I’ve discovered how to see people’s secret identities: drink a bottle of red wine as fast you can followed by a bottle of white wine, then peer through the empty bottles as if they were binoculars into your subjects’ ever-widening eyes. A vision of their secret identities will emerge for a few, fleeting moments just before they take the bottles away from you and slap your wrists. I did this parlor trick the other night at The Girl and the Fig and I discovered that my pals’ secret identities were of the same ilk – superheroes, each one of them, who later revealed their super-strength when they wrested me off to bed as I belted the chorus to Donovan’s Sunshine Superman.
The next day, I strolled down 1st Street East on my way to the Basque in an attempt to ward away my hangover with brioche and coffee. En route, erstwhile author Mark Twain, greeted me on the street and graciously mentioned that he liked my work. Such approbations tend to short my logic circuits (which is why I’ll often start telling my life story when a simple “thank you” might do). This time I managed to reply that I dug that “Huck Sawyer thingie” he wrote before blathering “’Twas a rare rainy day in July of 1972, when I, then still an infant…” as Twain’s smile soon puckered into a look of concern.
“Uh, Daedalus, it’s me, George Webber, man.”
“Ooh, he’s good,” I thought. George Webber, Sonoma’s professional multiple-personality artiste, was prepping his Saturday morning Mark Twain Historic Tour of, as his brochure reads, “historic sites and back alleys with interestin’ laterals and felicitous digressions.” Webber had ingeniously obscured his real identity by being Twain whose real identity was Samuel Clemens.
Ah, the old decoy secret identity ruse – fiendish, but brilliant.
“I’m off my game. If only I had a couple bottles of wine,” went the thought that bubbled through the fog in my mind. “The hat threw me off.”
I apparently suffer from a myopia similar to that suffered by the denizens of Metropolis for whom a mere pair of glasses is sufficient to transform a tights-wearing extraterrestrial into a mild-mannered reporter (here, I’m suddenly compelled to reconsider why bespectacled features editor Ray Sikorski stares blankly at me every time I mention my kryptonite collection).
I first noticed my susceptibility to others’ identity obfuscations when, as a gullible kid, I spied my Uncle Mike squeezing into his annual Santa Claus outfit. I deduced that “Santa Claus is real and Uncle Mike is real – ergo, Uncle Mike is Santa Claus.” Being a canny child, I immediately attempted to extort my gift-giving uncle for more Christmas loot by threatening to reveal his true identity. Though this stunt greatly reduced my yuletide haul, I did learn a valuable lesson about blackmail: Know Who They Really Are. Having information on someone is worthless if you’ve got the wrong guy. A version of this maxim sometimes holds true for the newspaper trade (though the pay isn’t as good): Know Who They Really Are, But Don’t Tell Anyone. Those of us in the press are occasionally called upon to protect a source’s identity for the sake of their safety or, in the case of The Contessa (the sobriquet of my future wife) to spare her the embarrassment of being associated with me. Particularly when I’m doing my secret identity trick.
Originally published in the Sonoma Valley Sun.