Don A New Mask?
I used to dress up as Don Quixote, the madcap knight from Miguel Cervantes’ classic tale. Quixote idealized his mission as a righter of wrongs, yet always wrecked havoc in his wake. Maybe that kind of irony speaks to a lot of us. At college, I had great fun spoofing my sense of self-importance in the world, without getting all that political about it. I had a tin-foil helmet, shield and sword. Ridiculous. Peter Brill, a friend of mine, played along with me as Sancho Panza. He was a comic genius, which is the only reason we got asked to parties and I had a column in the student newspaper. I can’t imagine our satires meaning much to anyone now. They were mostly stand-up routines satirizing our aspiration: the American dream that was beginning to elude us.
I see lots of caricatures of Don Quixote here on the island: hand-crafted items sold in open-air markets, painted plates found in antique shops. I’m at the point now where I don’t want to see another picture of the old knight and have to remember what it felt like to play him. That year at school was a sad one; a story I’ve told in the novel, A Just Man Is Hard to Find. Anyway, I’ve come here to move on. As Halloween nears, I feel the itch to act out some persona, some alter-ego within. I’m from New England, after all: the setting for many a Halloween story and gothic tale. Since I don’t yet know what character to play here — on an island basking in sunlight, with hardly a shadow — I’ve invented one. Tonight, when Maria and I go out to the Santurce market-turned-into-dancehall, I’ll be in a black suit and purple shirt and shiny shoes, with this mask we found for me in Old San Juan. Maybe I’ll play a cabaret master of ceremonies with an accent and shuffling step? A man in the spotlight, reinventing himself.