Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Does It Say about the Rest of Us?

Okay, so I finally watched the video of Susan Boyle's performance on "Britain's Got Talent". Of course, I was impressed by her wonderful voice. She's especially gifted in comparison to the contestants on "American Idol", who are often unable to get through abbreviated versions of much simpler pop songs without hitting notes flat. But the real reason everyone is so blown away by Susan Boyle is that she has the nerve to be so talented when she is also unattractive.

Did you see those grimacing, eye-rolling twits in the audience, the ones who mocked her when she said at the beginning that her dream was to become a professional singer? As if 85% of Brits have anything to say about someone else being ugly. Screw those people.

Nevertheless, while I admit it was satisfying to see that audience worship her in the end, when it was all over, I was left with a distinct sense of "is that all?" I'm not downplaying her skills. But if she were 25 years younger and able to wear skinny jeans and a halter top without making anyone nauseous, I wouldn't be hearing enough about her to actually warrant a youtube video viewing.

In an odd, roundabout way, the Susan Boyle phenomenon reminds me of an Ann Arbor guy who was commonly known as The Guy Without a Nose. I referred to him as The Guy Without a Face (sung to the tune of Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face"). Anyway, the story about him was that he had once tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, but didn't succeed. So, his face was terribly mutilated, he couldn't speak very well and he had no nose. When you'd see him on the street, you just did everything you could to not look at him - politely. Like a lot of other homeless guys, he would panhandle at lines outside of music venues. But I bet he made a lot more money than the other dudes, because people just wanted him to go away.

I remember an old co-worked telling me, "The Guy Without a Nose likes to stand outside of the YMCA and scare the little kids as they came out of daycare". Of course, I was horrified. But then I thought, how do I know that story's true? And even if he does hang out there, who knows why? And ultimately, why did it make me so sickly happy to think that I finally had a good reason to dislike the guy?

That's the magical quality that Susan Boyle and The Guy Without a Face share - the subtle ability to remind us how shallow we really are.


  1. If "The guy without a nose" did stand outside of the YMCA when little kids were coming out, maybe he was doing it not to scare them, but because he was lonely and the little kids were better human contact than adults, or because he wanted the kids to get used to the realities of life at a young age so they would not grow up to be the kind of people who would trash talk someone because they had mental problems or did not have a nose. At least that's what I would like to think...

  2. Yay, a comment! Thanks for commenting!!

    Yes, Velma, I also like to think the kids were kinder, and maybe offered The Guy Without a Face a bit of non-judgmental companionship. Who knows. I will admit that to this day, I would have a really hard time looking him in the eye. I think that's a fairly normal reaction when you see a person with that sort of physical deformity (on the other hand, wanting to believe that he somehow deserves the loneliness that this mutilation has brought him is just a twisted reaction to guilt - an emotional deformity, I suppose).

    With that in mind, I'd like to give a shout out to one sorta nutty Ann Arbor lady who actually gave him the time of day. A few years ago, I was waiting for a ride in front of a store. The Man Without a Face was standing near me. I was trying to act cool, like I wasn't freaked out. This particular woman (who I had seen around town for years) walked straight up to him and asked, "So, do you get SSI?" (that is, supplemental income from the State for people with disabilities). She wasn't being intentionally rude - she just communicates that way.

    He said, "No".

    She said, "YOU don't get SSI?! That's the craziest thing I've ever heard". And then they just chatted like polite strangers do. That's the only time I'd seen someone actively engage him in conversation.

    I haven't seen him around town in the last couple years, so I'm not sure what became of him. I saw her walking aroung Ypsi last fall in an old "Kwame Kilpatrick for Mayor" t-shirt. Awesome, again.

  3. I used to see that guy walking around downtown Ann Arbor all the time two or three years ago. I can tell you I've never tried harder to avoid looking at somebody. I always felt bad afterwards for acting so uncomfortable when he walked by, but I imagine that was not uncommon. It is hard not to have a visceral reaction when confronted by something so peculiar. Still I do regret going out of my way to not look at him when he walked by me, although I am sure he was very used to people acting that way.