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.

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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.


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