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Reboot

twins

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melville

Female-led Ghostbusters reboot gets summer 2016 release date.

Report: Disney is considering Chris Pratt for an Indiana Jones reboot.

Fantastic Four reboot: What do we think?

We think remakes and reboots and sequels and prequels indistinguishable from the previous reboots of remakes have taken over the movie industry along with movies so similar to hundreds of other movies they might as well be reboots or remakes. What’s going on here? We live in an era of cinematic redundancy on an epic scale, and the messages being repeated ad nauseam are so primitive and shallow and false, one wonders, “When was it the Not Very Bright Children took control of everything?”

Who cares? I do. I think our movies and books, those that the corporate overlords allow to reach large audiences, intentionally purvey what our overlords want us to believe and think and feel. There is method to this mad redundancy, and a purpose, which is to keep us captive in what Iain McGilchrist calls “a hall of mirrors wherein we just get reflected back into more of what we know about what we know about what we know.”

 “No man was ever great by imitation” Samuel Johnson

Original art is subversive to the dominant paradigm, and the controlling stockholders in the current dominant paradigm are especially keen on squelching anything that might upset their iron grip on the collective consciousness. Thus they employ their news media to heap praise on the unending flow of wholly unoriginal literature, cinema, and music spewed into our bookstores, movie theatres, radio stations, and our always-on computer pad phone things.

Why? What do they, those in charge of the faucets of media, think will happen if original art is allowed to flourish? What they think will happen is what will happen: they will lose control of our beautiful minds, and human society will change in ways antithetical to the dominant paradigm.

It is not generally known or remembered, but in response to that brief artistic and social revolution known as the Sixties, the most powerful multi-national corporations in the world bought up every independent publisher in America, fired every last open-minded editor, and instituted a system of selectivity that would make the most fascist of dictators envious. Control what people read and watch and you control the foundations of modern culture.

“Men often applaud an imitation and hiss the real thing.” Aesop

As I was pondering this whole reboot phenomenon, I found on Dave Smith’s valuable Ukiah Blog Live, a link to a delightfully animated lecture called The Divided Brain by the above-quoted Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and brain expert. To my mind, his lecture clearly and concisely explains the reboot mania. To grossly oversimplify his lecture: our culture and society have been taken over by those who are entirely controlled by the dominant functions of the left sides of their brains, and, as a consequence, we have become a society and culture dominated by left-brain dynamics.

McGilchrist debunks many of the popular ideas about differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and he is adamant that the two sides need each other to function optimally. He also has a nifty explanation for the importance of the frontal lobe in mediating the collaborations of the left and right halves of the brain.

I highly recommend this animated lecture (you can find it on YouTube) and suggest you may want to pause the flow occasionally because McGilchrist presents a great deal of information in a short amount of time. I will not try to recapitulate his many startling facts and observations, but I will list some of his characterizations of the two halves of our brains.

Left brain: narrow sharp focus on what is already known, prefers simplified models of reality, chooses virtual over real, static, isolated, fixed, decontextualized, ultimately lifeless.

Right brain: sustained broad focus, openness to what is not yet known, interested in the living rather than the mechanical, changing, evolving, comfortable with what is never perfectly known.

McGilchrist concludes his lecture by quoting Einstein—“The intuitive mind (right brain) is a sacred gift, and the rational mind (left brain) is a faithful servant.” McGilchrist then responds to Einstein’s insight by saying, “Our society now honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

I would argue that we have not so much forgotten the gift as it has been wrested away from us by our punitive system of education (left brain), our highly controlled media (left brain) and an economic system that pretends to support innovation but is primarily interested in refining what we already have in place (left brain) while intentionally inciting our deep-seated fears (left brain) to keep us from taking creative risks (right brain).

When I walk around downtown Mendocino on my errands or in search of a sunny perch, I will often encounter people—young, middle-aged, old—who seem to be looking for something they cannot find. They peer down alleyways, frown at buildings they fear to enter, exchange troubled glances, and stumble on until they grow tired and return to their vehicles or find a place where they can sit down and eat something.

I imagine they are doing battle with the left sides of their brains. They have come here, knowingly or unknowingly, to escape their left-brained realities in hope of finding a right-brained reality. Intuitively, they know their spirits are being strangled by mechanized redundancy, and their inner voices have directed them to this place whose name was once synonymous with counter culture.

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Why Bother?

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2012)

“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity.” Vaclav Havel

Dave Smith’s invaluable Ukiah Blog Live pointed me to a sobering presentation by Guy MacPherson on YouTube entitled Twin Sides of the Fossil Fuel Coin. MacPherson is a prominent conservation biologist who argues clearly and concisely that the only hope for the survival of humans beyond another couple of decades is the complete collapse of our global industrial society right now, today, and even that probably won’t be soon enough to stave off fast-approaching human extinction and the extinction of virtually all living things due to increasingly rapid global warming.

I watched the nearly hour-long presentation alone and then I watched it again a few hours later with Marcia, and then I spent a sleepless night wrestling with the overwhelming evidence that, barring a confluence of major miracles, we are about to experience massive economic and environmental collapse, and when I say “we are about to” I mean any day now, with some very reputable scientists suggesting the earth will be uninhabitable by humans in less than twenty years.

That’s right. Twenty years. Why? Well, in a nutshell, all recent data suggests that the warming oceans and the concurrent melting of arctic ice and the thawing of previously frozen bogs of Siberia, Canada, and Alaska are combining to release so much methane into the atmosphere that earthly temperatures will soon rise to deathly levels and everything that needs oxygen to survive will perish. And long before the oxygen runs out, crop failures and water shortages and catastrophic storms and economic collapse will instigate mass starvation and unimaginable social chaos. There will be no safe havens when there is no oxygen to breathe. We cannot move to a nicer place. This is it.

Meanwhile, I’ve got bills to pay and the men have arrived to install a deer fence. The house needs a new roof, we’re out of carrots, and we better get that package in the mail today or the presents won’t get to my sister before Christmas. Marcia is rehearsing some lovely cello-piano duets with Carolyn in the living room and the greedy bastards have just upped our health insurance twenty-five per cent and Obama is caving into the Republicans on tax reform because he is a Republican, and by the way, Obama doesn’t give a rat’s ass about global warming and the fast-approaching death of everybody’s children including his own.

So how do we proceed when we know the end of everything is so near? We can carry on as usual until something stops us from carrying on, or we can call our friends and say, “Let’s put our heads together and think of what we can do to try to help save the world?” And then we can start doing whatever we figure out to try to do. In either case, according to MacPherson, we’re doomed to a horrific future because we’ve waited too long to make the substantive changes we needed to make to avert global disaster. So why bother to try to improve things if we’ve already missed our chance? Why not just enjoy life as much as possible for however many years we have left and then when things get really icky, commit suicide?

That is probably what some of us will do. And some of us will hoard food and water in hopes of staying alive for a few months longer than we might otherwise live. And most of us will starve to death or be killed by other starving people or…you see why I had trouble sleeping.

In the meantime, I sure am enjoying the music Marcia and Carolyn are making in the living room—such masterful players, and so attuned to each other. What a miracle that humans evolved to where we could compose such gorgeous music and invent such fabulous instruments on which to bring forth such heavenly sounds. As it happens, I’ve been composing some new piano pieces I hope to record in the new year, and I’m looking forward to my novel Inside Moves being reissued in paperback in June with a flattering introduction by the famed Sherman Alexie; and I’m in talks with a publisher about bringing out a new edition of my book of writing exercises The Writer’s Path, and the deer fence guys are making great progress, which bodes well for the big vegetable garden I’m hoping to plant in the spring, and…

Gardens? Books? Music? Writing? What am I talking about? The human experiment is about to end. Forever. No more Shakespeare, no more Mendelssohn, no more Edith Wharton and Tony Bennett and Bill Evans and Eva Cassidy and Vincent Van Gogh. No more duets in the living room, no more walks on the beach, no more talks by the fire, no more snuggling in bed, no more laughter, no more Anderson Valley Advertiser, no more Giants baseball, no more going to the post office to get the mail. And no more garlic and basil and olive oil and almonds, i.e. no more pesto. Damn!

“The whole thing is quite hopeless, so it’s no good worrying about tomorrow. It probably won’t come.” J.R.R Tolkien

In 1971, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, I started an eight-person commune in Santa Cruz with the intention of becoming adept at organizing and operating group living situations that would, among other thing, minimize our use of automobiles and fossil fuels while maximizing regenerative ways of warming our dwellings in winter and growing lots of nourishing organic food. I was stoked (as we used to say) about the prospects of creating social systems that fulfilled the creative, emotional, culinary, and spiritual needs of individuals while enhancing life for the larger group and impacting society beyond the group in highly positive ways. What I discovered was that it was relatively easy to create such systems, but it was almost impossible to get American people, even fairly enlightened American people, to embrace such collective living arrangements for more than a little while.

Following the failure of the various communal systems I was involved with, I was initially at a loss to explain why so many people were so fiercely resistant to communal living (or even just neighborhood sharing systems) that were so much more economical and fun than going it alone. After years of thought, I came to the conclusion that social systems based on sharing rarely succeed in America because Americans (certainly those born after 1950) are entrained from birth to think of themselves first as individuals, secondly as members of a family (a distant second), and then maybe, and only maybe, as members of a larger group. Thus our various experiments failed because successful communal systems require individuals to put the group first, at least some of the time, which is the antithesis of the American way. In short, I was trying to fit round pegs into square holes, and I, too, was one of those round pegs, especially when it came to how quickly I lost patience with my fellow humans.

I mention these communal living experiments because in thinking about the fast-approaching end of life on earth, I think I understand why we have not been willing to change our ways to slow the destruction of the biosphere. We do not inherently feel we are part of anything beyond our separate selves. But even so, had we not invented such horribly destructive industrial systems and cars and trucks and trains that run on gasoline, and had we not so grossly overpopulated the world with our kind, we might be here for another two million years. Yet those destructive systems and inventions were born of our urge for individual power and control over others, and overpopulation is a function of our unwillingness to sacrifice individual desires for the good of the larger group.

So…do you believe Guy MacPherson, that the end of life is really very near? If you do believe him, what are you going to do about it? And if you don’t believe him, why don’t you?

Meanwhile, the deer fence guys are going great guns and Marcia and Carolyn are sounding fabulous and I want so much to believe that the scientists haven’t figured everything out that mother earth might do to cool herself down, and maybe we’ve got more time than they think and maybe my friends’ children and grandchildren won’t perish too soon. I’m sixty-three, so if I die ere long I will at least have had a fairly long life, but…

This just in! A planet with conditions capable of sustaining life is orbiting a star neighboring our sun! The star, called Tau Ceti, is only twelve light years away. Quick! Ready the giant spaceship (and dub her The Ark) and load the sacred vessel with two each of…

But seriously, folks, as the rain drums on our roof, and life goes on a while longer, I think of Mary Oliver’s poem The Buddha’s Last Instruction that begins

“Make of yourself a light,”

said the Buddha,

before he died.

I think of this every morning

as the east begins

to tear off its many clouds

of darkness, to send up the first

signal—a white fan

streaked with pink and violet,

even green.

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Goff & Krishnamurti

 

Mr. Magician, mixed media, by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012, and was inspired by a remembrance of Krishnamurti written by William Edelen and recently posted on Dave Smith’s stellar community forum Ukiah Blog Live.)

“Conventional education makes independent thinking almost impossible. Conformity leads to mediocrity. Conventional education puts an end to spontaneity and breeds fear.” Krishnamurti

I spent my two of years in college at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1967 to 1969 when the school was considered an experimental college because professors were supposed to write evaluations of students rather than give grades, and students were invited to invent their own programs of independent study.

One guy in my dorm did an independent study entitled Surfing Poems. He went surfing for ten weeks and wrote poems about his experience. Another fellow (he loved to play his guitar in our resonant dorm bathroom) did an independent study entitled Songs From My Life for which he wrote three songs melodically indistinguishable from Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. And a young woman in the dorm across from ours did an independent study called Pill Parables resulting in a twenty-five-page monologue about birth control pills and their impact on her sex life.

I proposed several independent study projects, but could never convince any professors to endorse and oversee my endeavors. My proposal to read the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis and then write a dissertation was turned down by five different professors, all of whom said Kazantzakis was of no literary importance, though I suspect the real reason they turned me down was that none of them were familiar with Kazantzakis’s writing. My proposal to write and produce an existentialist play entitled Food Fight, based on the several food fights that erupted in response to the execrable food served in the Stevenson College cafeteria, was rejected by two English professors, a professor of Drama, and my Anthropology advisor. And my proposal to take a daily photograph of the same naked person standing in front of the same redwood tree at the same time of day for ten weeks was turned down by no less than three professors in the Art department.

Thus, unquestionably, the four best things about my university experience were playing basketball, playing Frisbee, courting beautiful young women, and seeing, admission free and in the most intimate of venues, the likes of Segovia, Bola Sete, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, The Sons of Champlin, and Krishnamurti.

I would not have gone to see Krishnamurti (since I didn’t know who or what he was) had not my Philosophy professor Robert Goff urged his students to go; and Goff would not have been my Philosophy professor had I been accepted into a Creative Writing seminar. But my prose and poetry submissions failed to win the favor of the Creative Writing professors, and their last-minute rejection of me necessitated my quickly finding a class that was still accepting students, such classes being rare in those days of sudden and severe budget constraints (thank you, Ronald Reagan.)

I remember hurrying up the hill to the lecture hall on a chilly Tuesday morning in October and finding the place packed with a hundred and fifty other undergrads, most as desperate as I to get into one more class to complete their course loads. Goff’s introductory Philosophy course was one of the few classes still accepting students, perhaps because it was widely rumored that Goff actually required his students to do some work.

Promptly at nine, Goff entered the hall and walked sedately to the podium—a handsome man with black hair and a subtle goatee, his brown suit impeccably tailored. “I will require at least one essay a week from each of you,” he intoned forebodingly, “and you will be expected to read all the books and articles on the syllabus in order to be prepared for the rigorous final exam.”

Then he bowed his head and waited patiently as the vast majority of the assembled host fled the hall.

“Good,” said Goff, gazing at those of us who remained. “I look forward to seeing how many of you return on Thursday.”

Eighteen returned; and though I enjoyed Goff’s lectures and the challenge of writing essays in response to Descartes and Kant and Hume, the only thing I clearly remember about the course was Goff recounting his wonderful experience with Krishnamurti. However, before I tell you Goff’s Krishnamurti story, I will tell you mine.

So…every evening for a week in November of that year, Krishnamurti sat in a throne-like chair on the stage of the Cowell College dining hall, speaking about spiritual matters and answering questions from the audience. He wore an elegant suit and tie and a white turban that seemed too large for his slender face—small potted palm trees to his right and left. I attended two of his lectures and had an impossible time understanding anything he said. That is, I knew the meanings of the individual words he spoke, but I couldn’t make them add up to anything that made any sense to my nineteen-year-old brain. Yet I enjoyed him immensely and got great mileage out of doing shamefully misleading imitations of him for my friends, speaking in a high sing song voice with a stereotypical Indian accent.

And there was one thing Krishnamurti said that I understood perfectly well—his words the answer to a question I asked myself every day: should I drop out of college or stay in? I cannot remember his exact words, but I vividly remember the gist of his advice, which was that you must be your own teacher or you might as well be a parrot.

“All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive and evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers. You have to be your own teacher and own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable and necessary.” Krishnamurti

On the Tuesday morning following the week of Krishnamurti’s visit, as Goff stood before the dozen of us gathered for his lecture, someone called out, “Nice tie, Mr. Goff.”

“Oh, this,” he said, looking down at his colorful silk tie. “Funny story about this. As you know, I spent quite a bit of time with Krishnamurti while he was here, and during lunch on his last day I complimented him on his beautiful tie, and the next day a package arrived in the mail. He’d sent me his tie, and here it is.” Goff paused momentously. “I wish I’d known he was in the habit of doing things like that because he drives a fabulous Jaguar XKE and I would have showered him with compliments about his gorgeous car.”

“Intelligent revolt comes through self knowledge, through the awareness of one’s own thought and feeling…this highly awakened intelligence is intuition, the only true guide in life.” Krishnamurti

Fast-forward thirty years to a dinner party in Berkeley at which I recounted the story of Goff’s tie and Krishnamurti’s XKE, to which a bearded fellow with a twinkle in his eye responded, “I doubt very much that Krishnamurti owned the XKE. It was probably a loaner from one of his wealthy admirers. He didn’t actually own much of anything.”

“How do you know?” I asked, ever curious about how people know things about famous people.

“I lived in Ojai for five years,” the bearded fellow replied. “I moved there to attend Krishnamurti’s talks. I had been severely depressed for several years when I heard a recording of Krishnamurti and his voice and words obliterated my depression. I was half-dead and he brought me back to life. So I moved to Ojai to sit at his feet. Literally.”

“What was that like?” someone asked.

“Wonderful,” said the bearded fellow, warming to his tale. “After I’d been to several of his talks, he began to acknowledge me as a regular and would often whisper to me, ‘You again? When will you ever learn?’ and pretend to be dismayed that I kept coming back, until one evening, after years of this little routine, I replied, ‘No, it’s not me again. I only seem to be the same person. I’m actually always someone else.’ And he laughed and smiled one of his lightning smiles and I’ve been happy ever since.”

“What made you so happy?” I asked, imagining I would be happy, too, if Krishnamurti appreciated something I said.

“I felt anointed,” said the bearded fellow, his smiling eyes brimming with tears. “Equal.”

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The Double (Illustrated)

(Dave Smith posted an illustrated version of The Double on his marvelous Ukiah Blog Live, and I liked his version so well I decided to replicate it here. However, I just got nicked for a bunch of money for using a cartoon and images I did not have licenses to use, so several of the illustrations have been removed. This memoir originally appeared in The Anderson Valley Advertiser and was posted many moons ago on this blog.)

I still find it hard to fathom that there are men walking the earth who resemble me so exactly that even their close friends can’t tell us apart. But ever since I was a teenager, and until quite recently (I’m approaching sixty), I have had several remarkable experiences of being taken for someone I am not. These were not incidents of mistaken identity at a distance. No, these were encounters with people—complete strangers—who saw me up close, studied me, spoke to me, and swore that I was the person they thought I was—a person they knew intimately. And when I told them I was Todd, and not Mike or Paul or Huey or Jason, they thought I was either joking or lying. Furthermore, they told me I possessed this other person’s voice and physical mannerisms to such an uncanny degree, that if I was not the person they believed me to be, I must be his identical twin—or his ghost.

&

I was a junior in high school—1966—when I was first mistaken so completely for someone else. I was coming out of Discount Records in Menlo Park, California, when an immaculate two-door 1956 Chevrolet, black top, gray bottom, pulled up beside me, and the driver rolled down his window to say, “Hey, Mike. Listen to this. Something doesn’t sound right.” Then he gunned his engine. “See what I mean? Carburetor?”

“I don’t know who you are,” I said, shrugging politely. “And I don’t know anything about cars.”

“Mike?” he said, incredulously. “You’re not Mike?”

“I’m sorry. No.”

“Wow. You look just like him. Clothes and everything. And you sound like him, too.”

My outfit—blue jeans and T-shirt and high-top tennis shoes—was not particularly original in that era, and so I thought no more about this encounter until a week later when I came out of a guitar shop in Redwood City, and another 1956 Chevy, baby blue bottom, white top, white wall tires, pulled up beside me.

“Mike,” said the driver. “Can I come by a little later? Fucker’s missing. Listen.” And then he revved his engine, too.

“I’m not Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “Apparently I look like him, but I’m not him.”

The guy shut off his engine, got out of his car, and confronted me. He was big, and he scared me. “What the fuck you talkin’ about, Mike?”

“I’m not Mike,” I said, holding up my hands in surrender. “And I don’t know anything about cars. Nothing.”

He squinted at me. “You trippin’?”

“No, I’m…not Mike. My name is Todd.”

He frowned deeply. “You’re not Mike DeCamilla? Sequoia High?”

“Todd Walton. Woodside High.”

His jaw dropped and he gazed at me open-mouthed for a long time, as if waiting for me to…become Mike.

“Somebody else with a car like yours, only a different color, thought I looked like Mike, too. Black top, gray bottom.”

“Saxon,” said the guy, nodding. “He told us about you. Mike and me and…we thought he was…fuck, man, you not only look like Mike, you sound like him. Exactly.”

In retrospect, I wish I had asked this guy to introduce me to Mike, but I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t think to ask. And the next person who thought I was Mike was the last person I would have asked to introduce me to Mike.

I was in Discount Records, a favorite hangout of mine in the early days of Folk Rock, a place away from our parents where three of us could cram into a listening booth and blast Buffalo Springfield until the clerk banged on the glass and told us to turn Bluebird down.

I was flipping through the Jazz records, looking for a new Herbie Hancock, when a young woman with bleached blond hair, heavy makeup, and big blue eyes brimming with tears, approached me and whispered, “Mike?”

I shook my head. “I’m not Mike. Some people think I’m Mike, but I’m not.”

“I knew you’d be here,” she said, her jaw quivering. “In the Jazz section. I knew it.”

“I’m not Mike,” I said, wanting to console her. “Is he…your boyfriend?”

She gaped at me, shocked. “How can you say that? How can you be so cruel?”

“Because I’m not Mike,” I said, smiling sadly. “I’m Todd. Do you see that guy at the counter buying a record? That’s my friend, Dave. And he will tell you that I am not Mike. You want to go ask him?”

Then she, too, squinted and frowned at me. “You look exactly like him,” she said, nodding. “But now I can see you’re not him. Sorry.”

Shortly thereafter I grew a mustache and was never taken for Mike again.

&

Nine years later—1975—I was living with my girlfriend in a garage in Eugene, Oregon. We were poor as church mice.

I love that expression for all its implications. Anyway, one evening we decided to cut loose and go to a café and split a cup of cocoa. This is not fiction. In the year I lived in Eugene, my girlfriend and I went out twice, and going for that cup of cocoa was one of those times.

We entered the student-run café, ordered our cocoa, and sat at a small table, feeling quite decadent to be spending a dollar on cocoa when we might have more prudently spent it on groceries. But we were young and impetuous and wanted to have some fun. Business was slow, only a few tables occupied.

“That guy keeps looking at you,” said my girlfriend, glancing sidewise at a man sitting with a woman across the room from us.

I turned to look at the man, smiled at him, and then said to my girlfriend, “He seems harmless enough.”

“He’s weird,” she said, whispering harshly. “He’s staring at you.”

My girlfriend and I were not on the best of terms, our relationship doomed for the umpteenth time, this cocoa date a last-ditch effort to inject a tiny bit of levity into a life of poverty devoted, for my part, to the practice of learning how to write. And so I took her complaint as part of her ongoing assault.

“Just ignore him,” I said, sipping our cocoa. “Please?”

“Paul?” said the man, calling to me. “Paul.”

“Oh, great,” said my girlfriend, rolling her eyes. “Now he’s talking to you.”

I looked at the man again—early thirties, fine leather jacket, expensive shoes, black curly hair—only this time I didn’t smile, and the poor guy jumped in his seat as if I’d struck him. Then he turned to the woman he was with, a striking brunette, and looked at her with terror in his eyes.

“Let’s get out of here,” said my girlfriend. “This is totally freaking me out.”

“Can we finish our cocoa?” I was furious. “I can’t handle the garage right now.”

“We could go to the library,” she said, plaintively. “Look at art books. Read the paper. Play the card catalogue game.”

So we got up to go, and the man and woman jumped up and hurried over to us.

“Paul,” said the man, reaching out to me. “It’s Jeff. And Rachel. You know us, don’t you?”

“My name is not Paul,” I said, instantly convinced the guy truly believed I was someone he knew—someone named Paul. “My name is Todd.”

“Why?” he asked, searching my face. “Why did you change your name? So we couldn’t find you?”

“I’m very sorry,” I said, looking first at him and then at Rachel, “but I didn’t change my name. I thought about it, but I never did. I’m Todd, not Paul.”

And Rachel said, “That’s exactly what Paul would say. You are Paul, aren’t you? The way your hands move when you talk. Your eyes. You’re Paul.”

I shoved my hands in my pockets. “I am not Paul.” I turned to my girlfriend. “Would you confirm that, please?”

“He’s not Paul,” she said, sneering at me. “He’s definitely Todd.”

But Jeff and Rachel were still not convinced. So we stood there for a short infinity while they struggled to accept the apparently unbelievable proposition that I was not Paul.

Finally, Jeff said, “I’m Jeff Kovacs. We lived together, Paul and Rachel and Andrea and Colin and Fritz and Sarah and I. In Ithaca. New York. You…Paul disappeared five years ago. No word since. You, Paul…it destroyed us. And if you’re not Paul, you’re his identical twin.”

“When was Paul born?” I asked, bringing forth my driver’s license. “I was born in 1949. I’m twenty-six.” I handed Jeff my license. The photo, in which I resembled a mafia hit man, was two years old.

“Oh,” said Jeff, looking from the license to me. “You’re not Paul. I’m so sorry.”

Rachel took the license and looked from the mug shot to me. “Even so, you could be Paul.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Jeff, bowing his head. “Seeing you is like seeing him again.”

&

In 1979, I was visiting my sister in Los Angeles. She lived at the end of one of those narrow little canyon roads in the hills behind UCLA, and just down the hill from her place was an outdoor sculpture studio adjacent to a lovely Spanish hacienda—red-tile roof, turquoise window frames, bougainvillea climbing the white walls. The large stone sculptures were the work of the woman who lived there, Anna Mahler, the oft-married daughter of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. My sister said that Anna enjoyed her neighbors visiting her sculptures, so I went down to have a look.

As I was engrossed in looking at the sculptures, Anna, a handsome woman of seventy-five, came out of her house, gave me a startled look, and said, “My father. You look exactly like my father when he was a young man.”

&

On a funnier note, some years later (circa 1985), I was walking down a dimly-lit hallway in a Sacramento restaurant en route to the men’s room, when a woman came toward me, stopped suddenly, and gasped, “Oh my God, you’re Huey Lewis. Oh my God. I am such a huge fan. Oh my God. It’s you.”

 

“I hate to disappoint you,” I said, feeling oddly flattered, “but I’m not Huey Lewis.”

“I totally understand,” she said, placing her hands together and bowing to me. “You must get hassled to death. Could I get your autograph?”

“I’m not Huey Lewis,” I said, shaking my head. “Bad lighting.”

“I won’t tell anybody,” she said, coming closer. “May I kiss your hand? The Power of Love is my favorite song in the whole world.”

“That’s great,” I said, allowing her to kiss the back of my hand. “But I’m really not Huey Lewis. Truly.”

“I understand,” she said, turning my hand over and kissing my palm. “But this is the chance of a lifetime for me.”

“I’m not Huey Lewis,” I said, pulling my hand away and darting into the men’s room.

When I came out of the john, the woman was waiting for me, and she had another woman with her. And this other woman emphatically shook her head and said, “That’s not Huey Lewis. That’s Elliot Gould.”

&

Most recently, whilst pondering the peaches in Corners of the Mouth, Mendocino’s finest grocery store, a woman with long white hair sashayed up to me, smiled mischievously, and gave me a very friendly hug. “Jason,” she said, with mock indignation. “When did you get back from India? Why didn’t you call me?”

“I’m not Jason,” I said, looking into her eyes. “And I’ve never been to India, and I’m pretty sure you and I’ve never met.”

She took a step back, held her breath for a long moment, and said, “I’m sorry. I thought you were Jason. You look just like him. You even have his body.”

“Well,” I said, selecting my peach, “I apparently look like lots of people. Or lots of people look like me.”

“Now that,” she said, pointing at me and laughing, “is exactly what Jason would say.”

Todd Walton only looks in the mirror when he shaves and right before he brushes his teeth. His web site is underthetablebooks.com

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Tiger Bunnies

On this rainy December day, we cannot resist tying together the feeding frenzy on the carcass of the icon known as Tiger Woods, the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, the extensive media attention awarded a woman in Arkansas for giving birth to her nineteenth child, the so-called jobless recovery, the so-called healthcare debate, and our collective denial of what actually going on here on spaceship earth, circa 2010 (Christian calendar).

Ukiah Blog Live, a culling of thought-provoking counter-mass media internet essays provided by the estimable Dave Smith of Mulligan Books, has been rife of late with articles about the impending worse-than-ever economic collapse, vegetarianism versus the eating of mammalian flesh, and our inevitable return (as a species) to a genteel version of the Dark Ages (if we’re lucky) in the aftermath of peak oil and the bursting of various noxious economic bubbles. These reports are countered hourly in mainstream media mouthing government/corporate propaganda with happy news that things in general are getting better even if they seem to be getting worse in the majority of specific cases. The jobless recovery, reports The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, will soon create new jobs because, well, it just will.

The climate talks in Copenhagen have everybody buzzing about the billions of dollars to be earned through not releasing carbon into the atmosphere. That’s right. If you can prove you’re not being bad, Daddy will give you some money. How will you prove you’re not being bad? You will pay some scientists (with bona fide college degrees, mind you) to say you are being good. Won’t that be nice? How about that for some job creation?

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, a very rich and famous golfer and salesperson for several powerful multi-national corporations, has been having copious sex with expensive prostitutes for several years, but the news just recently leaked out to the mass media, so Tiger is currently being publicly flayed for popping the noxious bubble about the what why who he never was.

Also meanwhile, Michelle Duggar of Arkansas just gave birth to her nineteenth child, and Michelle’s husband (reputed to be the actual father of the nineteen kids, one of whom just had a baby, too) told the adoring media, “We will continue welcoming children as long as Michelle is able to have them.”

“Welcome. You will be in bed number twenty-two. Here’s your meal card, your blanket, your pacifier, and your cell phone. Try to be good.”

Why, I wonder, are we celebrating one American woman having nineteen children when there are millions of women around the world (and in America, too) having more kids than they can adequately feed? And why is over-population not the number one topic of discussion and emergency planning at the Copenhagen climate talks?

Recent studies by bona fide universities and scientists with actual college degrees have proven conclusively (and this even got a mention in the Press Democrat) that the most effective way, by far, to reduce carbon emissions in the world is to spend money on birth control. By far. Seven dollars spent on birth control saves something like four trillion tons of carbon emissions. Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but I wanted to get your friggin’ attention.

There are nearly seven billion people on our beautiful little planet (that’s not an exaggeration). The regenerative carrying capacity of the planet, depending on which bona fide scientist one speaks to, seems to be somewhere around a billion of us, give or take a few hundred million. Regenerative Carrying Capacity refers to what a particular eco-system can support without necessarily suffering any damage to its health and viability as a system. Put another way, there would be plenty of everything for everyone forever if we would thoughtfully reduce our population and stop being so violent and greedy. As soon as possible.

Why don’t we do that? Why do nations in Europe go into panic mode when their populations begin to finally decline due to falling birth rates? Because capitalism (otherwise known as a big old pyramid scheme) is founded on, runs on, exists because of, continuous growth coupled with continuous consumption. Which explains why the official verbiage from the Copenhagen climate talks goes something like this, “Please reduce your carbon emissions, once you’re born, but don’t not get born because we need the system to keep growing.”

What does Tiger Woods have to do with over-population? For all his fooling around with high-class hookers, Tiger and his official wife only have two children. So far. Well, but, see, Tiger likes, apparently, to have sex many times more often than his one wife wants to have with him. (Oh, maybe not. Maybe she’s ready to go twenty-four seven and Tiger just longs for variety.)

Now listen up, boys and girls. Tiger is not some oversexed stud. He’s a normal healthy young man with a normal healthy sex drive and average sexual capacity. Nature, over millions years of evolutionary tinkering, designed human males to function exactly as Tiger functions (physically). Remember: it has only been in the last few dozen human generations that we tasty animals have been much more than easily caught snack food for gigantic carnivores, otherwise known as lions and tigers and bears. We got eaten as fast as we could breed. Thus male humans evolved to be capable of (and desiring) lots of sex, while human females evolved to want sex, too, while being capable of getting pregnant every month as opposed to only once or twice a year, as is the case for most other large mammals. Mice and bunnies, it should be noted, not deer and whales and lions and tigers and bears, are the procreative peers of humans.

We wonder if the previous paragraph about human sexuality made you, dear reader, uncomfortable, or even somewhat anxious. Have we broached a taboo subject? Heaven forbid. Perhaps a few minutes of watching television or surfing the Internet or leafing through the newspaper or skimming a fashion magazine will ease your anxiety. You won’t have any trouble finding some psychosexual stimuli to feed your cognitive addiction to titillation. Sex, sex, sex. Watch it. Hear about it. Click on it. Be assured you can get it if you really want it (or some facsimile thereof.) Be pharmaceutically supported in being able to perform adequately should the golden opportunity arise. But whatever you do, don’t connect your fantasies of sex with shortages or pollution or urban sprawl or economic disparities or starvation or the deaths of thousands and millions of superfluous humans in China, India, Iraq, America, Brazil…

Thank goodness the phony healthcare bill they’re about to force on us (a bill that will make it a crime not to buy inadequate usurious insurance from organized criminal organizations) will allow a woman to have an abortion. Hallelujah. A great victory for women and polar bears, we are told. And jobs will be created. In the insurance industry. To process all the new folks being forced to buy inadequate usurious insurance.

I’d go on, but I’m itching to watch the Victoria’s Secret Anniversary Runway Show featuring twelve of Tiger’s thirty-seven mistresses wearing almost nothing and promising everything as they strut and jiggle their impossibly perfect bodies to electronic sex music. And then I may catch a little of the Bangladesh flood coverage and that great new documentary about the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers, source of most of the water for most of the people on earth.

I used to belong to an organization named Zero Population Growth, but they were forced, yes, forced by popular demand and funding impasses, to change their name to The Population Connection because so many otherwise reasonable people were offended by the very idea of zero population growth.

How we survive big cats

and long winter

we no have many baby?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Todd is currently writing the sequel to his novel Under the Table Books. His web site is Underthetablebooks.com.