Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Race switching in The Equalizer and an obscure Star Trek comic

News that The Equalizer was the top movie this past weekend prompted me to recall the 1980’s television series of the same name. Edward Woodward (1930-2009) was Robert McCall, a man who was available to solve any problems for a price. And sometimes for free.

This 4-page satire from Cracked #228, from 1987, pretty much gets the gist of the show. And it is drawn by John Severin, which is always a plus for me.

It doesn’t surprise me that Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall in the movie. Washington is a great actor and has a track record at the box office. The fact that he is African-American really doesn’t matter, and it seems that it happens more often. It did seem surprising to me to see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in The Avengers, but the biggest surprise to me was seeing Will Smith as James West in The Wild, Wild West. Okay! Whatever sells tickets.

But the reason I mention it is because of something else I noticed this past weekend when I picked up a 1979 Peter Pan Book and Record Set of Star Trek at a local thrift store. In the well-illustrated but uncredited comic book Uhura has suddenly gone from being African-American to a blonde white woman, and Sulu has transformed from Japanese to African-American.

Some reviews of this comic on the Internet  have called the depictions mistakes, but c'mon...the comic was done in 1979, the television series was in endless reruns, and copious photos were available of all the characters. Even without Mr. Spock to explain it logically, the reason would be is they did not have permission of the two actors to do their likenesses. George Takei and Nichelle Nichols probably decided not to sign off on being represented in the comic. Why the people who produced this comic just didn't do something as simple as change the names is a puzzle to me.

On the other hand, with satire John Severin could do a likeness of Edward Woodward because it is parody, therefore fair use.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gun laws and the Law of Unintended Consequences

I own guns. I do not have a concealed weapons permit, nor do I leave the house with a gun on my person or in my car. I think it is just asking for something bad to happen. There are just too many stupid people I would want to shoot.*

I was angry when, in the wake of Sandy Hook, innocent students and teachers gunned down by a mass killer, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre came out with his own guns blazing. Figuratively speaking, of course. His solution was not that common sense measures should be taken to prevent gun violence, but that no measures whatsoever should be taken.** He called for more guns in schools! Guards! Paid for by taxpayers!

Since the National Rifle Association is the lobbying shill for gun manufacturers, you would think they could have at least offered to pay the cost for the guards, or provided them free arms with training, but no. The NRA is only in the business of making sure their gun manufacturers make money with the least encumbrances to sales. They are saying we provide the guns and ammo for you to buy. You pay for your own protection from our products.

Immediately many states, including my home state of Utah, went to work with legislators passing laws making it possible for teachers to carry weapons in schools. In Utah by law the teacher does not have to inform anyone that they are armed. And the principal cannot tell them to leave their gun at home.

I know one thing from experience, that no matter how carefully constructed a plan is there will always be something that will come along that no one anticipated: the Law of Unintended Consequences. The impression that was given when news cameras showed teachers in gun classes was that the teachers would know what they were doing. But realization can be much different than expectation.

A 6th grade teacher in a Utah school had a gun on her person. She went to the school restroom and blew a hole in her leg when her concealed weapon fired. Oops. She also blew up the toilet bowl. Kind of the old insult to injury thing. I'm sure that the teacher did not leave home that morning after secreting the weapon on her person and think, “Today I'm not going to put the safety on; today I am going to shoot myself and make myself look like a fool to the entire nation.”

It surprised me, despite the nationwide publicity, when the school district said only five people called to complain about teachers with guns. I should not have been surprised. In polls more than 50% of Utahns think having guns in schools is perfectly fine, that having a sharpshooter like this teacher with a hole in her leg, ready to stand her ground (when she is again able to walk) to an armed intruder, is a perfectly good idea.

That must be why they played up the story of a hearing specialist who goes to several schools working with deaf children. She has a gun. A pink gun. It was on the local news and even NBC Nightly News.

Do you feel safer knowing this young woman is toting a gun to school?

Now that both of these armed teachers have been outed, will they be targets? After all, the idea of a concealed weapons permit was to have one up on a potential enemy, not to let them know you would be the first person he had to shoot. I didn’t use their names for that reason, although they are named in various news stories.

Okay, so in the case of the teacher shooting herself, she is an exception. Most teachers carrying guns in classrooms are careful, have the safety on, and are likely not to shoot themselves by accident. I think there is a possibility that the best-case dream scenario of the gun lobby could happen: an armed person could enter the school shooting and a brave teacher with a concealed weapon could use that weapon to stop the rampage.

But because of the nature of the universe, that the best-laid schemes gang aft agley,*** then there are bound to be some other events that will happen, and probably before rather than after the best-case dream scenario. I don’t need a gift of prophecy to foresee the potential of one or more of these things happening:
A teacher's gun will be stolen by a student, then used on the teacher or other students.****
A  paranoid teacher will use the gun against an innocent person on school grounds.

A jealous teacher will kill another teacher over a relationship.

A teacher’s gun will discharge by accident, killing a student. 
I wonder if when dreaming up their schemes did legislators really consider the liability incurred by a school district for having armed teachers in classrooms?

*In case it went over your head that last sentence was a joke.

**The paranoia of the “camel’s nose in the tent,” that there is a direct line to a tweaking of existing laws and confiscation of all firearms is sheer fearmongering by the NRA. It has become something of a religious belief by rabid supporters of the Second Amendment, but has no basis in reality.

***“To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns (1785).

****I’m not counting the derelict parents and foolish gun instructor who allowed a 9-year-old girl at a specialty gun range in Arizona to fire an Uzi machine gun which went quickly out of control and killed her instructor.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Photo Telephone

I found this century-old Tom Swift dust jacket on the Internet.

The technology needed must have seemed impossibly fantastic when this book was published in 1914. It was science fiction. After all, television was still just a spark in somebody's brain; radio — “wireless” — wasn't being widely used (the Titanic disaster was two years before); even telephones, as shown in the illustration, were hand-cranked devices needing the intercession of a live operator.

Flash forward to the 1960s, and Bell Telephone demonstrations of telephones with visuals of the person on the other end. You all remember Dr. Heywood Floyd talking to his daughter on a television screen in the 1968 movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The idea just never took hold. The reason, as I heard it at the time, was because people liked telephones as they were, without visuals. I remember the common complaint was, “I wouldn't answer if I'd just gotten out of the bathtub,” or if makeup wasn't in place, etc. In other words, the fact that no one can see you when you answer is a positive for a telephone. It really doesn't need the additional technology attached to it.

I think the cost of setting it up was very expensive for the time, and in order for it to be universal everyone would have to have one.

But technology and people change. The time for those picturephones was evidently just not right. The picturephone is now here, just not as Bell Labs and Tom Swift, 100 years ago, envisioned it. We have web cams, camera cell phones, and we are connected via pictures. My wife talks to our grandchildren on Facetime, using their iPads.

The idea of decades past, of plugging a few coins into a payphone, talking to the wife or kids back home and being able to see them using a landline telephone, that idea is as antiquated as the scene on the jacket of Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All sexed up and nowhere to go

Recently an article in my local daily newspaper posed the age-old question, “when is it time to tell kids the facts of life?”

There's always a debate — it flares up every couple of years or so — about how to teach kids about sex. Sometimes parents just turn it over to the schools to teach maturation classes. Adults have so many problems with the subject that the kids have to learn it on their own, gathering information as they can.

I say tell kids the truth from the git-go. Don't sugarcoat it, don't try to smooth it over. Tell them that sex will mess up their heads in ways they can’t imagine right now, and that they’d all be better off taking a vow of lifelong celibacy. Since they’re like I was and won’t listen to reason, take another tack. Tell them about the mechanical act of sex, then tell them they have to satisfy their sex partner.

I was a kid in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When it came to sex I was as dumb as a brick. My father’s and mother’s sex ed lectures to me I can remember verbatim. Dad’s was: “There is a difference in boys and girls. Other boys may make jokes about it, or make fun of it, but it's not really funny.” That told me a lot…about nothing. Mom’s advice was styled more like it was brought down the mountain by Moses. Thou-shalt-not: “Some things are for marriage only!” she said.

As it turned out Mom tried something else. One day when I was 12 or 13 I opened my underwear drawer to find a 1930's book called The Adequate Male. Wow, now there’s a title to inspire a guy! Mom had left it for me to find. The book was all about marital sex; no premarital sex for an adequate male. It gave advice for the wedding night by using negative examples like the man who ravaged his bride six or seven times, then when he couldn't get it up anymore in frustration beat his dong on the bedpost. It scared the poor girl to death. The other thing I remember was the advice about asking your wife for sex. You don't say, “Wanna have a party?” An adequate male wouldn’t do that. It’s a big turn-off for gals.*

The Adequate Male was the amazing disappearing and reappearing book. After a couple of months, Mom apparently reasoned that I’d read it. It disappeared, only to reappear three years later when my brother reached the age of 13. There’s no evidence he read the book, but after a couple of months it disappeared again. When Mom went into the nursing home I hoped maybe I’d find that copy of The Adequate Male amongst her effects, but it had made its final disappearance.

The satisfaction part I mentioned in the second paragraph came about because I read a porn book that had been passed around my junior high school. In that era those books were considered obscene, but just a few years later I read mainstream novels that had more sex, more graphically described, than anything in one of those hot books. What I recall about the book was the plot, such as it was. A young teen goes on a date with a loose girl from school. They’re in the back seat of the car. My hands were getting sweaty when I read about him pulling off her sweater, taking off her bra, pushing her skirt up, pulling down her panties. YES, OH YES! My screaming mind told me, TELL ME MORE! Then the crusher: He got on, he popped, he got off. She treated him with disdain because of his quick-like-a-bunny act: “You don't know how to satisfy a girl!” she said.

Say what? Satisfy? A girl? What? My mind spun. “What does that mean, ‘satisfy a girl?’” My mind was still vague enough about the process of sex that to me the whole thing centered on me getting it in, not on getting the girl off. What a comedown (pun intended) for me. I knew then, neither the teenager in the book, nor I, knew how to satisfy a girl.

Still, I trudged on with the book. It got better. With more practice the main character turned into a real stud. He learned how to satisfy a girl, oh yes. In the meantime his former disdainful girlfriend had become a call girl and boffed a lot. Naturally, they ended up together, and believe it or not, stranded on a tropical island, where all they had to do was hump all day. And of course, he brought her more than satisfaction.

I didn’t know any call girls — well, we found out the neighbor lady was one, but that’s a whole other story — nor did I know any girls who were willing to have sex, much less for me to try satisfying. So that’s the way my sex life stood for quite a while.

Kids today see sex acts on television and movies. They turn on the Internet and the porn spills out. Most kids today see more sex before they are 12 than I saw until I was decades past puberty. Playboy gave us a look at the anatomy, even if some of it was airbrushed away. The sleazy paperbacks, which came to us from guys stealing them out of dad’s sock drawer or in the bottom of a box in the closet, were part of the sex ed process.

With the exception of Sex Bait, the cover scans of these classic sleaze paperbacks were provided by my good friend, David Miller. Click on the pictures for full-size images.

*I told a former coworker this story and he said, “When I want sex I just tell my ol' lady, ‘Hey, I wanna fuck.’” A real smooth operator!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Invaders of the paranoid

One of the popular themes of science fiction movies is invasion from space. I have been revisiting a few of those movies that on a very basic level affected me.

I bought used VHS copies of a couple of science fiction classics, It Came From Outer Space and Invaders From Mars, both of which I saw originally in the 1950s. Paranoia is a strong theme of the titles I mention. I was too young to understand paranoia when I first saw these movies, but I understood the basic and raw feelings of the characters. They are trying to explain the unexplainable to others and are disbelieved. They watch as loved ones are replaced by alien creatures that look like them. For me this was the recipe for nightmares.

I may not have understood it, but I have plenty of experience with paranoia, in others and in myself. These movies said about my darkest fears what I couldn't have said when I was a child: I'd wake up one morning and no one would be the same; no one would feel love for me, and I would be cast adrift in an emotional, as well as physical, sense. Children have a root fear of being abandoned, and these movies reach into the primal, deep-down stuff we don't like to think about.

In Invaders From Mars the main character is a boy who sees a flying saucer land on a hill behind his house, then burrow into the ground, unseen. The adults who go to investigate return changed. They have been turned into zombies by the invaders. The boy can't make anyone believe him; his fears are from his imagination, from comic books, or television or science fiction movies, according to the very adults who are changing right before him into something alien. Brrrr. What a thing for a kid to have to go through. To a child who depends on adults for everything this is heady stuff. As an adult I can watch this movie and its point-of-view of the young boy, the staginess of the movie filmed on a backlot somewhere in Hollywood, and understand the craft of constructing a nightmare. The sets are fake-looking, crudely constructed, but that adds to the overall surrealistic atmosphere.

[SPOILER ALERT] Anyone who remembers the movie knows that the "invasion" is a dream. But as the boy awakens it has turned out to be a prophetic dream. The events begin to unfold again. His paranoid nightmare has turned real. [SPOILER END]

It Came From Outer Space is a movie I saw in the 1950s in its original 3-D presentation. The sets in many cases are just as phony as Invaders From Mars, showing its low budget origins. The dialogue is written not as people speak, but as actors reading lines which don't sound like human conversation. That also adds to the atmosphere of unreality that the whole theme speaks to.

In the story the aliens are making themselves look like humans, although the human beings they are replacing are still alive. The “real” humans are being used as slaves to rebuild the crashed alien vessel. Although the aliens are out to do no harm to humans--even trying to spare people the horrifying sight of them in their monstrous inhuman form--the idea of someone, a double, walking around imitating you is unnerving. Anyone who ever heard the phrase, “I found out I didn't really know this person,” will recognize that in the movie. Because of its 3-D presentation, It Came From Outer Space depends a lot on gimmicks while telling its story, but on its basic level it tells a paranoid story of being out of control of one’s own destiny, a slave laborer, while the rest of the world remains unaware. The movie was released just nine years after the end of World War II, where millions of people disappeared into slave labor camps. The movie also seems to be at least partially the basis for the very paranoid 1965 novel, Night Slaves by Jerry Sohl, made into a television movie in 1970.

The Arrival is a 1995 update of the theme. A NASA scientist, played by Charlie Sheen, aims radio-telescopes at the stars and receives a short burst of a signal. As he later finds out, alien invaders are already here.

[SPOILER ALERT] They are setting up underground headquarters in countries with no environmental laws. to speed up global warming (from 100 years, which in 1995 was the real-life timetable given for the inevitable, to 10 years for the movie alien purposes).[SPOILER END]

The movie has been underrated as a true paranoid thriller. Charlie Sheen, whose personal life has overshadowed his acting ability, is a driven man who looks and sounds like a paranoid crazy, which plays right into the alien hands. The aliens, who have apparently been here for some time — long enough to build the massive plants to speed up the planet’s heating — also realize something about human psychology. The nuttier a person sounds the less anyone will listen, even if he is telling the truth.

I’m not sure it means we should automatically believe anyone who screams at us that the world is ending, but it is an unsettling thought that maybe, in some instance, that person is correct.

The most paranoid movie of all is probably Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which is often cited as a reaction to the Cold War.

That could be read into it, but after seeing it a few times over the past 50 years I see it as more of that gut-level fear of not really knowing someone, the fear of being misunderstood, or even ignored. Although the psychiatrist in the movie describes the reaction of the townsfolk who claim a loved one is an imposter as mass hysteria, what the movie shows is a psychiatric disorder called Capgras syndrome. It is named after Dr. Joseph Capgras, who in 1923 described patients for whom a spouse, sibling or child has been replaced by a fake.

Just as in The Arrival, as the heroes rush around trying to warn the populace the general consensus is that those giving the alarm are crazy.

The movies are scary and fun but they are just movies. When the end credits roll we are assured that we have been involved in fantasy. There are no aliens, no sinister plots, no replacing of humans with non-humans to confuse us and terrify us. But that is you and me. We’re rational beings, aren’t we? I hope so. But there are a lot of people who truly believe that there is a mysterious and hidden world out there trying to take control. They might even feel the control over them has already been accomplished. They don't need Hollywood or some low-budget movie to tell them they are surrounded by people or a government manipulating them, their thoughts, their actions. They don't need aliens from outer space who are out to get them, because everyone around them, even their loved ones, are conspiring against them.

And maybe you are one of them who is being persecuted.

People disbelieving you or telling you it's your imagination? Forget it. They're all in on the plot against you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mountain Man

The Salt Lake Valley is ringed by mountains. If you want to know what direction east is you look at the “big mountains”  — the Wasatch — and if you want to find west you look for the “little mountains,” the Oquirrhs. Big, little…they're all mountains, and they are impressive. Millions of years ago there was a big cataclysm in our area. Big mountains erupted from the ground as the earth shook, rattled and rolled. Even so, our mountains, the Rocky Mountains, are younger than mountains in the Eastern U.S. Their mountains are kind of the middle-aged or geezerish, worn down mountains. We're the upstarts; our mountains are the craggy and pimply teenage mountains.

As a kid growing up in Salt Lake I had one particular mountain which fascinated me then as it does now. Mount Olympus stands higher than the other mountains. It overlooks the valley. I could see it from my back yard.

One day in 2007 I stopped to take a picture because I could see the moon in the daytime, visible over my mountain.

I stopped in a school parking lot and took a picture across the school grounds of the mountain with clouds streaming in to obscure its top. From this vantage point, a few blocks south of the location of the top two pictures, the mountain takes on a configuration called the Twin Peaks.Click on pictures for full-size images.

Mount Olympus is more than just standing there looking down at me. When I was in school if I drew mountains I drew Mount Olympus. It is endlessly fascinating to me. It changes with every season, and it throws shadows in different directions during the day so its features are always changing. Mount Olympus is a moving tableau. When I get close and look up so that it is looming over me, the mountain's perspective changes, and it appears to flatten out. On days when the air is really cold after a storm and the sky is a blue like only an artist could create, it looks almost like a movie backdrop.

On one of those days where it looks like a movie backdrop and I was still working my school district job I was walking into a school down the hill from the mountain. I got there at the same time as the U.S. postal carrier. I noticed as we walked into the school both of us were looking backwards at the mountain. I gave her the short course of what I've just told you; I've spent over 50 years looking at that mountain. She said, succinctly, “It's why I moved back here from a life in the Midwest.” I haven’t seen her again, but that sounded about right. When I was in the Army in Germany at the time my father died, I came back for his funeral. From his gravesite where we gathered I had only to look over my right shoulder and there was Mount Olympus.

Until I sat down to write this I had never thought about the origin of the name Mount Olympus. Any of you classicists know that in Greek mythology Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. I wondered if the Mormon pioneers named the mountain, or if it had been named by fur trappers before the pioneers arrived. I'm sure the local native Americans who lived here at the time (specifically, the Utes), didn't call it Mount Olympus.

It would seem uncharacteristic for early Mormons to name a mountain after the home of mythological gods, but maybe not. Maybe when they looked at that mountain they saw something I see, something that transcends religion, but is in itself something monumentally spiritual. A mountain which, by looming over and watching us, seems as alive as any living thing I know.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A well respected man

Above is a family picture I never saw until the 1980s when a lady loaned it to me for re-photographing. It's a picture of my grandfather and his family, including my father as an infant.

My grandfather is the distinguished looking gent with the high collar in the middle of the picture standing between the two ladies in white. My grandmother is to his right. My dad is the little boy in a cap being dandled on his grandmother's knee.

Based on the clothes and my dad’s apparent age I’d date the picture about 1921.

Before I got the picture I wasn't aware it existed. While on my route I used to visit a small market once a week for a cup of coffee. An old woman was usually standing behind the cash register, smoking a cigarette, glaring at everyone. The indoor clean air act was in effect by that time but she had always smoked behind that cash register and no law was going to stop her from continuing to smoke! Even the cops who stopped in for a doughnut wouldn't have dared tell her to put out her cigarette.

One day I picked up a few odds and ends and rather than pay cash I wrote out a check. She looked at it and said, “That's my uncle's name.” She was looking at my name. I'm named after my paternal grandfather and have the exact same name. As she explained it, she was my late father's first cousin, Lorna.

Lorna told me she had family pictures and for me to stop back the next day to pick them up so I could have copies made. I did. At that time she told me of the family secret: She said my grandfather had been the hidden family scandal. She claimed he had killed himself and it had been covered up.

To back up, my grandfather was a well respected man. In 1918 he quit a job teaching school and went to George Washington University in St. Louis where in 1920 he got his M.D. He came back to his small hometown in Utah to his wife, two daughters, and they soon had a son, who became my father. Grandpa practiced medicine for several years. Dad told me stories of him riding around with his father in his big sedan, making house calls on patients. (Ah, those were the days!)

Dad had told me the story of his father’s death in 1932. He said, “Dad went to a party. He felt sick. His way of dealing with stomach trouble was to drink a lot of water and vomit. He went home to do that and when my mother got home she found him in his chair, dead of a heart attack.”

Lorna’s revisionist version was that my grandfather was quite a ladies’ man, and had women all over the county. It put him in trouble with some of the local men. To avoid scandal he took some pills and killed himself. His friend, Doc Madsen, signed the death certificate. I was stunned, as was my brother when I told him the story. He sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics for our grandfather's death certificate. It reads almost word for word what my father had told us…“came home from a party, drank water, vomited, died in his chair from apparent heart attack.” It was signed by Dr. Madsen.

There's a mystery there we’ve never solved. Which story is true? We don’t know. The year my grandfather died was 1932, the height of the Great Depression. Apparently he left my grandmother and his family pretty well off, because my grandmother never worked a day in her life and lived to be 93. My father went to a fancy prep school and then a private college where he graduated just as World War II broke out.

Over 80 years since Grandpa died is a long time, and all of the people who would know the truth are dead. I don't think my dad would have known his father was a suicide if it were true. His mother would have kept it from him, and taught him to say what he told us.

There’s just a bit more to the story, so hang on. When I was going to college I had an English teacher named Nell Madsen, who was pretty old. In those days she would have been called a spinster, never married. She saw my name on the first day of class and said, “I knew your grandfather.” She called me over after class. She said, “My brother was a doctor who worked with your grandfather. He had left his practice and was driving to Las Vegas to work in a hospital. He got to Southern Utah and felt something very strong, like he had to turn around and go home. He did, and that was the night your grandfather died. My brother took over his practice and lived many years afterward.”

I heard that story in 1965, and I heard the story about the suicide from Lorna in 1988 or thereabouts. I have a way of putting things together in my mind and when I thought of what Lorna had told me I remembered Nell Madsen’s story about her brother. If my grandfather had committed suicide then his friend could have easily suppressed the fact for the sake of my grandmother and her children. Suicides didn’t get insurance payouts. It would have been easy to do; in those days I’m sure that laws on autopsies weren't routinely enforced, if they even existed. We are talking about a rural Utah community in the depths of the Depression.

The story of my grandfather’s death has always been like a jigsaw puzzle to me. Many pieces have been put in place over the years, but the biggest pieces, the ones that complete the picture, are missing and may never be found.


This is a yearbook picture of my dad, Leon, taken when he was in prep school, circa 1936. He was about 15 or 16. He looks very mature for his age, but some of that is because in those days teenagers weren't a separate breed of human like they are today. The clothes they wore were cut down adult wear, not a completely different wardrobe with matching hairstyles, piercings and accoutrements.

My dad’s cousin, Lorna, gave me a print of this picture which I re-photographed. The details are a little murky but you can see right off that dad was a handsome guy.

When I first joined the school district where I worked for 32 years I met a lady named Enid. She said she was from my dad’s home town. She told me, “Your dad's family was well off compared to the rest of us. We barely made it through the Depression but your dad and his sisters seemed to have everything they wanted. Your dad even went to a private school.”

She added, “That Leon, he was the most handsome guy. I used to think he was the handsomest guy in town.”

I waited for her to say, “…and you take after your dad.” But she didn't. And I don't.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Is it me or is it he? Tales of my elusive doppelgänger

The mirror knows! Is there someone out there who looks like me? Photo by David Miller

My wife’s brother was talking to her recently. He said, “You know how [Postino] says people tell him they saw someone they thought was him? I met a guy who looked like him, had the beard, the voice...I told him, ‘You look just like my brother-in-law.’”

So my mysterious double, who has stayed tantalizingly out of my sight since he was first reported to me, has reappeared. During those days of the mid-sixties I was asked, more than once, “Are you Steve Jensen?” At the time I wondered what it was that made Steve (whom I had not met nor seen) look like me. In the eighties I met a UPS driver with that name. He was in my age group so I asked him if he had ever been called by my name. He couldn’t remember, but I did not think we looked much alike and his is a fairly common name. Perhaps another Steve Jensen is out there at this moment being mistaken for me.

Over thirty years ago, during my time driving a route for a large school district, I was approached by a school librarian who said, "Is that you in an ad in a tennis magazine? You are modeling underwear...?” I thought that was funny, but she said, “No, really, the guy looks just like you.” Not only did she tell me that but the school secretary chimed in with, “I saw it. The guy looks just like you.” I snorted. I thought I was being ribbed. Nobody who looks like me is going to get chosen for an underwear ad. Or mistaken for a tennis player, for that matter.

I asked to see the magazine. “I want to know what you think I look like in my underwear,” I said. No such luck. The librarian claimed she could not find the magazine, so I was left without seeing what my lookalike underwear model had that made a resemblance.

A few years later the bookkeeper in one of the junior high schools said she was at dinner with her husband and saw “me.” She was so convinced it was me she crossed the restaurant to talk to me, only I turned out not to be me. “Maybe you’re his brother?” she asked my dining doppelgänger. Nope.

Some time later a teacher at another junior high approached me and asked, “Aren’t you the guy in the Auto Zone poster?” I asked where he had seen a poster with someone who looked like me. He said it was on the side of a bus. He said, “I was in the car with my wife and kids and told them, “I know that guy! He comes to our school!’” Only I didn’t. Well, I mean I did, but my double who posed for auto parts store posters (and presumably underwear ads) did not. I never spotted the poster although I looked at every bus that passed me.

Since I retired I have dropped out of circulation, so I don’t have a lot of interaction with the same people on a day-to-day basis. I had not heard any additional stories of my double until a year or so ago. When my wife and I were taking an exercise walk in the neighborhood a man approached me. "Do you know Mel?" he asked, indicating a mutual neighbor. I did. Not only was Mel a neighbor, but I had known him from the school district. He was also retired, but he had worked in their paint department, and I often saw him in schools doing his job. Mel had died, the neighbor told me. Had a heart attack. I expressed my sympathy because the guy was closer than me to Mel, and broken up about the loss.  Then he asked me, “You worked with Mel at Sears, didn’t you?” I dimly remembered Mel had worked at Sears part-time. I told the neighbor about the school district connection, but I had not worked at Sears. He looked skeptical. “There was a guy at Sears. Looked just like you.” Aha. My double had re-surfaced.

A couple of months later at a family function I told them of my double, and of the Mel/Sears story. My nephew entered the conversation. “I've seen that guy. My friend and I were in Sears one time and he asked me, ‘Isn’t that your uncle?’”

So we return in a circular fashion to what caused my wife’s brother — father to the just mentioned nephew — to have the conversation he had with my wife in the first paragraph above.

Questions are launched in my mind every time I hear one of my double stories. Is there someone out there who looks that much like me? Or maybe a whole bunch of guys who are doubles? (I am thinking of the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton.) Clones?

Or despite my skepticism of anything supernatural perhaps during those times when I tend to zone out mentally is it because my astral body has departed and is off doing other activities? Like posing for underwear ads or Auto Zone posters, or working the night shift at Sears?

Applying Occam’s Razor to the phenomenon and finding a simpler solution, it could just be that someone generally resembles me, a bearded man in my age group, and because of tricks of the brain is mistaken for me. That would be my answer to so many sightings of a double over the years.

A couple of months ago I was in a restaurant with my wife and my other brother-in-law and his wife when I heard my name. One of the secretaries I worked with for years was sitting at the next table with her husband. I am happy to report that it was me who answered her and had a brief conversation, and not my mysterious dopplegänger.