In the early days of being a writer loosed in the Wine Country (which is to say nine months ago), I would often tell tasting-room attendants that I had a new-ish palate. Some would reply, “Funny, you don’t look new-ish,” and make a nod to the reporter’s notebook I had conspicuously placed on the counter. Though not a professional oenophile then, I was and remain a professional writer (I went pro in ’96 after walking out on a college creative writing class) who has long believed it a courtesy to reveal my secret identity in such situations. I’ve found doing so inspires a certain generosity amongst the staff and causes tourists to vainly search for something recognizable in my face so that the may report home that they’ve met “someone.” When I tell them I’m “no one” they insist the opposite until I’ve pronounced my unpronounceable name for the nth time and they finally turn away disheartened. (Mind you, putting a pall over someone’s Wine Country weekend is not the endgame of my antics, nor is getting the tasting fee waived, though both have been known to occur.)
The Contessa and I dropped into a popular Point Reyes eatery last weekend and oddly, my identity issues came up again. Twice. I was recognized, I’m assuming, from that grubby mugshot up top (I was trying to look smoldering, but only got as far as “moldering”). A kind gent – Norman, as he introduced himself – said he had recognized me from the paper and identified himself a fellow Sonoman, the latter of which was salient in our exchange as it seemed he is not an avid reader like your brilliant selves. The other encounter, however, was a tad bit disquieting. A grey-haired man just stared until the Contessa and I felt the faint breath of social discomfort fogging our glasses. I made various friendly gestures and nods to acknowledge the man’s apparent interest and invite an introduction – anything – but alas, his furtive glances continued until he finally exited, craning his neck.
I conjectured that he, too, may have been a Sonoman and knew me from the paper. Or perhaps he spotted me in my only other public appearance of late – the History Channel’s “Man, Moment and Machine.” In the series I’ve played a slain Macedonian messenger and most recently an Iraqi soldier circa Episode One of the conflict in the Middle East (I’m usually pigeon-holed as a Mediterranean mutt but the producers thought I could skew about as far east as Bahrain with the help of their wardrobe department). In the scene, I’m in a bunker that’s about to be turned into a crater by a stealth bomber. There’s general panic and some frantic business with a telephone before the scene cuts to file footage of an explosion. My total screen time is about four seconds if you count the footage of the back of my head. Then I die. No wonder the man was staring. It must have been like seeing a ghost for him.
“You thought I was dead, didn’t you infidel?”
“Now you have learned the power of television. Perhaps you want my autograph, or my Web address?”
Sometimes, while sifting through the volumes of invites and fawning e-mails I receive daily, I’ll uncover an angry little missive, usually handwritten in smudgy pencil and decrying this or that of something I wrote. Let me re-phrase that – something I was paid to write, which is likely what stings these aspirant scribblers of invective in the first place. Example: “We know you know that you know too much. If you know what’s good for you…[expletive]…[coffee stain]… [illiterate misspelling] …then because!” signed by the Order of the Golden Star. I hate these guys. Another type of correspondence I’m loath to receive are these official-looking letters that open with the line “This is an attempt to collect a debt.” Now, that dude has to get a life.