Here’s one of my favorite short stories, a tale that’s included in my collection Unintended Consequences, available on amazon.com. If you like this story, the book has fifteen more plus a novella. Hope you like it.
Pretend I’m You
I’ve always been addicted to one thing or another:
- To the striving for perfection caused by a Catholic school education,
- To the drama of romance that waxes and wanes,
- To alcohol off and on and, especially,
- To Halloween
How could anyone not love Halloween? It’s the one day you can be who you’ve aspired to be, besides yourself, without having to struggle to be someone you’re not the other 364 days of the year. Little children can be their favorite super heroes and grownups will pretend they don’t know who those kids really are. It’s an addictive game a lot of us play over and over, once a year, into adulthood.
I take it one step further than most, though. The day after Halloween I begin purposefully scanning the news, and I give myself until New Year’s Day to decide who I’ll dress up as and pretend to be next time around. I’m a slender 5’ 8” and have a rather androgynous face, so with accoutrements I can pass for a short man or a tall woman. I just have to remember to keep my voice low when I’m in costume, as though I have a touch of laryngitis; my modulation improves every year.
The time I was Woody Allen I went to a restaurant in lower Manhattan and the other diners, mostly tourists, couldn’t take their eyes off me. My costume was his usual business-trash casual, easy to duplicate, as were the owlish glasses. I bought an empty clarinet case in a pawn shop and kept it close and visible on the table. I’d listened to recordings of his old comedy routines for months, until I perfected his nasal delivery of offhand self deprecation. I almost ran into Woody as I was leaving the restaurant and he was getting out of a cab across the street but, thankfully, he didn’t see me.
Once I stopped traffic posing as Madonna in a slinky black body suit; I was very uncomfortable in it, but it was so her. A policeman, one of ‘New York’s Finest’, acting as though he was protecting me from the crowd, discreetly pinched my bottom, blessing my deception. Madonna pinched him right back, you know where.
I didn’t get as much attention as Donald Trump (that was before he became a politician, and prior to his orange hair phase), perhaps because I was alone and didn’t have a pretty young thing adorning my arm. But I swaggered enough to have his doorman give me a high five, so I knew my costume was passable.
I won’t tell you all my secrets, but I will admit that I use some of the vacation time I get from my job as a mild mannered reporter to pose as a hotel maid where I know my target will be staying, or as a temporary house maid where they live, so I can borrow some of their clothes. Their own real things are always more recognizable and work best for the purpose of deception. I slip the ensemble I’ve collected into a dry cleaning bag, and make a clean getaway every time. (Believe me, no one notices what a maid looks like or watches what they do, as long as they stay in role.) I’ve always believed that clothes make the man, or the woman, and once I’m back home and into them, often with a few necessary alterations, I’m better able to practice their moves and mannerisms, their figures of speech. I always return anything and everything I borrow. I am NOT a thief.
I try to borrow one or two of their credentials, too. I can’t always pull that off, but when I can I find it most exciting. And much easier when the person’s face is less well known. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was famous enough in her heyday, but few people gave her a second glance on the street. Through means I won’t discuss I was able to procure her American Express card and use it to pay for my Halloween dinner the year I was her, and I thought the waiter was going to faint when he picked the credit card up from the table and read the name on it. Madeleine left him a nice tip.
The day after the holiday I have another fun ritual. I take the borrowed clothes to the one hour dry cleaner in my neighborhood, pack them and anything else I have of theirs, including expenses I may have incurred on their behalf, and have it all delivered to them by courier, which is me, of course. This grand little flourish catches more attention than common first class mail, and I sometimes get to see their faces when they open their surprise package. I include a short hand written note; it’s always the same, except for the name of course:
Dear so and so,
Thank you for allowing me to borrow your things, just briefly. It was a treat to trick others into thinking I was you for Halloween. Don’t worry, I only use an identity once, then move on to someone else.
Would you like me to pretend I’m you? I bet I can do it.