THE SCENE WAS GOING BEAUTIFULLY. The “homeless people” in line with me for bread and hot stew couldn’t have been better cast and costumed. Nice touch by the Director to have some of them smell the part, too. Made it real easy to stay in character. I sat down at an empty table with my brown plastic tray, its patterns worn smooth by years of use. Nodded my head very briefly in gratitude, and dug in. A volunteer sat down across from me and smiled gently.
“Is this your first time with us at Pine Street Inn Shelter? I’m Brett. We’re glad you’re here,” he said.
I took another gulp of stew, tore off a big hunk of bread, pretended to be too hungry to answer. Furtive glance up and slightly to the left, then face back down to within inches of my bowl. It had been at least two or three, well, hours since I ate some spicy wings, a cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, a vanilla milkshake, a coke, and a piece of mudpie. My credit card worked just fine at the upscale Boston sports grill. The only problem was, I didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore.
I was going to struggle to keep the stew down and hit my lines if I ate any more.
“Wow you must be hungry,” he said.
I grunted and flashed my eyes at him. ‘Ya think?
“That’s a really cool scarf. You warm enough? I can probably find you an old sweater or something,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, putting my spoon down and almost looking him in the eye.
I slowly remove my scarf. A bell chimes. Everyone looks up for a split second. I begin a scarf performance‑art improv.
“Check it out! It doesn’t just represent linear time, like when I stretch it out flat like this—”
Brett, meet Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll had to leave. Summoned by bell. Last minute change to the script. Just hang with me, your cues will be obvious.
Timing my hand movements with my words and with standing up in a smooth ballet of poise and presence,“—it can also represent some sort of Samsara, like this,” I say, my eyes wider than Brad Pitt’s in 12 Monkeys as I fold one end of the scarf back to the other, hold the ends together with one hand, and gracefully lift the scarf into a circle.
I have Brett’s attention, although there are supposed to be four or five extras converging on the table around us by now. They’re all late.
“But that’s not really how the Universe works, not space, not time…” Don’t rush this…where the hell is the rest of the audience? Well, you can’t hang on this beat any longer.
“The way it works, the way we work, the way it was and ever will be, has no inside/outside…” I slide one end of the scarf slowly away from the other “No above/below…” pull the two ends apart and taut so there is an obvious top and bottom “No left and right…” hold it vertically “Or us and them…” diagonally now “Time, space, you, I, the past, the future, the sun and moon, kings and queens and dog and bitch, hills and valleys and God and snitch…” I am now twisting the right side over half a turn, and have laid the middle of the scarf on the table as I bring my two hands together, the scarf making a sideways eight: an infinity. I put my hands together with the twist, and remember to project to the galleries, deep from the diaphragm, “We…are all…One!”
I bow. Quickly bring Dr. Jekyll back on stage to mumble, “Er, that’s a Möbius strip, just for the record. For the archives. In case the camera didn’t catch the twist. It will mean more to the geeks. Peace.”
I sit back down and drop my pie hole into my stew and keep my head down, counting silently, as long as I can until I must rise for a breath. I get to twenty‑three‑mississippi and sit up, stew dripping from my nose.
Brett can’t help the laugh, but his eyes are wide with the concern of somebody sitting across from a proper madman.
“Let’s play a game,” I say to him, wiping the dark gloppity‑glop off my nose and chin onto the sleeve of my faded jean jacket.
“Uh, sure.” He looks around for support, quickly cocks his head toward me and raises his eyebrows. If there had been a little red button under the edge of the table, he would have pushed it a while ago.
“It’s called pick the real me. Ready?” I say.
“Not quite ready. Almost though. Maybe just tell me your name first?” Brett says.
“We’ll get to that. Now…” I pull my leather wallet out. Slam it down on the table, flick it open. Thumb the cards snick, snick—plastic sliding past plastic and leather to get free. I fan the laminated rectangles out in front of Brett. IDs, credit cards, backup credit cards, ATM cards, licenses for cars, for airplanes, membership cards for more than one yacht club. I tell him to pick one. He looks at it, shows it to me.
Kevin Hall, Brown University.
“So you’re Kevin?” Brett says.
“Nope, try another one,” I say.
“Visa, name on card Kevin Hall. Same name.”
“Not me. Try this one.” I push one up a little, like you do to help your adorable niece pick the right card playing Go Fish.
“Kevin Hall, member 1989 US Sailing Team,” Brett says. “Still not you?”
“None of them are me—” I throw everything but my bouncer‑fooling fake ID at him. “This is me! This one! It’s the only fake one! I’m a fraud! This is my proof.” And I flick it at him sideways, just missing Brett’s eye. It flutters to the floor. He bends down to pick it up.
“OK, uh…Anson. Do you want me to call you Anson?” Brett says.
“No, not an‑son, not a‑son, not in‑the‑sun, not over done. Call me Shaun. No Shem. Sorry, nevermind. Call me whatever you want. Just make it stop. Please, make it stop.” I slam my forehead onto the table and burst into tears, real tears. Anguished, imploring, running‑river tears.
Then I hop up, smile, bow quickly to Brett, to the left, to the right, grab my scarf, and run out of the shelter into the cold December night.