Cold Spring · Excerpt

It was years after the traveling that I took off my mask. There were several parts to it and they came off the same way they went on, in pieces I assembled at Ed’s Deluxe Motel a few miles north of the Connecticut border. Ed’s Deluxe and Ed’s Easy Check Cashing with their white stucco walls gone pasty and dump trucks from the quarry thundering by on Highway 6 shook and rattled under their cracked asphalt roof like a pair of rotten teeth clinging to blackened gums. Ed’s Deluxe was shitty inside too, not for the cockroaches so much as the pubic hair on the sheets when I checked in. I took a pair of latex gloves from the three wheeled maid’s cart, plucked them where they lay, and flushed them with a curse. The sheets got a little crusty what with the Do Not Disturb sign hanging from the doorknob 24/7, but it was my crust not some hoary stranger’s. The other guests, I knew them at a glance. The hatchet faced man and his girlfriend with the cancer voice prosthesis could have been Travelers. I might have met them on the road when they still looked like themselves. The owlish man with a nose for shadows could have lived in the Factory, deep in. And Alice in her eleven dresses? Traveler maybe, assuming a limp that bad came near the end of her traveling, or she wouldn’t have lasted long. And maybe Factory before that, slipping out at night to haunt the streets of Cold Spring, secrets intact because no one would think she could have any.  The rest, some locals and some pushing through, siphoned away by intruding thoughts or cozying up to you stealthy as the night, had nothing to offer me, and I had nothing for them. I was a broken man too.
            I picked up some black hair dye and beard trimming scissors and a pair of boots for the extra height forward lean and kick from below the knee that a good pair boots ask of you, plus a handful of brown tinted contact lenses, non prescription to cover up my blues, a pair of non prescription glasses, and some new clothes, black for a hint of menace but roomier than I was accustomed to being seen in, to undercut the menace. And a cheap full length mirror with a cardboard back and false wood frame. I cut my hair and kept it shorter on one side to make that ear stick out and stopped shaving for a few days, then trimmed my whiskers to give the effect of possibly growing a beard or just forgetting to shave for a few days. Then I paraded in front of the mirror like a Lord with brown eyes and blue, glasses and not, new clothes and old, holding at four day whiskers then pushing out to five or six. And my voice, that sweet spot on the bat you get from lack of sleep or a glass of good Scotch? I practiced reading out loud from the dog-eared Gideon’s Bible in my nightstand, mainly the Psalms. You can’t say, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help’ in the same voice you’d use to greet a casual acquaintance at the supermarket. And a different name—John Nay-man for Robert Brand, Brand Nayman? This required another trip out after two weeks of ordering pizza in, to a professional for a new driver’s license and Social Security Number, and the bank for a new checking account.
            All of this involved seamlessly stitching together two different forms of disguise—the classical, which says you need to look like someone else to go unnoticed as you, and the misdirection, where you draw attention to certain parts of you the way a magician gets you to look at what he wants you to see. Classical would be the black hair dye, contact lenses, voice, maybe the boots. Misdirection would be the whiskers, the faux prominent ear, also Millville, the little town I moved to after Ed’s, too small to be anonymous in and so you move there, and the alias, daring you to catch the play on words so you miss the familiar face from your past. But for me the dumb name served a different purpose, of partially deflating the whole enterprise. This is a high wire act, but if you can’t laugh at yourself you end up building the wall so high and spending so much time patching the cracks of your disguise that you stop seeing who you are who you’re playing, both. A disguise is a map that shows people the way to the wrong place, but it can send you there too.