“That’s strange. All the sudden I don’t feel like myself.” — Daffy Duck
But why would someone want to be an imposter? Perhaps it’s a way to feel a sense of control over the inherently transitory nature of life. Everything changes, so maybe it’s comforting or empowering to feel like the most intimate change possible, that of your identity, is something you can engineer. As a kid I often toyed with the idea of shucking my often burdensome identity as a Red Sox fan to become a supporter of the team that played in a domed stadium that was almost exactly as close to my Central Vermont home as Fenway Park (according to Google maps, the difference is less than two miles), vowing to become a Montreal Expos fan on the many occasions when the seemingly insurmountable (i.e., unchangeable) in-game or even divisional leads of the Red Sox melted like popsicles dropped on hot pavement. I think these vows, which I never really believed in, were ways to fantasize about
a) hurting the Red Sox as they had hurt me, as if Carl Yastrzemski would weep inconsolably and Dick Drago would attempt to harm himself and Fred Lynn would begin questioning the existence of God, etc., when news of my defection reached Yawkey Way, and
b) entrusting my psychic health to the stable if unremarkable fortunes of a team that had never won anything, rarely threatened to win anything, and, as it turned out, never would win anything before in essence ceasing to exist. Painless, in a way, or so it seemed.
(Thinking of what did eventually become of them makes me wonder now whether the Expos, by moving their franchise out of Montreal and changing their name to the Washington Nationals, have in fact completely ceased to exist. If not, what’s left of them? In George Saunders’ story “Brad Carrigan, American”–from his brilliant new book, In Persuasion Nation–a character who gets written out of a television show attempts to hang on to his identity by repeating his own name while floating in “the bland gray space he’s heard about all his life, the place one goes when one is Written Out.” He knows that he will eventually exit the grayness to come back to life as a completely different character, and he senses that if he doesn’t hold tight to his identity he will have no memory of ever being Brad Carrigan, American. But he allows his mind to wander to certain reminders of the immense worldwide suffering that went on at the borders of the profoundly insipid sit-com that had until moments before made up his entire world. He thinks of people killed in a horrific Central European slaughter and of starving children from the Philippines–”The poor things, he thinks.”–and the digression from the simple repetition of his name is enough to doom his attempt to hang on to his identity in the midst of the obliterating grayness of his purgatory. The story concludes:
“He is going, he realizes.
“He is going, and he will not be coming back as Brad.
“He must try to at least retain this feeling of pity. If he can, whoever he becomes will inherit this feeling, and be driven to act on it, and will not, as Brad now sees he has done, waste his life on accumulations, trivia, self-protection, and vanity.
“He tries to say his name, but has, apparently, forgotten his name.
“‘Poor things,’ he says, because these are now the only words he knows.”
So maybe, similarly, somewhere deep within the Washington Nationals is the vanished essence of the Montreal Expos uttering the words “Poor things.” I certainly hope this is true, and even if it isn’t, I’m going to believe it is.)
Anyway, though I rooted peripherally for the Expos, I never did dump the Red Sox to become a full-blown Expos fan. I guess I don’t enjoy changing or disguising my identity. (The idea of having to go to a costume party, for example, fills me with dread.) On the contrary, I think when push comes to shove I go to great lengths to reaffirm that my identity is fixed, that even when things are changing all around me there is a central point that cannot change. It’s probably the fiction to which I hold most tightly.
Judging from the look on his face, I think Dave Cash might know what I’m talking about. His expression is a pungently soulful counterpoint to the flat, affectless masks of the chameleon posing as Craig Swan and Carmen Fanzone. He seems acutely and sourly aware of what is happening to him: he is–as I never did–becoming a Montreal Expo before our eyes. Look closely at the unnatural white in his uniform and cap crown, at the unnatural blue on the bill of his cap, and, most especially, at the obvious pen-scribblings on the right half of the M on his cap. One interpretation of this is that Dave Cash moved from the Phillies to the Expos so close to the beginning of the 1977 season that Topps had to doctor their photo of him in a Phillies uniform. But I see this card as something akin to “Duck Amuck,” the immortal Warner Brothers offering in which an unseen cartoonist keeps erasing the scenery around Daffy Duck and replacing it with completely different scenery. In other words, Dave Cash, against his will, is being transported by a possibly inebriated and/or incompetent employee of the Topps art department from his place as an all-star second-baseman on a division-winning Phillies team to an expansion squad in a foreign country with a suffering exchange rate, where he will waste the remainder of his prime toiling on fraying Astroturf in front of the empty plastic seats of a dome that will echo quietly with muttered Gallic curses that Dave Cash will be able to understand in his bones even though he doesn’t speak a word of French.
Why would someone want to be an imposter, to create and inhabit the persona of someone they’re not, to for once take the reigns of ceaseless change? I’m not really sure. But ask Dave Cash. He might know.