“Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness…” — Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
When we open our doors Monday evening, witches goblins and Star Trek characters will cry: “trick or treat.”
At one time or another, most of us want to become something we are not. Whatever the façade — a pirate costume for a masquerade party, a Guy Fawkes mask or sunglasses on a cloudy day — we relish hiding in plain view. Sometimes, however, our imaginings trick us rather than treat us, such as this scene from my adult life, when and where I cannot remember:
As the escalator descended toward Nordstrom’s main floor, I noted a surging sea of middle-aged women, a huge throng all looking up adoringly. Mind you, hundreds of women crowded the fragrance aisles waiting expectantly, some squealing as I drew near, closer and closer toward their beaming faces. I sponged up their smiles.
Hold on — was I beguiled in a Walter Mitty moment? What was going on here? A rising murmur from the horde below revealed a climax on its way.
Wildly, I glanced over my shoulder and saw, a few sliding steps above me, the object of the fawning interest. A tall Adonis figure with long pampered hair, a chiseled stone jaw and a vaguely familiar face stood there affably looking down on the multitudes in the manner of the pope from his Saint Peter’s Basilica balcony.
While Adonis waded into what looked like a rugby scrum, I ask the nearest fan, “Who is that?” As she elbowed me aside, the breathless woman replied, “Oh, Fabio.” I soon discovered that his was the face and bodice-ripping chest on dozens of romance novels.
Fabio’s fans crushed forward to touch their superhero. He played his role deftly, the mysterious male extraordinaire, a supermodel, a perfumed romantic, the muscled apotheosis of manhood, quite the opposite of the rest of us balding men who slouched through the mall wearing down-at-heel shoes and rumpled khakis.
Clearly, Fabio and I might have landed a couple of supporting roles in one of Shakespeare’s plays in which disguises play an essential role — masks, cross-dressing, distorted self-regard, mistaken identity, dissembling of all varieties, bloated egos so large the audience must laugh themselves senseless at the self-deception.
Shakespeare’s characters often pretend to be something they are not, that old appearance-versus-reality trope. The mask of humility often hides vanity, and the outward show of honesty becomes camouflage for treachery. Shakespeare’s characters are often two-faced, which naturally induces entertaining conflict.
Once their masks come off and everyone sees the unaccommodated nature of these pretenders, the play will find a triumphant conclusion. The Bard knew the value of showing the difference between what seems to be and what actually is.
At times, we imagine we are what we are not. That is why folks dress up as Star Wars stormtroopers, Comic-Con characters, or, egad, for some inscrutable reason, creepy clown costumes, sad faces behind smiling masks.
We all have those moments of escaping ourselves. Not long ago, while sipping coffee and sitting at a window table in a café near a Cineplex, I observed a crowd leaving the theater where a James Bond movie had played. It struck me at that moment that most of these men, still captured by the illusion of the film, imagined themselves as master spies, license to kill at the ready.
Passing on the sidewalk were dozens of James Bonds (one could see it in their eyes and in their self-possessed gaits), striding resolutely into the parking lot. Soon reality would slap them back to normalcy when the car that takes them home is a Toyota Prius, not a Jaguar C-X75 loaded with futuristic spy gizmos. They will return to their mortgaged homes, humdrum routines and unveiled lives.
Anyway, on Halloween I will ask one of those doorbell ringers: “And who are you, then?”
“Darth Vader,” the little visitor may say.
I will bite my tongue, realizing that the child does not come from the dark side. In fact, behind the mask lies sweet innocence. He or she just wants a Tootsie Roll, which I will plunk into the plastic pumpkin the child extends.
Trickery in children should not alarm us. In adults, however, Halloween may come daily, and that thought is scary.
Steilacoom resident Steve Jaech retired from Pierce College, where he taught literature and composition. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.