8. What Alias Do You Use?

by H. W. Moss

Everyone has an alias, or should have. This is the name you give telephone solicitation callers, magazine subscription services, city inspectors. In short, the fake name you pass on to people you really don’t want to know.

Mine is Phil Amdahl. My old friend, Dennis, is Forrest Dvorak. Vic told me he is Bob Brown. It is surprising what happens when you ask your best friend, “What’s your alias?”

Instead of questioning what you mean by that, they usually have a prompt reply.

The internet has a “wild card alias” that is now out of vogue. Domain name owners once used a wild card alias to receive all email sent to that site even if it was addressed incorrectly or to someone else. Unfortunately, spam put an end to that practice.

An alias can be used beneficially, such as to screen calls. My friend Carol (not her real name) gave her cat’s name, George Jones (not the cat’s real name), to the phone company when she had the phone installed. Now, whenever she answers and a caller asks for George or Mister Jones, she knows immediately how to react and respond.

We’re not talking about using an alias for illicit purposes, although that has been their historical intent. Lee Harvey Oswald’s first alias, the one he opened the post office box with where he had the gun sent, was Alek James Hidell. When Oswald’s wife learned of the name, she remarked it looked like a misspelling of “Fidel” as in Fidel Castro.

My thought is Oswald wanted to hide everything from everyone. He wanted to “hide all,” which he shortened or abbreviated, if you will, to “Hidell.”

In an earlier life I used to serve process. It was a job, but it was a lousy job. The person to be served had a name and, often, another name and, sometimes, another name. In that case, these secondary or tertiary names were preceded by aka which took me a long time to discover meant “also known as.” And although I rarely watched Seinfeld, many of my friends did. Art Vandelay is George Costanza who was played by Jason Alexander which gives one pause: an actor whose character has an alias.

“Alan” or “Allen” Smithee is the name a director puts on a film when he or she does not want to be associated with that movie. Everyone in Hollywood is supposed to know this. My film guide lists Alan Smithee in the index of directors as having made at least six movies including “Appointment With Fear” (1987) which is reviewed as simply a bad film, “Death of a Gunfighter” (1969) starring Richard Widmark and Lena Horne that is described as “a sturdy Western,” and Ghost Fever (1985) which won a turkey and no stars for a rating. Other Smithee directed films include “Let’s Get Harry” (1986) with Robert Duvall, “Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home” (1987) and “Stitches” (1985) which the film guide reviewers called “a turkey by any other name is still a turkey.”

Some may disagree with this, but I believe an alias must be distinguished from a nickname. Men have nicknames which they think are aliases. They are not. “Scarface Al” was not Alphonse Capone’s alias but his moniker. Billy the Kid would only be an alias if William Bonney signed his name that way. My friend Preston goes by “Captain” or “The Captain,” which he is not, and Cardinal Richelieu was a title, not an alias, although everyone knew and feared him as his “Eminence Rouge.”

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for burglary of the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee: James McCord, Jr., alias Edward Martin; Bernard Barker, alias Frank Carter, alias “Macho”; Frank Sturgis, alias Joseph Hamilton, Frank Fiorini and a dozen other known aliases; Eugenio Martinez served with Castro’s army, then became an anti-Castro guerrilla fighter. No alias reported; Virgilio Gonzales was formerly a barber in Cuba, later was an employee at Missing Link Key Shop as a locksmith in Miami. No alias reported.

The playwright William Inge was unhappy with changes made to his screenplay for “Bus Riley’s Back in Town” (1965), so at his insistence, the writing credit on the film is “Walter Gage”.

I have a friend who goes by the name Trout and another who is known as Turtle. These are true aliases and Turtle says he has not used his real first name since he was 15. I know another person named Katherine who goes by Kat, and a fellow known solely as Fish. My comic book artist was The Ant. I once introduced Fish to Turtle, Fish to The Ant, Fish to Kat. The Ant and Turtle already knew one another.

On Saturday nights I used to go to a nightclub called the Elbo Room. I asked Jennifer behind the bar what her alias was and she immediately replied, “Delilah Fontaine,” adding coyly, “All girls have another name, silly boy.” Please note: she had a complete first and last name that rolled off her tongue with practiced ease. A nearby patron named Ariana volunteered that her other name is Mary. She didn’t give a last name.

When they were kids, my friends John and Giff lived on the same block. One year Giff and two other eleven year olds were busted stealing Christmas lights off a neighbor’s front lawn. The property owner was quite resourceful. He lined them up and snapped a Polaroid and wrote each boy’s name down. Then he went to John’s father to complain.

John was called into the room and advised of his rights, such as they were. Professing innocence, he asked to see the Polaroid. Sure enough, there was Giff who had given his name as John. I don’t believe Giff continued to use that alias. After all, it didn’t work the first time.

I use Phil Amdahl whenever I’m in a situation that might get him in trouble. This is the name of a high school classmate I never met. One day I was visiting a house off campus during lunch break where many at my school hung out. I went downstairs to the basement rec room where I admired a rifle in a cabinet owned by the student’s father. Then I went upstairs.

Less than an hour later there came a knock on the door. Panic ensued as dozens of police burst through. I was handcuffed and trundled down to the station where I was interrogated. Seems someone had followed me downstairs to that same rifle which was plucked from its case and taken upstairs to the third floor where it was sighted out onto the street. The miscreant sighted on a cop.

Everyone remembered me having pointedly said something about the weapon, so I was fingered. The real attempted assassin was eventually discovered, but I have long harbored the belief he did not get what he deserved and have tried at every opportunity since then to get him in trouble.

That’s A – M – D – A – H – L, officer.

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