Anthony Gomez III
When I Show Up to a Charlie Chaplin Lookalike Contest in Mexico
I don't expect to fall in love with a woman in a Chaplin costume while hiding behind some orchestra seats because there’s a lion loose.
All I expect is a catalogue of different Charlie Chaplins. Tall Chaplins. Fat Chaplins. Skinny Chaplins. Good contestants (a dark moustache and battered hat is a must). Bad contestants (a poorly taped moustache and a lack of thick eyebrows are automatic disqualifiers). Get past judging the costumes, and actions define some Chaplins. Taco-Eating Chaplins. Elote-Eating Chaplins. Quesadilla-Eating Chaplins.
A frequent attendee, I notice the sign that read seventeenth annual contest. This Baja town started the event to distract from the terrible noise and news of the border cities. To highlight a silent humor over silent violence was proof of a Mexican resilience the town could show the world.
I move through the crowd, priding myself as "Potential-Winner" Chaplin. I enter the auditorium where Last-year's Chaplin wanted to start the costume contest with a publicity stunt, a recreation of a scene from The Circus. At the center of the auditorium stands a terrible-looking cage with bars that any of us could rip apart without much effort. Last-year's Chaplin wanted to feign fear in the cage as he fed the lion.
I hardly notice the show begin and fall apart.
I'm looking at her until I can't.
Last-year's Chaplin lies crushed on the ground. A former Taco-eating Chaplin becomes Running-Chaplin. Crying-Chaplins hurry towards the door. The lion rushes from one end to the other. Those who make it out are the few lucky ones. Several Popcorn-Eating Chaplins are ripped to shreds. The hats go, the suits rip, and blood escapes from their necks. The popcorn is the last thing to fly into the air. Now there's a new category. Dead-Chaplins.
Amid all the chaos, I crouch down and seek the exit, accidentally moving in the wrong direction.
That's how I wind up next to her.
Both of us are holding onto the seats like a strong grip will keep our souls here on Earth. Her decorative moustache, loose from sweat, finally falls off. It hovers and touches the ground without a noise. Neither of us looks over to witness the aftermath. Ears do the work of painting a grim picture. The last noise heard is a scream snapped to a muted end, as silent as one of our hero's films. It's hardly the time but I remember how strong, and how well-made my own costume is to remain so intact.
Then I need a distraction; I need to speak.
"I used to think Charlie Chaplin was Mexican."
"What?" she asks. "How could you think that?"
"I watched his films. Watched him travel across the United States. Wherever he was, I watched the punishment he used to take. However many punches he withstood, however many towns he upset, however many hearts he lost, he kept on living. That's Mexican to me."
"There's pride the way you say it."
"I think that's the best way to appreciate his legacy."
"Then we can't keep hiding forever."
"No. We can't."
We look over the chairs. The lion's eyes start to close, looking so much like the cat I have at home. He brings his paws together. Nearby, I notice two Flattened-Chaplins. I turn to her. It may be the best chance either of us will have.
"Just like Chaplin," she whispers.
Both of us stand. We plod into the open. I make sure the black bowler hat rest on my head. We lock arms. Together, we start to dawdle toward the lighted exit. In our hero's films, there is always a slow fade to black. If this were one, the two of us would make it halfway there before the film cuts out, our fate left to an audience's imagination. Two words would dance across the screen. At the center of that bright wall:
Anthony Gomez III
is a PhD student at Stony Brook University and is based in Brooklyn, New York. He is an emerging writer with pieces appearing, or forthcoming, in Shenandoah, 3Elements, The Acentos Review