Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Which of Your Characters Are You?

For as far back as you can recall such matters, you've been fascinated by stories of mistaken identity.  You thrilled to stories in which individuals who were quite bland or otherwise unremarkable were assumed to be royalty or a master criminal or even some run-of-the-mill criminal.  Such characters were forced into a life of subterfuge, betrayal, and the need to be on the alert at all times, unable to trust anyone.


This was the stuff of dreams for you, ever hopeful for adventures in which you would be wrested out of your boyhood, forced to resort to such intriguing words as in cognito, on the run, on the lam.  You yearned for a double life, an arch villain from whom to flee, a secret identity you would be forced to lead, at least until you got through puberty, which, you'd been led to believe, was no picnic.

The best you could do was lurk about South Cochran Avenue, roughly between Fifth and Sixth Streets, wearing a black, rubberized rain coat from one of the many odd-lot clothing stores run by one of your uncles, pretending to be The Green Hornet, sometimes accompanied by a chum, Louis Bernstein, who always made it clear he was not to be considered Cato.  He had the better handwriting, but you had the flair for the threatening letter, which you dictated.

Picture two young boys in rain coats, when there was no trace of rain.  Picture them leaving warning letters to suspicious neighbors.  The Green Hornet knows about your unorthodox behavior.  And, thanks to your sister, who'd got you reading the English historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay, such scribbled accusations as, "Mr. Knap, you have a morbid propensity for sloth and procrastination."  Mr Knap's only flaw was a wire-hair terrier named Ginger.  In mitigation, when walking Ginger of an early morning or evening, Mr. Knap was good for throwing away a half-smoked Chesterfield cigarette, which you were able to convert for later use while on stake-out.

These early years were preparation for adventures to come, in which you were thought variously to be a subversive if not an outright Communist, a cat burglar (which is to say someone who stole cats, then attempted to ransom them back to their owners), a chicken thief, a pornographer, a peeping Tom, and a lookout for neighborhood burglars.  Even at this distance in time, you can see the emergence of a pattern.

In subsequent years, you were confronted by the father of a girl you'd never met, warning you to keep your distance or he would call the sheriff.  That detail remains with you over the time because, while protesting your complete innocence, you asked why he chose the sheriff rather than the police.  You were mistaken for a lawyer, a newspaper reporter, a traveling salesman who had sold someone a subscription to a magazine that never came, at least two different actors, and at least two different authors.

For quite some time, a man your senior by about ten years was convinced your name was Phil, that you had once lived in Pennsylvania, and had managed a used car lot.  From time to time, he'd apparently see you before you saw him, then pounce on you by calling "Phil!" in the belief you would give yourself away by a reflexive, "Yes.

There is a heart-wrenching case where you remind a dear person of her father, a less poignant case where someone believes you were her economics professor, which, given the state of your finances, adds flavor to  the matter.

For some time, you've kept these mis-associations in a kind of orbital dance about you, using it to enhance your belief that you join your species in being more than one individual identity.  This leads you to a comforting sense of having achieved your youthful quest for adventure and your more recent attempts at self-identification.

Only a few days ago, while reviewing certain past behavior for which you have anywhere from mild to great regrets, you arrived at the decision to welcome all the individuals who comprise you, to embrace them, and to in effect share such insights, abilities, and experiences with all of them.  Leave no one out.

There is an extraordinary sense of relief at the awareness that you may well be all these individuals, real, imagined, regretted, and most comfortable with.  You are able to measure your success in ways well beyond financial worth or literary merit, rather for your ongoing quest to discover who in aggregate you are, all the while concocting and becoming aspects of yourself you have yet to recognize.

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