The Best Place to Hide a Needle
I’m being turned into an old man. The woman is a pro—under her touch my hair falls out and fades to gray, my skin wrinkles and pits, the lines around my eyes and mouth deepen. The process takes an hour and ages me thirty years.
When it’s done, I look like this.
Apart from the fact that I look awesome—go ahead, admit it, that shit’s hot—the reason I’m doing this is to understand what it feels like to hide in plain sight. The gig is that I’ll now go wander around while three people search for me. They’ll have photos of my pre-transformation self, and they’re betting they can catch me within fifteen minutes.
See, Whitey Bulger, the man alleged to be one of the worst gangsters in American history, was on the run for more than fifteen years. And for most of that time, he was in America, hiding in plain sight.
Which sounds fine and good. But my expectations for this scene are pretty low. Looking in the mirror is hilarious, but I still see myself clearly. To me I look like me, only wearing makeup.
But as I hit the streets of Boston, I started to notice some changes. It was a subtle shift in energy. A disturbance in the force. For awhile I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realized that people were passing me differently.
I don’t mean that they were turning cartwheels. It was the way they walked, the eye contact or lack thereof, the turned shoulder or ashed cigarette. There are hundreds of cues that our subconscious mind is constantly both sending and receiving, cues that communicate who we are and how much space we take up.
And now people looking at me see their creepy but ineffectual uncle, and they’re adjusting accordingly.
Girls won’t meet my eye. At all. Which is silly because, hello, do you see this sweet ‘stache?
Guys my age ignore me completely; I’m just a moving obstacle. Guys of the age I’ve been made up to look do see me, and we react to each other, radiating clues to our position. But wrinkled and gray and wearing a really ugly shirt I borrowed from the DP—thanks, Damon!—my place in the pecking order is clear: I’m at the low end of it.
It’s not that I’m used to strolling a carpet of rose petals scattered by coy redheads whose downcast eyes belie naughty intentions, laughing to myself as men scurry out of my way.
It’s just that right now I’m completely invisible. Seriously. You’d walk right by me and never notice.
And that’s when it hits—this is how Whitey got away with it for so long. For most of his life, he carried himself like the biggest alpha dog in town, and everyone knew that it was true of James Whitey Bulger. But when he was on the run, he was just an elderly Irish gent with white hair and the fading remnants of a devilish grin. Who would have imagined the two were the same?
After all, a haystack is a pretty good place to hide a needle. But you know what’s a better one?