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Wherever You Hang Your Cape

I’ve 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 ego.

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 speaking.

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. You pretend.

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 vigilante.

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.

—John Rodat


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