How to Disappear ... Or Not.

Last week, we described how Portland Center Stage is reserving balcony seats at the September 17, 2009 show of "Apollo” for bearers of laptops and iPhones who want to Tweet during the show. We congratulate them for adopting such bold audience development tactics. Which is why we have to wonder if it is a coincidence that PCS is about to open another play this month--"How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found"-- just as a national news story breaks about a man who tried, and failed to do just that?

Coincidence, or the result of an elaborate conspiracy to sell tickets? Marketing Director Cynthia Fuhrman has already shamelessly jumped on the story in a post on the PCS site.

We assume you're familiar with the saga of Marcus Schrenker, the aviation enthusiast-cum-fraudulent financier who tried to escape legal, marital and financial burdens (the Trifecta of Troubles) by pointing his plane southward, setting it on autopilot, then bailing out over the pine barrens of Alabama. The empty plane eventually made landfall in a Florida swamp while Mr. Schrenker was filling up an ice bucket outside his Harperville, Alabama motel room.

The next morning, our protagonist retrieved the motorcycle he’d stashed in a nearby storage unit and set off to start his new life. (All the reports we’ve read include the important detail that he rode a red motorcycle). His plan began falling apart almost from the start, disintegrating toward a sad denouement when authorities found him hiding in a tent with deep gashes on his wrists, pleading to be allowed to die. Marcus is expected to survive. Marcus will have some explaining to do. Surprisingly, there’s been no mention of whether he was wearing adult diapers during his flight.

All this got us thinking about disappearing. Not that we're planning to do so. We’ve learned that the first rule of disappearing is to never talk about disappearing. Having posted this, we're already screwed. Still, out of curiosity, we found at least one website with detailed tips on disappearing. We'd give you the link, but those people scare us. Here is a sample of the wisdom we gleaned (with direct quotes from the source in bold type):

First, you must “understand who or what you're hiding from. You should consider the resources of the individual or organization which you're hiding from as well as their degree of motivation for finding you. In other words, this existential question: If you disappeared, how hard would anyone try to find you ... if at all?

The second prescription is to Throw away yourself and build a new you …You want to go beyond making yourself disappear: You want to make it seem as if you never existed.

Get rid of photographs, discard all possessions except cash. Don clothes you wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in. Abandon your car, but not by driving it into a lake where it will be easily spotted thanks to those damned tire tracks in the mud. Instead, leave it in a rough neighborhood with the engine running, the windows down, and the pink slip on the dashboard.

Leave town, but don’t go to any place you’ve ever talked about wanting to visit, or where family members live. Most important: Do not do something obviously stupid like running to Las Vegas or Hollywood.”

Change your habits. “When you throw your old self away, you need to discard as many predictable patterns as possible. If you’re a smoker, stop. If you don’t smoke, start. If you enjoy hot and spicy foods, change to mild foods.”

Avoid depositing bits of yourself. For instance, wear a hat indoors to cut down on hair samples left behind. Use toilet seat protectors, and NEVER lick an envelope or stamp, for obvious reasons."

Here’s good advice, even if you’re not on the lam: Don't leave blood, semen, or menstrual discharge behind you as you run. If you happen to spill your blood on something, there's not a damn thing you can do to get it cleaned up so you may as well not expend the effort to try.”

This next is almost zen-like: “Don't look for the cameras; notice where they are not and then focus on that spot."

Finally, the author suggests people and groups that might help you stay hidden--particularly those of the anti-establishment and socially disassociated populace that has always existed and has always been an asset to those on the run.” He suggests several options in this regard:

(1) Motorcycle Gangs. "Buy people drinks, talk politics, express your viewpoints, and get to know the people in motorcycle hangouts."

(2) Punk Rock or New Age dance studios. "This group of people tend to be younger than the motorcycle crowd. Your best bet for assistance will be among the younger kids but, being young, they'll probably be living with their parents and have no resources to help you with."

(3) Gay bars. "Of course it helps if you're good looking, yet most people at gay and straight bars are looking for companionship first and hoping for sex second. If you're interesting or have interesting stories to tell, finding someone in a gay bar can be mutually beneficial to the both of you."

Finally, this advice to avoid drawing attention to yourself while driving: “Get a couple of books and put them on your dashboard. Something from Ann (sic) Rand and Albert Einstein, maybe, or something containing intellectual material."

Good advice indeed.

Although we have yet to secure the rights to the Marcus Schrenker story, we have completed a draft of the first act for the stage. We're calling it, "Sorry, But I Gotta Fly."

TIME AND PLACE: The present, late at night. The lobby of a run-down motel, shabbily furnished. A television plays soundlessly in the background. The room glows with neon light seeping through the venetian blinds.

MUSIC PLAYS: A banjo hesitantly plunking the theme from "The Deliverance."

We see the CLERK seated behind the front desk, working a crossword puzzle. He’s wearing a shabby bathrobe and chewing an unlit cigar.

A spotlight reveals the NARRATOR, a Rod Serling fellow dressed in a gray-suit and a narrow tie.

NARRATOR: They say if you want to disappear without being found, you have to leave everything behind. You have to be … unencumbered.

MARCUS enters through the front door. He’s dressed in a torn flight-suit and is awkwardly dragging a very large parachute behind him. The parachute lines tangle in the doorway and in his legs. His forehead is bleeding. He is out of breath. The CLERK watches without expression.

MARCUS (unnecessarily ringing the bell on the counter): I’m looking for a bed for the night. Do you have any rooms?

CLERK: I have several rooms. [pause] Isn't it all about rooms?

MARCUS: I mean, do you have any vacancies?

CLERK: I do. Do you have a reservation?

MARCUS: Well, I wish I'd worked on my marriage harder ... and I suppose ...

CLERK: Regrets.

MARCUS: that I should have been more ... [puzzled] What?

CLERK: Regrets.

MARCUS: What about regrets?

CLERK: You're talking about regrets. I asked if you had a reservation.

MARCUS: Oh, you mean am I hesitant? Do I suffer incertitude? Am I skeptical? Or is it doubt?

CLERK: [Returning to his crossword]. Yes. Doubt. A five letter word for uncertainty. Thank you.

CLERK Peers at a computer screen, types on the keyboard, slaps the side of the monitor, examines a wall of keys. MARCUS becomes increasingly impatient. Finally,

CLERK: I have one room left. It's on the second floor ...[looking at the parachute piled around Marcus' feet] but you don't look like a man who's worried about heights.

MARCUS: It doesn’t matter, I’ll be disappearing … I mean, I’ll be checking out early in the morning.

NARRATOR: They say if you want to disappear without being found, you must not confide your plans to anybody. Not to your friends. Not to your family. Not to your priest or your doctor. Nobody.

MARCUS wipes his brow and notices blood on his hands. He tries wiping it off on his jump suit, on the parachute and finally on a handkerchief that the CLERK had handed to him. Also, he blows his nose on the handkerchief.

NARRATOR: They say if you want to disappear without being found, you must never leave physical traces behind.

CLERK: That's gonna be $29.95 for the night, unless you want the HBO and the internet hookup, which are gonna be an extra five. Porn's extra on top of that.

MARCUS: Okay, give me the extras. I need to check my e-mail tonight.

NARRATOR looks at him incredulously, shaking his head.

CLERK: No outta town checks. Cash or credit card only.

MARCUS pulls out a credit card and continues looking in his wallet.

MARCUS: Hey, do you give a Triple A discount?

NARRATOR: [Tearing off his coat and tie in disgust and reverting to a broad, southern accent). Jeezus H. Christ on a Crutch! That boy is just plain helpless. He don't know shit about disappearing. [He exits in a huff].

CLERK: [Returning to his crossword] Nothing to be done.

SOUND of sirens approaching.

I don't know anything about the script for PCS's production, but I do know it's being directed by Rose Riordan, so that's a very good sign. The show opens on January 27th and runs through March 22nd in the Ellen Bye Studio of the Armory.


Unknown said...

MTC, we approve of this noirish tilt in your perspective of late. Where is it all leading? Only the Shadow........

MightyToyCannon said...

I was thinking of following Pinter's format for "Betrayal" -- i.e., having the second act take place three days earlier, with Marcus at a library or bookstore trying to find, to no avail of course, a copy of "How to Disappear."

Unknown said...

Whew -- that was amazing! I don't know what to say, except this:

Art Scatter has just made Culture Shock a recipient of the Premios Dardo Award. For details, see

Congrats, and pass it along, as noirishly as possible!

Anonymous said...

Nice work.

MightyToyCannon said...

We are deeply honored and humbled by the Premios Dardo award, and will be passing the torch forward shortly after putting our collective heads together.