False Front 1/31/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Pretty much every western shows buildings with a false front, a façade designed to make the buildings appear, from the front anyway, much larger than they actually are.  In the gunfight scenes, there is usually a man with a rifle using the corner for cover.  It was very much the fashion of the day, and still is today.  In “western” states like South Dakota, you see buildings like this in small towns frequently.  Oh, today the façades are brick rather than wood, but they’re still very common especially in towns like Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down, and where many tourists visit because they want to see an “authentic” western town. 

These false fronts seem to provide very poor cover in a gunfight because, armed with rifles, these guys are constantly being shot off by men on horses with pistols from about a hundred yards away.  It all seems very realistic to me.  But the interesting thing is that they are merely a face, and a lie at that.  They make the building look much larger than it actually is, and even makes it look like a significantly sturdier and different architecture.  But it’s just a front.

How many people carry such a front?  Recently I was talking with a friend about my luck, or rather lack thereof, in the romance department.  I have been told a multitude of times from a great variety of sources that I’m the kind of guy that women bring home to marry, not to have fun with.  This is kind of a hurtful thing, since I like to think of myself as fun, but invariably this statement would be followed with “just wait until women your age are ready to marry and you’ll be very popular.”  Well, I’m pushing sixty, women my age have mostly are grandmothers and I’m still not popular. 

I mentioned to my friend an observation I made some years ago, namely, that guys who wanted to hook up with them pretended to be me.  I don’t know why they seemed so successful at it, but they pretended to be honest, caring, and interested in a monogamous relationship.  But for them, it was just a façade.  I knew many of them, and even managed to predict exactly what would happen with frightening accuracy.  I don’t know; maybe I’m psychic.

Lately a term has been popping up, the “impostor syndrome”.  I suffer from this frequently.  It refers to a feeling that maybe the person suffering from it doesn’t belong where they are.  When I was a dean, I often wondered if I should have been there (and considering how it ended apparently, I didn’t).  When I taught, I often felt like maybe I wasn’t the expert that my students deserved, and considering how that career ended, apparently, I wasn’t.  But, as I stood in front of the faculty as their dean, and in front of my students as their professor, I wasn’t me.  It wasn’t Richard Bleil up there teaching and trying to lead, but rather, Professor Bleil and Dean Bleil. 

I found it interesting, and frankly heartbreaking, whenever I had a student fall for me (which happened far more frequently when I was just beginning rather than at the end).  It was always flattering and sweet, but she wasn’t enamored with me per se, but rather with my façade.  She fell for the professor who was far more confident than ever I was, the dean who was far more powerful than the man behind the curtain running the illusion.  But how to convince her of this?  Even when I tried explaining that Richard was far less interesting than the professor, she wouldn’t believe it.  I guess my false front was too convincing. 

Sometimes it’s important to put on a different front based on circumstances.  As a professional, you must show the face expected of your profession.  On a date, you want to remove as much of that façade as possible such that you have a chance that your date will fall in love with the real you, as opposed to somebody who doesn’t really exist.  These false fronts can prove valuable, or painful if they are used to hurt others.  All too often there are those who intentionally mislead for personal gain like those men who tried to act like me.  The difficulty, of course, is seeing through that façade.  In the old western buildings, it’s not so important.  If the store holds what the individual needs, the actual building itself is not important.  The trick, of course, is recognizing when the false front is important.

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