You Hang Your Cape
been poring over the real-estate listings but I just can’t
find it: Apparently, there are no Batcaves on the market.
Nor are there any Fortresses of Solitude, secret underwater
lairs, mountain aeries, or “must-sell” orbiting satellites
offered by relocating evil geniuses. Not even fixer-uppers.
I suppose I could settle for the “excellent investment or
owner occupied,” or the “walk to work, shopping and bus.”
And I guess the “totally renovated with double lot” and the
“convenient location, with hardwood floors” both sound all
right, but if I can’t find an appropriate secret headquarters,
it’s going to be tough to complete my new project: the alter
The integration of competing ego interests is supposed to
be the goal, I know—being comfortable enough in your own skin
to be consistently yourself in diverse, or even diametrically
different, contexts. In the opinions of mental-health professionals,
I’m sure, the compartmentalization of personal qualities into
discrete units constitutes a diagnosis rather than a workable
approach to life. I’d guess that most shrinks would not approve
of an alter ego. But, I’ve got to confess, there’s something
really attractive to me about the adoption of a secret identity,
the “honor student by day, hooker by night” scenario—metaphorically
And in less-extreme form, that personal multiplicity is, I
think, pretty common: Most interpersonal interactions are
performative in some way, after all. You gauge yourself in
relation to the person with whom you are engaged. You carry
and comport yourself differently with your boss than you do
with your spouse, for example (or you don’t keep either long).
You share differently with the guys in your fast-pitch league
than with your mom. You subtly—or not so—perform some kind
of analysis of your conversational partner, weighing subject
matter and word choice. You role play for gain or pleasure.
In effect, your personality is less a static entity than a
series of variations on a theme (if you completely lack a
theme, by the way, you are a sociopath—just to let you know).
Your personal repertoire may not include either a perky honor
student or a surprisingly fresh-faced call girl, you may never
embody a nerdy journalist or a Man of Steel, but you are nonetheless
likely to have an internal ensemble cast.
The chances are that you are most truly yourself when alone;
when your thoughts come to you of their own will, at their
own speed, rather than being solicited by some external agent
and edited by the implicit codes of social congress. That’s
why Superman had his arctic retreat, and Batman his grotto:
to chill, to get their respective heads together. Picture
the Dark Knight down in his rec room, cowl pushed back, both
identities exposed—at that moment, equal parts Bruce Wayne
and Batman. That image is like the Western adolescent version
of the yin-yang symbol. It’s a unity, a oneness possible only
in the hidden HQ. It’s the unself-conscious downtime that
allows the marshaling of the kind of psychic energy necessary
to play the bifurcated roles of millionaire playboy and pantyhosed
It seems the extremity of the hideout is commensurate with
the extremity of the roles played. So, if your performances
only run the gamut from A to B, a finished basement or a rocking
chair pulled up to the bay window might just do the trick.
But, me, I’m thinking about shooting for something a little
more grand. For no better reason than amusement, I’m thinking
about cooking up a double life.
Now, as it happens, I look ridiculous in stockings, so I think
both superhero and hooker are out. (This is not to mention
the total absence of the superpowers requisite for real success
in either endeavor.) Lots of folks unveil their secret identities
strictly online, but one, I don’t have Web access at home
right now; and two, I don’t really have any interest in either
luring underage girls to carparks or in pretending to be an
underage girl willing to be lured to carparks. That’s just
me. Another common secret persona is the dayjobbing rock star—you
can’t swing a cat in Albany without hitting one—but, again,
I come up short on skills here. I wouldn’t mind playing some
kind of flamboyant Wildean bon vivant, but I’m not young anymore—too
much vivant leaves me feeling less than bon these days. And,
no doubt, in these post-decadent times people would miss the
influence and just assume I was a chatty functioning alcoholic.
I prefer living in the more densely populated areas of our
region, so I don’t really have the suburban privacy to develop
a “quiet guy, kept to himself” life of secret abductions and
dismemberments. I guess I could have a torrid, clandestine
and inappropriate romance of some sort, but that just seems
so played out. I mean, who isn’t doing that?
So, as you can see, I haven’t quite worked out the specifics
of the alter ego. If anybody’s got any insight, I’m open to
suggestion. But, please, don’t pitch me anything like “compulsive
nail-biter” or “grocery store kleptomaniac.” I’m hankering
for something that requires costume changes and special lighting,
sound effects and outrageously implausible cover stories.
Something with risk and drama and weirdness.
In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for that sanctum sanctorum—that
perfect hideaway in the polar region, or atop Mt. Ararat,
or in a hidden chamber in the sewers beneath the Eiffel Tower,
or in Troy, wherever. I’m hoping that the magnificence of
the lair will suggest an equally magnificent lie to lead.
So Mr. Wayne, if you’re reading and you ever think of finally
getting out of Gotham, getting a quiet place out in the country,
give me a call, we’ll see if we can work out some terms. I
promise not to try to stick you on the closing costs.