by Pat Cashman

When I was a teenage kid, there was one TV show that I could not miss each week: “Mission: Impossible.” The series (and more recently, a couple of movies starring Tom Cruise) revolved around the exploits of the I.M.F.—which stood for the Impossible Missions Force. They took on the jobs that the Easy Missions Force, Moderately-Difficult Missions Force—and the Improbable-But-Not-Impossible Missions Force could not handle.

Of course, the I.M.F. was just a fictional organization. (In real life, the closest thing to an Impossible Missions Force might be the Sound Transit Agency.) The I.M.F.’s purpose was to depose evil despots, crack secret codes, rescue benevolent ambassadors, etc.—and to do it so cleverly, so discreetly that no one would be the wiser.

To manage it, the Force used a combination of clever gadgets, elaborate schemes and nifty deceptions. But, best of all, they used masks and disguises—so convincing, that they fooled the bad guys 100 % of the time. (If they were playing sports, of course, that would be 110% of the time.)

In real life, the most talented Hollywood makeup artists can toil for hours to try and make someone look like, say, President George W. Bush. But when all is said and done, that person will perhaps look similar, but not identical—to President Bush. At least not close enough to fool Laura Bush. (Although, in dim light, Dick Cheney might fall for it.)

In the most recent “Mission: Impossible”, the mask bit pretty much reached the saturation point, when in just about every scene someone was donning a mask to look like someone else from the preceding scene—who was also wearing a mask.

Still, there would be definite advantages—and wonderful mischief to be made—if totally convincing masks were available in REAL life: You could don a Dr. Laura mask and walk around town shouting: “I’m kidding about all those things I say on the radio! I don’t really believe any of that stuff! I’m just doing shtick!”

Or put on a Bill Gates mask—and then stand on a street corner with a handmade cardboard sign: “Need Justice Department to cut slack.”

Here’s a suggestion from a friend of mine: Dress up like a woodchuck and stop every passerby saying, “I know what your question is—and the answer is two cords.” (If you don’t understand that one, you wouldn’t get his other suggestion about dressing up like Peter Piper.)

As a teenage kid, the appeal of “Mission: Impossible” had just about everything to do with my obsession with masks. A school buddy and I would spend just about every dollar we had at the local costume and mask shop. My mom would chide me: “I can’t believe you spent money on a stupid mask!”

Stupid? You call a gorilla mask stupid? You call a werewolf mask—with real hair—stupid? You call a mask with one dangling eyeball hanging out of its socket stupid? Oh. You do? Well, I guess just we don’t see eye to dangling eye on that issue.

Well, that didn’t matter to my friend and me. We would pull the masks over our heads—and then, with an unmasked friend behind the wheel—we would tool all over town, pulling alongside other cars and waiting for the occupants to look over at us.

Sometimes they would look slightly startled. (After all, you don’t see that many vampires and Frankenstein monsters driving around in a Dodge Dart.) Other times, they simply looked annoyed. But regardless, we found it hugely entertaining—and not nearly as crowded as the local Mensa meetings.

But one day, in the midst of our fun, a police car came up behind us—lights whirling and sirens blaring. Then another squad car screeched up behind it. Then, a third. The next thing we knew, we were sprawled across the hood of our car—being frisked like the worst career criminals from any episode of “N.Y.P.D.”

As it happened, just an hour or so earlier, a nearby bank had been robbed by (just our luck) two guys wearing Halloween masks. That made us, at least circumstantially, two prime suspects. Luckily, after a minute or two, one of the policeman recognized me as “that nutty Cashman kid.”

For the next ten minutes, we got the lecture of our lives—with the policeman who had recognized me, telling us how irresponsible we had been. “You two goofballs better think twice before you go around wearing masks next time,” he told us. “Maybe it’s about time you started to grow up!”

The officer confiscated our masks and told us we could go. We felt lower than the I-90 bridge just after it sunk. The policeman’s manner had shown us exactly the difference between being immature teenage boys like us—and an intelligent, grownup man like him.

But just before the officer climbed back into his car, we heard him quite clearly say to his partner: “Hey Max, get a load of this cool werewolf mask—it’s got real hair on it!”

I guess boys may grow older and more responsible—but they don’t ever really grow up.

For most of us, THAT would be impossible.

Copyright © 2003 Pat Cashman