You can’t see it, this chipped front tooth of mine, the hole in my smile. It’s hidden by this mask I made out of a 40-year old Reyn Spooner aloha shirt I inherited from my father. There’s a global pandemic now, and people need facemasks. Many of us in Hawaii are making them for ourselves.

It hurt to cut it up, the holy relic that now protects me against a relentless, invisible menace. It once served as my father’s compulsory, downtown social camouflage, his Honolulu monkey suit. It’s now been butchered for parts.

You wouldn’t know that the negative-space centerpiece of my banged-up grill is the result of the gleeful antics of an 11-year-old knucklehead and his hanai brother on Thanksgiving Day, 1981. Neither of those inseparable boys, those brothers, could then imagine the separate quarantines we now share.

Unless I told you, you couldn’t know that my parents had the jagged hole in my smile spackled the next day because I had an upcoming audition for a speaking part in a second-season episode of Magnum, P.I.

I’d have to tell you that I got the part, that I spent 15 hours at Aloha Stadium for the shoot, and that I played catch and a game of touch football with Tom Selleck and an animated pantheon of NFL Hall-of-Famers and another kid from the shoot. I’d remember marveling, mesmerized, at two Pro Bowlers whose names I forget floating one of those Aerobie flying hoops the full length of the field, from tunnel to tunnel.

The other kid didn’t have a speaking part, and you’d have to ask me to know how “alpha” I felt as I beat him for a long touchdown, a majestic, arcing bomb from Dick Butkus. I’d admit that I don’t really remember if the other kid had any lines in the scene we shot in front of the ticket office. I do remember his name.

I might tell you how superhuman I felt, sprinting for all I was worth as the cast and crew on the sideline roared, pounding in my head like boiling blood. I could probably be convinced to tell you how I spent the crisp $50 bill that Butkus slipped me as we stood on the Rainbows Football logo. I’d imitate the kindly growl I can still hear with my 11-year-old ears, “Thanks, Jamie. You just won me five hundred dollars.” I had just won the Super Bowl.

I’d love to tell you about how bright my future was that day as I mingled among towering, living legends in the long afternoon shadows of a silent and somehow solemn Aloha Stadium.

I could hardly wait to tell my dad about that moment. I hung out with the cast and crew for a catered, on-field dinner after one of the stuntmen called my parents. We were having a great time, he’d said, and would it be all right if I hung out with them until they wrapped for the day? He’d bring me home himself.

I’d recall waking up in the front seat of his massive production van as he pulled up to my family’s rented townhouse, seemingly still dreaming as I floated into my mother’s arms, the happiest boy in the world.

The mask I wear is made out of the shirt my dad was wearing that night as he greeted the stunt coordinator in our driveway. “We had a lot of fun today,” he’d told my dad, shaking his hand. “You got a good kid there.”

I’d probably go on to tell you how the original patch job on my broken tooth gave out sometime in the mid-1990s. I’d describe the drunken punk rock teenager in Golita who slammed into me as I barked into a rusted microphone during a showcase of indie punk bands.

You might ask why I never got it fixed, my chipped tooth. I’d shrug. “What the hell?” I’d say. Might as well get a tattoo removed, if I had one.

It’s a conversation I’d love to have without these COVID masks, maybe over drinks at my local. But this isn’t that, and I’m just here at your gas station for a few basics: beer, bourbon, cigarettes, and instant noodles. You just want me out of your store. We’ll offer muffled thanks and hope our eyes share our sincerity.

Jamie Winpenny

behindthemask mask

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