When I was eighteen, I began doing daily writing exercises of my own invention with the goal of becoming a good enough writer to one day sell stories to magazines and possibly publish a novel. I was going to college at the time, 1967, and the main obstacle to my writing practice was that I was going to college, which only allowed me an hour or so a day for my writing, the rest of my time taken up with classes, reading, playing basketball, searching for food, tossing the Frisbee, and wooing fair maidens.
One evening my eccentric
and unpredictable roommate looked up from the math proof he was working on and
asked, “Will you read me what you wrote today?”
Prior to this request,
he had seemed indifferent to my writing practice, and though I was somewhat
suspicious of his request (he was majoring in Sarcasm), I acquiesced and read
him a few pages of a quasi-story about a persnickety young man who was unsure
of how to dress for a party at which he hoped to impress a particular fair
My roommate closed his
eyes and seemed to go to sleep, and I marveled at how different the words I’d
written sounded when read aloud, as if I’d never heard the words before, which, in fact, I hadn’t.
And from that moment on,
I made it my practice to read aloud every draft of everything I wrote, a
practice that greatly improved my writing.
As for my roommate, he opened his eyes at the conclusion of my little story and declared, “That was based on me, wasn’t it? I do make a fuss about which shirt to wear.”
I’m in the throes of making a new album of songs entitled Too Much Noise – eight new songs and two older tunes I wanted to record again. Much of the recording has been completed, including Marcia’s cello parts, and now we are waiting for Gwyneth to be available to sing and play accordion on several of the songs. In the meantime, I’ve written a new song called Through the Fire.
If you are over sixty-years-old, you probably remember when the expression Be Here Now escaped the confines of Buddhist teaching and, after a brief time as a popular battle cry of the counter-culture, became a frequently-made-fun-of cliché. And as a poo-pooed cliché, Be Here Now ceased to be taken seriously, which is too bad, because being here now opens the mind and heart to the miracle of being alive.
Reading about recent discoveries in neuroscience regarding how the brain develops during our first few years of life, I’ve been recalling many things about my time as a preschool teacher’s aide – notably how fully formed our personalities are by the time we are four-years old, and how hugely our personalities are shaped by the personalities and behaviors of those who take care of us during those formative years.
I recently read a mind-boggling book entitled The Secret Life of the Mind: how your brain thinks, feels, and decides by Mariano Sigman. Fortunately, I had fairly recently read several books about contemporary neuroscience, so I was not entirely bewildered by Mariano’s explications of recent and incredible discoveries about how we think, feel, and decide. The following broadside was inspired by Mariano’s tome.
My last post was First June Morning. My referring to Andie MacDowell in the post elicited five responses, which is close to the record number of responses to anything I’ve ever posted. Who knew? I suggested in the posting that the woman in Klimt’s 1906 painting Fritza Riedler very much resembled Andie MacDowell.
My friend Max wrote to say he thought the woman in the
painting more resembled the British
actress Gina McKee, and he sent a photo of Gina to corroborate his thinking.
Wow. Gina and the woman in the painting could be each other. Uncanny!
All this resemblance talk reminded me of one of my most popular stories and performance pieces The Double, an absolutely true memoir (as true as memoirs can be) about the several times in my life I was mistaken for someone else, and the people who mistook me were adamant I was the person they thought I was. I first published/posted The Double in 2008, and subsequently made an audio recording of the story for people to enjoy on the LISTEN page of my web site.
Here for your reading pleasure is The Double.
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. Yet 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 I was the person they thought I was—a person they knew intimately.
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 visage and 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?”
know who you are,” I said, shrugging politely. “And I don’t know anything about
he said, incredulously. “You’re not Mike?”
You look just like him. Clothes and everything. And you sound like him, too.”
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.
said the driver. “Can I come by a little later? Fucker’s missing. Listen.” And
then he revved his engine, too.
Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “Apparently I look like him, but I’m not him.”
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?”
Mike,” I said, holding up my hands in surrender. “And I don’t know anything
about cars. Nothing.”
squinted at me. “You trippin’?”
I’m… not Mike. My name is Todd.”
frowned deeply. “You’re not Mike DeCamilla? Sequoia High?”
Walton. Woodside High.”
dropped and he gazed at me open-mouthed for a long time, as if waiting for me
to… become Mike.
else with a car like yours, only a different color, thought I looked like Mike,
too. Black top, gray bottom.”
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.”
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.
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?”
my head. “I’m not Mike. Some people think I’m Mike, but I’m not.”
you’d be here,” she said, her jaw quivering. “In the Jazz section. I knew it.”
Mike,” I said, wanting to console her. “Is he… your boyfriend?”
gaped at me, shocked. “How can you say that? How can you be so cruel?”
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?”
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.”
thereafter I grew a mustache and was never taken for Mike again.
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.
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 side-wise at a man sitting with a woman across the room from us.
to look at the man, smiled at him, and then said to my girlfriend, “He seems
weird,” she said, whispering harshly. “He’s staring at you.”
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.
ignore him,” I said, sipping our cocoa. “Please?”
said the man, calling to me. “Paul.”
great,” said my girlfriend, rolling her eyes. “Now he’s talking to you.”
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.
get out of here,” said my girlfriend. “This is totally freaking me out.”
finish our cocoa?” I was furious. “I can’t handle the garage right now.”
could go to the library,” she said, plaintively. “Look at art books. Read the
paper. Play the card catalogue game.”
got up to go, and the man and woman jumped up and hurried over to us.
said the man, reaching out to me. “It’s Jeff. And Rachel. You know us, don’t
is not Paul,” I said, instantly convinced the guy truly believed I was someone
he knew—someone named Paul. “My name is Todd.”
he asked, searching my face. “Why did you change your name? So we couldn’t find
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.”
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.”
my hands in my pockets. “I am not Paul.” I turned to my girlfriend. “Would you
confirm that, please?”
not Paul,” she said, sneering at me. “He’s definitely Todd.”
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.
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.”
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.
said Jeff, looking from the license to me. “You’re not Paul. I’m so sorry.”
took the license and looked from the mug shot to me. “Even so, you could be
“I’m so sorry,” said Jeff, bowing his head. “Seeing you is like seeing him again.”
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 Anna enjoyed it when her neighbors visited 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.”
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.”
to disappoint you,” I said, feeling oddly flattered, “but I’m not Huey Lewis.”
totally understand,” she said, placing her hands together and bowing to me.
“You must get hassled to death. Could I get your autograph?”
Huey Lewis,” I said, shaking my head. “Bad lighting.”
tell anybody,” she said, coming closer. “May I kiss your hand? The
Power of Love is my favorite song in the whole world.”
great,” I said, allowing her to kiss the back of my hand. “But I’m really not
Huey Lewis. Truly.”
understand,” she said, turning my hand over and kissing my palm. “But this is
the chance of a lifetime for me.”
Huey Lewis,” I said, pulling my hand away and darting into the men’s room.
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.
she said, with mock indignation. “When did you get back from India? Why
didn’t you call me?”
Jason,” I said, looking into her eyes. “And I’ve never been to India, and I’m
pretty sure you and I have never met.”
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.”
I said, selecting my peach, “I apparently look like lots of people. Or lots of
people look like me.”
that,” she said, pointing at me and laughing, “is exactly what Jason would
Another day, another month in the year 2022. I flip the page on my Klimt calendar and find a lovely painting of a woman who reminds me of the actress Andie MacDowell. What ever happened to Andie MacDowell? Wikipedia says she’s still acting up a storm, so to speak. My two favorite Andie MacDowell movies are Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Groundhog Day.
After I got this Klimt calendar, I read the
Wikipedia Klimt article and was stunned by a one-sentence paragraph summing up
his first thirty-five years. To wit: “During this period Klimt fathered at least
fourteen children.” There is no mention of any of the women with whom he fathered
these children or what happened to the children, though the article strongly
implies Klimt had nothing to do with any of them beyond providing half of their
I toast a piece of my gluten-free sorghum millet
buckwheat garbanzo tapioca bread and smear the toast with almond butter and a
little honey to give me some caloric support for the upcoming beach walk.
I am a gluten-free bread maker now that our
local gluten-free baking savant retired from the biz. She gave me her buckwheat
bread recipe and I embarked on my adventures as a baker, never having made
bread before. Ten batches along, my initial fear of activated yeast having
subsided, I now freely improvise on the original recipe… with excellent results.
Fortified with toast and almond butter, we drive
down to Big River and meet Sally and her marvelous Golden Retriever Molly for
our weekly beach walk and ball flinging episode.
This morning the tide is way out and the
ever-changing skyscapes are spectacular.
We lose one ball to the voracious ocean, much to Molly’s chagrin. Fortunately Sally brought a spare ball, so Molly is only bereft for a moment about the loss of ball number one.
On the way home, Marcia goes to the bank and the
post office while I shop for groceries at our beloved Corners of the Mouth, the
price of everything having gone up profoundly in the last few weeks.
Hungry from our beach adventure, we have more toast and scrambled eggs, courtesy of our pal Elias and his magnificent hens.
Re-fortified, I chop a few days worth of
kindling and stack the slender sticks of pine on the hearth to dry in front of
the fire for a couple days.