Masked - March 2020

That Masked Man
by Clive Collins

1955. I pester my mother, successfully this year, for a Guy Fawkes mask and in it haunt the streets. Half-blind, lucky, probably, to survive the traffic, yet transformed also: conspirator, would-be-blower-up of kings!

1959. A printers’ strike in Britain banishes Beanos, Dandys, Toppers, Beezers. Instead, American comics fill the newsagents’ shelves with masked men (and the occasional woman). Our new second-hand TV shows, The Lone Ranger; Saturday afternoon pictures, Captain Africa. Fighters for justice all, and exciting enough, though I retain my affection for the poor sod burned in effigy each November and, down our street, wearing my mask.

1960. I pass the selection exam for grammar school and am sent to one where, for the first two years at least, and faces, stature, girths apart, we all look just the same: gray flannels, green blazers, green caps. Masked.

1962. Slowly, some affect changes: drainpipe trousers, Cliff-Richard quiffs, winkle-pickers, chisel toes. Teds, then Rockers.

1966. My mask is slipping: blazer shrunken, “drainies” patched, chisel toes kicked in. A Saturday job buys me a suit (a quid a week), a haircut (five bob a time). Again am I not me. A Mod I am. Or just about, and only for a while.

1968. University. Suit off; jeans on – patched with velvet natch; haircuts postponed (indefinitely?). What was a Mod? Oh, yeah . . .

1974. I need a job having not become a paperback writer. Back in a suit and off to Africa. Masked again to a country of masks – Poro, Bundu. Not easy to see through those. Not hard to see through mine.

1983. Tokyo. Here everybody wears a mask – of one sort or another: sararīman, ofisuredī, wamono, loligoth. Here I find, at last, I’d no need to bring my own. It’s been assigned: foreigner.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The late Frank Zappa is on record (literally!) as telling the audience at one of his UK performances, “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourself.”  Substitute the word mask for uniform, and you have my thoughts when writing this piece, more or less.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clive Collins is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/ Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.  Carried Away and Other Stories is available from Red Bird Chapbooks.