first time I saw him strolling through our neighborhood, I did a
perfect double-take: the kind you see in Three Stooges movies,
or those old Tex Avery cartoons where the wolf's eyes bug out and
his tongue rolls to the ground like a bright pink ribbon.
right before my unbelieving eyes, was a tall, dark-complexioned
man with a neat black beard, a fistful of ornate silver rings, and
two small but unmistakable bumps on his forehead. Horns: firm, slightly
pointy protrusions, as red and shiny as tiny apples. Apparently,
while I wasn't looking, the devil himself had moved to Jackson Heights,
Queens, just ten subway stops from Manhattan. (Perhaps even the
Prince of Darkness is unwilling to pay Midtown rent.)
days later, my wife, Ingrid, reported seeing the same apparition
in a local health-food store, this time in the company of a beautiful
red-haired woman. She, too, sported tiny horns, along with sharp,
elongated ears. We called them "the Satans," and dreamt
up elaborate speculations regarding their origins and habits. Were
they hard-core neopagans? Devil worshipers? Super-freaks? What kind
of lunatics would give themselves horns, anyhow?
never bothered to ask them, of course. We were too scared.
mother-in-law, Karin, however, was not. In town for the weekend
to see our two-year-old son, Lazar, she ran into the Satans at the
Colombian bakery around the corner from our apartment. They had
an infant with them in a stroller (no horns), and Karin showed not
a moment's hesitation. As my father-in-law later told us, she walked
right over to their table and introduced herself. "Those look
awesome!" she said, eyeing the horns. "Are they Halloween
ensued a conversation in which it was learned that the Satans were
in fact named Tony and K-Ta; that they ran a neighborhood tattoo
and body-piercing parlor; that their little girl, Emily, was just
a bit younger than Lazar; and that they were, objectively speaking,
two of the nicest people one could hope to meet.
later, Lazar and I ran into Tony, K-Ta and Emily back at the same
bakery. I introduced myself as Karin's son-in-law (a.k.a the Husband
of the Daughter of She Who Was Not Afraid), and we spent half an
hour cooing at one another's children, talking about local schools,
and discussing the trials and tribulations of being self-employed
parents. Take away the radical body art, which we talked about,
too -- the horns are silicon implants, provided by "a friend
in Brooklyn," and nothing compared to what the Europeans are
doing -- and we might have been any random grouping of parents and
kids at the local playground.
I got home, I couldn't stop marveling at how sweet Tony and K-Ta
were, as if their cosmetic alterations were an elaborate mask designed
to hide their true natures. Ingrid had a different take on it, one
that I suspect is closer to the truth.
if the horns and ears are more than just a provocative disguise,
a transgressive fashion statement, or a particularly aggressive
way of standing out from the crowd? What if they are a filter whose
main purpose is to weed out all but the least judgmental among us,
the ones who don't jump to conclusions based solely on appearances?
never have approached Tony and K-Ta on my own, and I was only too
willing to mock them from a distance. (Cowardice has always paired
well with fear and suspicion.) Karin, on the other hand, treated
them like human beings; and in so doing, she forged a connection
with some lovely and fascinating individuals.
most people, I like to think that I'm fair and open-minded, not
to mention a good judge of character. Now I'm not so sure. After
all, if I can't tell a devil from an angel, what else might I be
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission|