Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Double Troubles Part 1

I think I’m an average looking guy.  Even a bald head is not such a novelty these days, so you are not as likely to notice me now as much as you might have singled me out some years ago had I been bald then.  One thing I would assume, though: if you had a friend who looked somewhat like me and at some point observed me across a street or a room, as you approached me, I am sure that you would notice enough differences not to confuse me with him for long.

I imagine something would have to be a dead giveaway.  If not directly in my face, then the color of my eyes, or my clothes, the way I move, my choice of words, the sound of my voice—something.  Even if I had an identical twin—which I don’t—there would have to be a tell.

This year marks the third time I’ve run into someone who thought I was someone else. (Fourth, if you count the first guy twice.) Not the casual mistake of an acquaintance.  Not an old friend who has changed so much I have a hard time connecting his face to his name.  Someone who adamantly and persistently asserts that I am someone whom he knows, and sees on a regular basis.

The first one on my list was a guy of average height and build; seedy, smirky, he at first thought I was playing some kind of a game with him when I politely told him he must have mistaken me for someone else.  He insisted we had been friends for years, and frequented the same watering hole just down the road.  When I told him I don’t drink, he seemed genuinely confused, even hurt.

This was about a ten-minute walk from home; I saw him twice in the space of a few days, at the same place while out on a stroll.  The second encounter was creepy.  He approached me with a broad swagger, jolly and smug, apparently sure I’d drop my “pretense” from the other day and let him in on the joke.  I again politely declined and repeated my assertion that he had confused me with someone else.  The friendly fa├žade dropped in an instant—he was getting pissed, so I got up in his face.  In one of the strangest body-language morphs I’ve witnessed, it was as if rage and fear had plowed into each other headlong, and fear had won.  In one instant, he looked as if he was just about to take a swing at me, in the very next moment, he backed away with a look of horror in his eyes.  I gave him a cold stare, and you would have thought I had stuck a knife in his gut.

As I resumed my walk, he stalked me for a block, muttering, coming closer, then backing off, as if the neurochemistry of fear and courage pushed and then pulled him.  His pattern mirrored incidents in which an angry dog circled me, growling, barking menace, working up enough rage to attack.

I watched the man in my peripheral vision and maintained my stride, just a bit concerned that if I turned or stopped, he’d charge.  Apparently fear or discretion prevailed, and he backed down.

The second incident on my list also took place while on a walk, also about ten minutes from home, but in a different direction.  In this instance, I had taken my notebook to Steak & Shake, and worked on some story notes and lists; when it was time to meet up with Flo, a short, scrawny fellow approached me.  The exchange was similar to the first encounter above, and this fellow also became quite pissed when I told him I didn’t know him.  When I insisted the second time, he snarled, “I don’t like you since you shaved your head.”

That was a few years ago.  This year, Flo and I were shopping together, and we split up to find different items, at a thrift store close to the Speedway race track.  While scanning an isle for, I believe, a flavor of mustard I favor, this huge guy came up to me.  He was friendly, like we were pals.  Like the two previous guys, he acted as if we regularly saw each other, as if it had only been a day or two since we’d last visited.  He also seemed put out that I didn’t know him, as if there were something wrong with me, or else I was playing a cruel game on him.  I calmly assured him I wasn’t who he thought I was, and he started dropping names of people we supposedly knew, as if he were trying to jog an amnesiac’s memory.  After blankly shaking my head at six or eight names I’d never heard before, he became impatient, perhaps a bit angry.  I tried to excuse myself and slip past him, but he blocked my way and became more insistent.  He threw two or three more names at me, and nothing rang a bell.  I think we got the willies at the same moment, and just parted ways.  Still curious, I cut to the front of the store, intending to stake out a place where I could watch him leave, see what kind of vehicle he got into, or which direction he took – but he was simply gone.  I grid-searched the store, but never got another glimpse of him.

In all three cases, I made a point of getting up close enough, talking enough that something should have clued them in to the fact that I wasn’t who they thought I was.  In case number two, apparently my “double” had started shaving his head around the time I did.  In all three instances, instead of realizing their mistake, not one of them could be convinced I wasn’t who they thought.  Of the three, the huge guy seemed more upset and confused instead of angry, though the choice of street names he tossed off at me added him to the other two as volatile characters I would not likely count as friends.

The one thing that puzzles me about my own behavior in each of these instances, is that in none of them did it occur to me to ask the name of my apparent double.  If this happens again, that will definitely be my first question.

See Double Troubles Part 2: The Impostor
Double Troubles Part 3
Memoriae Obscura

Doppelganger Field Guide

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream Hangover

Today was one of those rare days when several factors dovetailed – I didn’t have to be up early or go anywhere in a hurry, the weather was overcast and quiet and rainy, but not violent or threatening, and there was a pleasant feeling left over from my dreams. I woke up gracefully, and felt as if half of me were still connected to that inner landscape. At those times, one can shutter the left eye, and allow the right brain to dream on for a while.

Too often I awake quickly, snapping to the impinging responsibilities of life. While most are not actual demands or threats, our society has conditioned us to start our days on red alert. An austere envelope sporting the vague threat “OFFICIAL BUSINESS” turns out to be just another flier soliciting my business. Radio, television, junk mail, religious zealots at the front door, email, even the neighbor’s yappy mutt stridently demand attention.

There are those times when a nightmare is so intense, so real that it hovers over me all day, and the demands of the outside world are welcome to slap me out of the inner chaos and terror… but fortunately, those are few and far apart. You might think that someone who paints with a dark palate as I do would find nightmares a rich source of inspiration – I wish it were so, but that is very rarely the case for me. Dreams are often pointless, muddled, rife with anxiety; a redundant process-sort-file batch-job of memory, a vain attempt to impose order onto the randomly neurotic transactional quagmire of existence.

Yet, there also exists this wondrous place, where self-consciousness and hierarchies, pecking orders and politics, physics and boundaries and even the cage of the expected personality, all slip away, and everything becomes possible again. In the absence of alarm clocks and phones and knuckles on the door, this soap-bubble of synchronicity can linger near consciousness long enough to offer up possibility and poetry.

I wish for more of these days.