Saw a man gliding down the street the other day with a cane in his hands. He wasn’t leaning on the cane or hobbling in any way. It appeared to be an accessory that had nothing to do with mobility.

He used it to point and gesture while engaged in lively conversation on a street corner. He tapped the butt of it against his boot to knock slush out of the treads. He used it to adjust the cap on his head and to attack an elusive itch at the center of his back.

He twirled the cane as he walked, the showoff, and whistled as he did so.

I squinted with unhealthy envy as I watched him meander across the downtown with his magical stick. It occurred to me that the cane was a strategic prop, a device that made this otherwise bland man stand out with distinction. One day he was Mr. Nobody and the next, he was that grumpy genius from “House.” Just like that.

Suddenly, I had to have a cane and would stop at nothing to get one.

Then I saw the man with the ponytail.

He wasn’t very old, maybe 45. He wasn’t decked out in leather or covered with tattoos. He was just a neatly dressed man with a job and family and a length of hair restrained by a rubber band.

Damn him. A ponytail on a man is an enigma. It says, “I might be a full-time accountant, my friend, but I play bass in a rock and roll band on weekends. Maybe I’m an architect, but I write my own poetry and read it aloud in small cafés. Perhaps I’m a veterinary assistant, but twice a year, I’m an assassin, a hired gun who will travel anywhere on the planet for the next hit.”

Damn him, indeed. It is impossible to make instant judgment about a man when he dons such a flag of mystery that is the ponytail. And I vowed, as I watched him, that I would spend the remainder of winter growing my hair long so that I could bind it up behind my head and become a riddle, too.

Then I saw the man in the cowboy hat.

He was a tall drink of water in a business suit. A business suit and a cowboy hat, imagine that! What breed of man, I wondered, embraces his inner outlaw with such passion that he will dress like Donald Trump below his chin, Jesse James above it?

The cowboy hat, on the head of one who isn’t actively working at a rodeo, is a bold avatar. It says, “I am a man who lives in a civilized world but who will not hesitate to use a lasso to wrangle up vermin, including but not limited to cattle thieves and hippie liberals. I am Dennis Weaver, in that movie where Dennis Weaver went to the city to fight crime. I forget the name of it. But never mind that! Look at my hat!”

Right then and there, I knew that my new persona would involve a cowboy hat, possibly a Stetson, though I have no idea what that is.

Then I beheld the man with the baseball-sized wad of tobacco in his cheek. Every statement he made, he emphasized with a manly spit onto the sidewalk. Every point he uttered seemed twice as profound because of the bulge on the left side of his face. Not to mention, the brownish drool dripping over his lower lip.

Then I spied a man who roamed the city with a python around his neck. Then another who bounced a racquet ball everywhere he went. There was a man with a nifty handlebar mustache (Bully! It’s 1932!) and another with a long, Mephistophelean beard.

These clever men have found ways to illustrate the characters that inhabit their souls, and what do I have?

Nothing, that’s what.

I look ridiculous in hats and beards. Chaw makes my eyes water and I’m not keen on snakes. I could manage a cane all right, I suppose, but I’m forbidden to carry one since the incident.

Maybe I’ll get myself a catchphrase, instead. Is “Bully!” taken? I like that one quite a lot.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Let him know how you illustrate your inner character by e-maling him at [email protected]

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