. I mean, helping people become more recognizable, more in tune with others. It's fine for you to say you know who you are, but who else does?" Her eyes lit up. "Do you see what I'm saying? Your persona should communicate. It should say: Hey, there! You know me! After all, I'm you! Totally. Right down to the last bicuspid and stomach rumble. You can trust me, because we both think and do and talk about the same things. We're do-it-yourself twins!"

I frowned.

"Hey!," she said. "How about Yachtsman? You'd look dashing as a Yachtsman."

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