I have a tendency to personalize symbols. I will wear a symbol that’s important to me, but I sometimes forget that other people may read very different things into them. My winter hat, for example, is a NY Yankees hat. I found it somewhere or other or maybe it was left at our booth during a winter con, I really can’t remember. I started wearing it not because I give two shits about professional baseball, but because I lived in NYC for 9 years and the city is in my blood. To me the hat is about New York City, not the baseball team. Most of the time I don’t give it a second thought.
Last month I was in Boston, showing Nicole and Kate around the North End a bit and then walking over to the South Station area to have dinner with my old friend Jay and his family. It struck me as I rode the Orange line into town that this was NOT a good place to wear a Yankees hat. If there’s anywhere that townie hooligans might attack someone for such a display, it’s Boston. So when I was walking around Beatown, I turned the hat around (’cause dammit, it was cold and I wasn’t going without) and everything was fine. I will think more carefully when packing for my next Boston trip, however.
Back in college in NYC, I had this punk rock trench coat. I had painted the name and symbol of a band I liked, Social Unrest, on the back. The trench coat was black (natch) and I had painted the symbol in white for a nice contrast. One night I was out with some of my friends at a 24-hour diner called the Waverly. It was 2 or 3 in the morning and after many cups of coffee we decided to split. On the way out I was accosted by a group of black skinheads (and before you ask, yes, there are black skinheads; they predate all the racist stuff that started later in the 70s). They asked me if I was into white power. I was boggled. “Uh, no,” I said, “and I’m not just saying that because there are five of you and one of me. What gave you that idea?” Turns out it was my jacket. The Social Unrest logo incorporates a cross and since it was done in white they had thought it might represent a Cross of Odin (a common white power symbol). I explained to them that Social Unrest was a punk rock band and a very left wing one at that. They were suspicious but the incident thankfully defused. My friend Aaron said, “Dude, that’s what you get for wearing obscure social symbols on your jacket.” Which was a bit dickish but really he was right. How people outside the punk scene would view that symbol hadn’t really been a concern to me when I was making the trench coat. Live and learn.