True Story

True Story

This “True Story” is the result of about twenty hours of work and some very misguided ideas about my artistic capabilities. I thought I’m a major illustrator there for a minute. A minute, no. The delusion lasted twenty butt-stuck-on-chair hours. In my mind it was hilarious. It isn’t.

Well, I kinda could say that scenes of changing clothing in public places always fluctuate between the very funny and the very miserable. I know all too well. I titled it “True Story” because I’ve seen with my own eyes as these things happen, although I’ll be dead in a shpitzle before I’ll admit that it was me I saw it happen to.

Such awkward dress changes happen because it’s the only way those restricted to the religious code of dress can wear hiking pants on a trail or a comfortable dress for a hot day in the city. When we are still officially in the fold, we are confronted with one of two options: dress religiously in a way that are completely uncomfortable in, or humiliate ourselves by pulling on tights and shirts and wigs in the back of taxis and behind poles in the subway and in public restrooms and emerge in civilized society entirely “normal”.

Why is the first option so bad? Why couldn’t I put up with just wearing whatever I wore as a religious woman and face the world as I am? Well, I know some women – proud, gorgeous, self-confident shpitzle ladies – who do it all the time. They are savvy and smart, and their posture says it all. Unfortunately, not all of us are endowed with these traits. Some of us cave to social pressure more than others. Some of us take on hobbies that require more specific kinds of clothing. Some of us also want to feel that their clothing represents how they see themselves. When I wore the pious clothing, I was treated in a way I felt wasn’t me, like I was a pious nun without a sinful thought. What an insult. I also felt talked down to all the time. If, wearing a Shtrasser’s suit and Gucci tichel I would say to the lady next to me on the Metro North “the creme brulee in Gordan Ramsy’s cookbook is a must try”, she would, instead of thinking about trying the damned thing, look real hard at me and then say “for a Hasidic woman you seem very open minded. Your peers aren’t like this. I can tell you are very open-minded, I can tell”. Pardon me, but if you need an open mind to know about good crème brulee then you’re not using the right recipe.

I’ll never forget that time a headgear disappeared and a wig appeared on my head on the way from Monroe to NYC. I remember walking in Manhattan, plastic hairs sexily flapping in the wind, when I was stopped for directions. It was the first time in my life anyone in the city ever asked me directions. No one, I noticed, ever asked for information when I was in tribal gear. Could it be that it had just been my luck that no one stopped me until now, or was it that now that I looked like everyone else people treated me like a regular genius who has the capacity to comprehend the Theory of Uptown and Downtown? I say it was probably the latter.

It’s clear that clothing is a lot more than fashion. It is a representation of who we are, who we want to be, what we stand for and what we believe. It is important, as much to non-religious people as to religious people. Those caught between worlds are left torn in both directions.

I get very enraged when people call the dress switcheroo hypocritical. I’ve often heard that “changing what you wear in secret is hypocritical. If this is who you are stop hiding, or don’t do it.” That kind of either/or black and white thinking is so insensitive to the nuances of a complex situation some of us are in. There is nothing hypocritical in trying to exercise a little freedom when we can. Hypocrisy means being duplicitous inside. But when we are sure of who we are inside but we are forced to look like someone else, wearing what you really want to once in a while is a creative way of making a small world fit.

ON a different note: I came across in my research this very interesting description of a near similar scene, from Hilary Nussbaum chronicling Warsaw c. 1881:

It was not easy at the beginning for those European-dressed ladies to go out and make their way unscathed through Jewish [traditionally-dressed] districts. They were met each time with hissing, pointing fingers, laughter, jibes, name-calling, threats, and curses, such that many of them would leave the house only in the evening […] with a hat wrapped up and with other articles of toilet, and […] at a prearranged entrance to a street forbidden to Jews, the lady would change her clothes.

One could say there’s a mesorah for changing clothes in public places!

  • Yoelish
    Posted at 03:46h, 07 December Reply

    Hilarious comic strip! That is, what a comical way of stripping!
    As a wise man was had to figure out on the West Side Highway, How many traffic light stops does it take a Hassidic driver to change into secular cloths?

  • SB
    Posted at 09:23h, 07 December Reply

    Hahaha! Wonderful piece, the strip and the strip! Pun intended, hahahaha!
    Now please be a dear and post the recipe to this fantabulous creme brulee.

  • Frimet Goldberger
    Posted at 09:26h, 07 December Reply

    Bwahaha! The twenty butt-stuck-on-chair hours paid off. For me, at least. I nearly fell off the chair laughing.
    I think you conflated two character there with the mention of creme brulee. And have some respect for my lover, will you? He’s Gordon Ramsay, not Gordan Ramsy!

  • Doe
    Posted at 09:32h, 07 December Reply

    Articulate and wise.

  • Shragi
    Posted at 10:06h, 07 December Reply

    Seeing a new post from Oy Vey Cartoons in my feed is always a treat. This time is no different.
    Being one of those black and whiters/all or nothing type myself I never experienced the public-bathroom-changings you’re talking about, but I certainly recognize the need for people in complex personal situations to have to resort to living in two worlds; the one their family lives in and the one their heart lives in.

  • Miriam
    Posted at 11:34h, 07 December Reply

    Excellent! I love the attention to detail, with that guy lifting the sunglasses to get a better look at the “new” woman emerging from the bathroom. Genius.
    I totally get the changing of clothes. Sometimes, it’s about sensitivity to others and not embarrassing them. Because of that, I put on my seams and remove the colored nail polish before making a trip back to Williamsburg or a family simcha. I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all.

  • Faigy
    Posted at 13:34h, 07 December Reply

    I know this scenerio very well as it happened to me many times before.. Wonderful comic!
    I remember changing in starbucks and there was quite a line behind me and when I came out everyone was shocked and most likely thought, “this wasn’t the girl that went in”..

  • PenT
    Posted at 06:55h, 09 December Reply

    >like I was a pious nun without a sinful thought. What an insult.
    What a beautiful sentence.
    Spare a thought for us blokes who have no choice to make. Who have to walk into a bar looking like the Nazarene having left his halo in the car. We turn heads too, but all to often in the in the wrong direction.
    Now, I know some of my good brethren have bequeathed my kind with a reputation, but can’t you find it within yourselves to look past our look? You probably can’t and I understand why.

  • Brooklyncoma
    Posted at 18:45h, 11 December Reply
  • Anonymous
    Posted at 13:19h, 13 December Reply

    this is the reason strip dreidel is become more & more popular. its simply busting from within.

  • Closet Humanist
    Posted at 23:38h, 23 December Reply

    I have done this many a times lately- My friends have dubbed me superhero- due to my 2 different looks! Clark Kent doesn’t stand a chance next to Shiksagirl!

  • Shragi
    Posted at 07:06h, 24 December Reply

    Shiksagirl, the new Elastigirl!

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