27 November 2007

Heathens Take Manhattan: Part V: Prologue

I was up most of Monday night. Lots of yelling, mostly crying. A love triangle I had found myself in had reached its inevitable conclusion with me on the outside and the other two points forming a love line. They were my only two close friends and I made the mistake of falling for one of them. Ryan, Cindy and I were close. They helped me through one of the darkest, self-pity soaked periods of my life. And because I wasn't used to having a girl who liked me, even as a friend, I fell for Cindy. I thought I was in love. And, of course, she fell for the more attractive and confident of the two of us-- which was not me.

It shouldn't have, but somehow it did come as a surprise to me when I found out that they had become more than friends. It destroyed me. My world crumbled. In one fell swoop I had lost the only two people I trusted, the two people who meant the most to me. In my mind, my world had been as devastated as my mom's was when her husband of twenty-five years left her for a chamber maid in Pittsburgh. Oh, to be 19 again . . .

I got up after a long, sleepless night and poured a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. I still remember how it scrapped its way down my raw throat. I waited until it was late enough in the morning to call Cindy. As I dialed I turned on the TV in my bedroom. I listened to her phone ring while on the screen smoke was issuing forth from one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. No one knew what had happened, certainly no one knew why or had any concept of how our lives, all our lives, were about to change.

Cindy answered the phone; she said "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center." "I know," I said, "I just saw that." It was right then that a second plane hit. "That's crazy," I said, shaking my head. And then I turned off the TV. I didn't want it to distract me from the important issue I was dealing with.

Six years later, I don't remember a damn word of that conversation-- the conversation I forced her to have while the world was changing around us. It's no wonder that she still hates me. I do too. I'm not filled with the self-loathing bull shit I spent ages 6 through 21 stuffing myself with, but I am deeply ashamed about how I behaved that day. I’m reminded of a girl I used to work with who, when a friend of hers was found dead, exclaimed: "Another one of my friends is dead . . . why does God keep doing this to me?!" Part of it can be chalked up to the self-centeredness of youth, but it's no excuse. I was too concerned with my own life to care about the lives of thousands of others.

After I got off the phone with Cindy, I turned the TV back on. It was only then that some of the import of this day started to break through my thick shell of self-importance. I watched as two people, holding hands, did the one thing they could do, and leapt to their deaths. Of all the images from that day, that's the one that sticks with me most clearly. I'm sure there was no audio, but somehow I can still remember the sound of the impact.

I watched all through the afternoon. I watched the towers collapse, I watched as ash and debris chased hundreds of human beings down the street. I remember the replays, the five seconds of video that they began replaying around 10am and didn't stop for another two weeks.

A lot has changed since that Tuesday morning. We all know how the world changed, the thousands of lives lost, heroes made and killed in the same day, the fear and paranoia that gripped our country, the president who used it to drive us into a war and the unquestioning public who let him. At the risk of sounding like that self-centered nineteen year old, I've been through a great deal of personal change since then too, which understandably has received far less press coverage than the rest of the world.

Initially, I supported the president, goose-stepped my way down the street with an American flag on my arm. I had a "God Bless America" sticker in the window of my car and scoffed when a friend of mine said that "the things Bush is doing now will bring about the Apocalypse."

Gradually, though, along with the rest of the country, I started to come to my senses. By the time Colin Powell was on TV showing grainy photographs and claiming that this was proof of WMDs in Iraq, my reasoning had returned. One of the worst fights I've ever had with my mother was about the impending war. She asked what I would do if I were drafted, I told her there was no way I was going to be forced to go kill people just because that idiot wanted to go to war. She told me that I needed to respect the president, and if I were drafted, it'd be my duty to God and Country to serve.

It was around this time that my faith in both God and Country waned. I had been struggling with my religious indoctrination for a while—this was my "I just don't like organized religion" phase—but the events of 9-11 and everything that followed, told me that I couldn't just be a conscientious objector, I needed to decide what I really believed. And I found that I really just didn't believe and thus began my angry atheist phase.

To this day, I still love my country, but I loathe sentiments like "I love my country." Nationalism has been mistaken for patriotism—so much so that I can't even stomach the term "Patriot" anymore. I'm a Thomas Paine Patriot, not a George Bush Imperial Nationalist.

In the wake of 9-11, many Americans (who clearly missed the point) became more religious, more xenophobic. I, and an impressive amount of others, went the other direction. Step by step by step. Which eventually lead me to New York City.

The CFI conference was held in World Trade Center building #7. Up on the 40th floor, the first night of the conference, I looked down and saw what I assumed to be a construction site. And, of course, it is a construction site, but there’s much more to it than that.

The next morning, along with a group of future leaders of the secular movement, I visited Ground Zero. There's not a whole lot to see, but then I think that might be the point. Some of what is there is vitriolic rhetoric that turned my stomach. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like referring to those killed on 9-11 as "The Heroes of September 11, 2001" is disingenuous (which is not to say that many of them were not heroic). I guess "victims" just made it sound too much like we were victimized and we can't have that . . . it would make us feel vulnerable.

Up close, Ground Zero looks pretty much like any other snail's pace construction site. But it's not. Standing there, the tendency is to look down at what is there-- I forced myself to look up and see what wasn't there. The footage from that day ran through my head. I saw those people holding hands, I saw the smoke, heard the cries. Standing there, at the site of the defining tragedy of my generation (and possibly even our nation's history) I felt a profound guilt.

I've spent the last six years feeling guilty for how I acted on that day, but being there the guilt slammed into me like never before. I wanted to tell how sorry I was, but I knew there was no one to tell. The people I needed to apologize to weren’t there. So I let myself experience that guilt-- let myself wallow in it until it was all I could do to keep myself from screaming. It wasn't just the guilt of six years, it was the guilt of a wasted life, of wasting life itself when so many people had it taken away from them. The guilt consumed me, it overpowered me and I let it. I encouraged it. And then, I stopped.

While I will carry the shame of how I behaved on September 11th for the rest of my life, I needn’t be ashamed of what I’ve done since then, what I’ve become and what I’ll do in the future.

A lot of the way I've acted since that day has a lot to do with the way I acted on that day. Not to sound too Catholic or anything, but my guilt informs a great deal of my motives. On that day, all I cared about was myself. Now, my perspective is more global. And while I've been a loud mouth for the better part of two decades, it's only been in the last five years that I’ve been an activist. A lot of that, too, has to do with losing a belief in the hereafter,—when you believe only in the here, there is all the more motive to make the most of it and make a difference while you can.

Looking out at the buildings that should have been there, I made a vow to myself. I suppose if I were religious it would have been a prayer. But I told myself: “This is it. This is your chance. From here on out you can’t just fuck around. You’ve been here, you’ve had your little nadir point, now it’s time to do something. Existential crises are all well and good, but now it’s time to do something about it.”

I’m not going to pretend like it was some kind of epiphany—this wasn’t the fulcrum around which my life pivots. I wouldn’t have been there in the first place if I needed an epiphany to show me the way. Instead, I see it as a moment of rededication, like every time I tell my wife I love her. It showed me that this is important, that this life is important and that the causes I believe in are worth fighting for. It is hard and I’m often not very good at it, but I need to keep trying and I’m going to keep trying to do what’s right, to make my mark, and to help.

Heathens Take Manhattan: Part IV: My Generation

One of the best parts of my weekend in New York, and something I've just barely touched on so far, was getting to meet, and hang out with some of my fellow student activists from around the globe*. CFI flew a whole slew of us out and, sadly, I didn't get to spend a lot of time with everyone, but the ones I did get to know were awesome-- way more awesome, in fact, than those of you who aren’t them. Sorry, but it had to be said.

When I flew in on Thursday, Sarah was the only other out-of-towner around, so I gave her a call and she very easily directed me from airport to bus to subway to hostel. This girl had been in town all of two hours longer than me and she was walking around like a pro. All weekend, she was the one person who always knew how to get from point A to point B . . . I'm pretty sure that's her mutant power.

Sarah, being both a good traveler and a vegan, came equipped with a list of vegan friendly restaurants that we'd be near. Without her, it's entirely possible that I would have starved on the streets of New York. Actually, I take that back, without her, I would have never found my way to the streets of New York and would have starved sitting in LaGuardia, mulling over a map and trying to figure out just what the hell a "borough" is.

And then there was Alon. Alon met up with Sarah and me to see The Drowsy Chaperone (which he hated and Sarah and I enjoyed). Alon lives in New York, though he's originally from Micronesia. I'm not sure there's much I can say about Alon that isn't already destined to be in the history books . . . Let me just throw this little fact at you: The guy is 17 years old and a grad student in mathematics** at Columbia. He's a living encyclopedia. Just don't ask him to figure out how much you're supposed to tip . . . because he will-- to the eighth decimal point.

Roy, from UCLA, is also a little tyke with a big brain. Roy is awesome-- even though he's also a math dork. He and Nidia (also awesome, also a math dork, only she has pink hair which Roy does not) both showed up at the hostel just as Sarah and I were heading out for breakfast Friday morning so the four of us ended up doing the city together. In Central Park we found a long division problem that someone had written in the dirt. All three of my companions stopped and marveled as if it were a hieroglyph found on the side of a mountain. I think they were actually more impressed with the dirt long division than they were with most of the things we saw at the MOMA. Math dorks are funny that way.

Somewhere along the way we picked up Ben (the George Harrison of math dorks) and Shalini (who is half my age and twice my IQ) and I found myself in the unenviable position of being the sole English major in a pack of math dorks.

We all made our way to the Natural History Museum where, after much struggle, we finally caught up with Alon again. Let me tell you, if you're going to go to the Natural History Museum, the way to do it is with a bunch of Freethinking math dorks. Freethinking math dorks with cameras, to be precise.

Now, rarely am I the smartest person in the room but I'm also not often the dumbest guy in the room. Hanging out with Sarah, Roy, Nidia, Ben, Shalini and Alon, I was, without question, the dumbest guy in the room. That experience was not to be alleviated all weekend until the flight back to Grand Rapids***.

At the conference I met a stunning number of new awesome people: the awesome Canadian foursome, Mara (another theatre kid!), Kristine (my fellow Overflow Room Bouncer), Chris (the revolutionary), Lucia (the Dawkins dork), Sean and Brett (our own little Okies), Byung (good ol' B), Roger (all the way from Edinburgh), Blake (who is just about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet), and Tommy and Alex and Vikkey and Lisa and literally dozens of my brilliant (for Chris' sake, I won't say "bright"), and enthusiastic peers.

When you look at the Freethought movement, whether it’s CFI Michigan or any other group, it doesn't take a math dork to see that the average age is, well, closer to Paul Kurtz than it is to Alon and Shalini. Being at this conference and seeing so many young people who are dedicated to the cause and chomping at the bit to take on the world, made my little heretic heart pump with joy****.

This is a group of young people who absolutely defy the stereotype of the lazy, apathetic, self-absorbed idiots that our generation is so often clapped with. For the first time, at this conference, I felt really . . . hopeful, I guess, for the younger generation. When you compare the voter turn out for 18-25 year olds in the last election with the same age group thirty years ago, it’s fairly devastating. But that weekend in New York showed me that some of us haven’t given up. Most of the students I met were people who had taken the initiative to lead or, in many cases, start organizations at their schools. That’s no small feat. Adding that workload on to the already daunting tasks of school and work is a fairly quixotic endeavor and it’s so encouraging seeing so many Rationalist dreamers take it on.

As we parted ways on Sunday afternoon, I felt the same kind of feelings I had experienced years earlier when leaving church camp—only, instead of being filled with the Holy Spirit I was filled with a sense of community and purpose. We hugged all of our new BFF’s good-bye and vowed that we’d keep in touch. And I hope we do. I hope this new community we created over a long weekend in New York does have a lasting impact. I hope that as the new friends I made rise to fame and become the new voices of secular values that they remember me and, most importantly, give me expensive presents that they purchase with the advances from their book deals.

I totally promise to do the same when I strike it rich.

*Okay, mostly just the U.S. and Canada***** but Roger is from Ireland so, at the very least, there was transcontinental representation.

**I'm sure it's not just 'mathematics,’ but every time he started to explain what he studies my brain shut down and the Lollipop Guild song started playing in my head-- that's what happens when people talk math to me.

***Even my flight to Chicago was packed with Rhodes Scholars. The flight attendant was writing a dissertation on "Being and Nothingness" as she served drinks.

****Well, actually it was just blood. But it was joyous and freshly optimistic blood.

*****Which is a Native American term meaning: “Country that is much like America only with Socialism, better health care, gay marriage, and funny accents.”

20 November 2007

Heathens Take Manhattan: Part III: The Conference

Mark Twain said: "go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company."

For three days, I was in Hell. And I loved every minute of it.

On November 9th through the 11th, 2007, the Center For Inquiry/ New York City presented “The Secular Society and Its Enemies,” a conference which featured a veritable Who’s Who in Hell. For three days many of the world’s most brilliant minds gathered to laugh, drink and discuss the big issues in the new home of the New York Academy of Sciences, on the 40th floor of WTC Building #7.

The poetry was lost on no one as we spent the weekend discussing threats to the secular world while just out the window was history’s greatest example of a “faith based initiative.” And yet, there was very little mention of that fact. It wasn’t necessary. Even as we stood around and noshed on mini-quiche, the shadow of those two towers loomed as large as ever. Rather than putting a damper on the conference, though, it had a galvanizing effect. It showed us just how important the cause we are all fighting for is. This isn’t just an intellectual or philosophical exercise: there are real, devastating forces taking on secular society.

The first night of the conference featured honors given to Neil deGrasse Tyson (my new hero), Ann Druyan (the sweetest, most brilliant woman I’ve ever met . . . who also happens to have been married to Carl Sagan) and 17-year-old Matthew LaClair.

You may have heard about young Matthew who, last year, caught a teacher of his on tape saying in class (among other horrid things) that a student was going to go to Hell because she did not believe in Jesus. Because of Matthew, not only was his teacher exposed, but so was the larger problem in our public schools, where things like that often go unchecked. Matthew was given the James Madison Religious Liberty Award and then gave the kind of speech seventeen year olds, by all rights, should not be able to give. I’m jealous of his poise and eloquence. I’d hate him for it if he weren’t such a damned nice guy.

The evening ended with a rousing speech by Eddie Tabash that warned of “the threats of the religious right to our modern freedoms.” I believe someone referred to it as Eddie’s “scare the hell out of you” speech.

After the evening’s events were over, I went up to Ann Druyan (the first celebrity I dared approach), and told her I had just heard her on Radio Lab* and how her story of her love for Carl being sent out into the cosmos made me weep like a baby. Truly, it’s that part of science we need to stress—the beauty, the poetry of it** and the work of Ann and Carl is greatest asset we have to that end. Ann and I talked for a few minutes—she told me how much she admired me for going into teaching, said how that was the most noble thing a person could do . . . That’s a moment in time I’m keeping with me. Ann Druyan told me that what I was doing was important. I could have shat myself.

The next morning, my fellow young activists and I were put to work. Kristine and I were set up as ticket checkers at the door to the overflow room. Y’know, just in case anyone wanted to sneak into the overflow room, rather than sitting in the main room. As you can predict, ours was an important job. But, it did mean that I got to see everyone as they came in (the door to the main room was right next to the door to the overflow room). Not only did I manage to piss off Dawkins (he didn’t think it was funny when I asked to see his ticket) but I also stopped a man who’s had a fatwa issued against him from entering (sorry about that, Mr. Warraq) and I had a conversation with Alan Dershowitz about the Ten Commandments without realizing he was Alan Dershowitz.

Since we were guests of CFI (in that they paid for us, flew us out and arranged for our hostel stay) the other students and I were relegated to the overflow room. And actually, the view there, courtesy of a big projection screen, was much nicer than that enjoyed by many of the people in the main room. It was funny, too, because we all still applauded for the speakers as though they could really hear us.

Saturday morning was a series of panel discussions featuring the likes of Susan Jacoby (writer of Freethinkers, probably the best book on the history of secularism in America ever), Rebecca Goldstein (Betraying Spinoza), the poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht (Doubt: A History), Ann Druyan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Victor Stenger (God: The Failed Hypothesis, a wonderful counter-apologetic work), Richard Dawkins (as seen on South Park), Michelle Goldberg (Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism), Wendy Kaminer (Sleeping with Extraterrestrials which is the name of a book she wrote, not an activity that made her famous), journalist Damon Linker, and everyone’s favorite trial attorney, Eddie Tabash.

The panel discussions were each, in their own way, brilliantly fascinating and fascinatingly brilliant. Hearing very smart people disagree (at times, almost heatedly) but retain the intellectual integrity of the discussion is just awesome.

Perhaps my favorite part of Saturday morning was the panel (moderated by my hero D.J. Groethe) featuring Dawkins, deGrasse Tyson, Druyan and Stenger. The panel discussion itself was great and all, but the coolest thing about it was that during it, Paul Kurtz, the father of the modern Humanist movement and the reason all of us were there in the first place, came and sat with the rabble in the overflow room. Two seats down from me was the man who created CFI, the man whose words helped me put a label on what I believed when I had no clue what ‘Humanism’ even was. The fact that he decided that rather than sit in the front row of the main room and listen to the big headliners, he would sit with the students who couldn’t even afford to pay for their own stay in a hostel and watch it on a projection screen, told me everything I need to know about this man.

The rest of Saturday was kind of a mixed bag. Christopher Hitchens, unable to attend himself, sent a video interview, which unfortunately, was really hard to hear (at least in the overflow room). Then, there was the obligatory “Give us money” presentation, which, of course was very important, but mostly just frustrating to those of us who have no money. Luckily for CFI, those of us who don’t have money were in the minority at the conference.

The evening really picked up, though with a presentation by Peter Singer. More than anything, Singer made me feel really bad about only being a vegetarian. He was like that far away from making me feel guilty about eating vegetables.

After that, D.J. Groethe conducted an interview with Richard Dawkins (which was recorded for Point of Inquiry, one of my three favorite podcasts***). I was kind of disappointed initially—after all, I’ve heard Dawkins interviewed a whole bunch of times, but I’ve never heard him lecture. While I still would have liked to hear him lecture, the interview ended up being the best I’ve ever heard with Dawkins. He was very candid about his role in ‘the movement,’ freely admitting that his approach may not be the best. If only all of his detractors were able to hear him like that, maybe then they’d see that he’s not the arrogant monster they paint him as. Then again, probably not.

And for those of you who aren’t jealous of my weekend already, get this: Saturday night, I got to have dinner with Richard Dawkins! Yes, My Dinner with Dawkins will be an event I cherish and gloat about for the rest of my life.

Of course, it wasn’t just me and Richie—that’s what he likes to be called****-- sitting around a table chewing the fat. It was actually a few dozen of us student leaders sitting around with Richie in the backroom of a pub in the financial district, chewing the fat. He wanted to hear about our groups, what we were doing, what challenges we faced etc. He didn’t say a whole lot, except to ask a question or two (can you believe he didn’t know what a bong is?) and offer words of encouragement. Still, having Richard Dawkins’ ear for even a few minutes is a pretty damn cool thing.

On Sunday, there was a panel on the next generation of secularism in which a few of my new friends took part. Not to be all generation-centric or anything, but I’m really glad they had that panel discussion because I don’t think we can overstate the importance of this younger generation. We’re the ones who are going to keep this movement alive decades down the road. It was nice to see so many people over the weekend that understood that fact. And exciting to see how brilliant and eager that younger generation is. But there’ll be more on that in Part IV.

This conference made for one of the most amazing, intellectual stimulating and exciting weekends of my life. And, I got to be a total fan boy all weekend around people who are just as geeky as me. I mean, this was like going to a Star Trek convention and having Gene Rodenberry buy you a drink as you sit and talk to Nemoy and Shatner. Ann Druyan touched me! Her thoughts are in space (literally) and she freakin’ touched me!

Thanks to this weekend, I can die happily. And, if it turns out we’re all wrong and there really is a Hell, at least I can look forward to great company.

*For those of you who aren’t familiar with Radio Lab, let me just tell you: It is the BEST thing on NPR since This American Life. Please, do yourselves a favor and check it out at http://www.radiolab.org/

**As Dawkins wonderfully describes it, saying that the utilitarian view of science is what is important is like saying that music is good because it exercises the violinist’s right arm.

***See the first footnote for the other two of my three favorite podcasts.

****No, no he doesn’t. Don’t tell him I said that he did. And if you’re reading this, I’m very sorry Professor Dawkins, sir.

19 November 2007

Heathens Take Manhattan: Part II: New York, New York

While I enjoyed spending time in New York City, I didn't fall in love with it the way I did with Paris. Part of that might be that I didn't get to see a whole lot of the city. Didn't make it to Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake, didn't see the Statue of Liberty, didn't get to see Spider-Man web-slinging his way through the streets. Part of it, too, might be the fact that I speak the language there, and that always takes away a bit of the charm . . . When I was in Paris, if someone had said, "Hey, you're not allowed back to Michigan, you're going to have to stay here," I would've smiled, ordered a celebratory crème brulee and then made arrangements to have my cat mailed to me. While I liked visiting New York, I wasn't quite ready to move there.

Some people fall head-over-heels for NYC. And while I can see why they would, it just didn't happen to me. If I had found one in a shop, I would have bought a t-shirt that said: "I Like But Am Not Sure I'm Ready To Commit To NY." Paris was love at first sight, NYC was someone I'd like to date for a while and see what develops.

That being said, there's no other place like NYC.

Times Square was awesome. I just love being in a place where people are actually fighting to get theatre tickets. And there are literally dozens of shows to choose from. I happened to see "The Drowsy Chaperone" on the night before Broadway virtually shut down because of the stage hand's strike. There's no way I can describe "The Drowsy Chaperone" without it sounding really lame (including the fact that Bob Saget was headlining) so I won't even try, except to say that I had a blast. And there was a song about a monkey-- which was worth the price of admission alone.

I love the restaurants in New York, too. There was a choice of vegetarian restaurants within walking distance of the hostel I was staying in. In Grand Rapids, I have to create my own burrito in order to have something on the menu that I can eat; in New York there were options . . . loads and loads of options. We went to a vegetarian pizza place called 'Cafe Viva' a couple of times. The food there was brilliant. As were the spinach and feta croissants from the little bagel shop across the street which was run by an adorably brusk group of people of indeterminate ethnic background.

While we didn't get to spend nearly enough time at either, we did manage to hit the MoMA (which I'm told stands for "Museum of something something") and the Natural History Museum.

The MoMA had a special exhibition of George Seurat sketches and paintings. And while they were really cool to see, it did mean that I had "Sunday in the Park with George" stuck in my head for the rest of the day. They also happen to have Andy Warhol's soup cans, Van Gogh's Starry Night and a whole shit load of other stuff you've seen on posters in college dorms and young hipster's apartments. There was one Jackson Pollock painting that I've seen reproduced a number of times, but until I was right up next to it, I had no idea that beneath the paint is a whole mess of thumb tacks, keys, cigarettes and other folderol. So cool. One of the highlights for me, though, has got to be the series of photos that Edward Muybridge took of a horse running. These photos (cool as they are in and of themselves) and the technological advances Muybridge had to make to take them, were a major step on the road to the creation of movies. What can I say? I'm a big dork.

Natural History Museum is one place where I definitely need to spend more time next time I'm in NYC. What a treasure trove that place is. I mean, narwhal skeletons hang from the ceiling. Freaking narwhals! And we didn't even get to check out the Hayden Planetarium which almost certainly would have made me squeal with delight.

The hostel we stayed in was nice. We were on the fifth floor with no elevator. The beds were uncomfortable, the room was balmy, there was an almost complete lack of functioning electrical outlets and the pillows were about as thick and fluffy as my stomach is tanned and muscled. Having never lived in a dorm or been in the military, I couldn't say how the experience of sharing a room with eleven other co-ed virtual strangers and only one bathroom compares, but I imagine there are more similarities than there are differences. And yet, it wasn't bad. Kind of neat, actually. Now, had I been staying there another few days or had the bed above mine been occupied (yeah extra pillow) my memories of it might not have been quite so pleasant, but I mostly had a good time in the hostel.

I feel like I've done 'city' now. Like going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, city-ing is one more thing I can check off my list of things to do before I die.

NYC is the paragon of city-ness and now that I've done it, every other city will just be a pale imitation. I love Chicago, but it doesn't have the same level of city-ness. It's a nice try-- still leagues ahead of Grand Rapids-- but it lacks that singular experience of "I'm in the city" that New York has to offer. I'm a little disappointed, actually, I feel like I peaked too early . . . I haven't done Vegas or L.A. or, I don't know, St. Louis or Seattle*. Not that I expect to be disappointed by those places now, I'm just saying that for whatever else they have to offer, they won't be able to compete in their level of city-ness.

New York has got 'city' covered. Try as they might, no one else is ever going to be able to compete.

*Cities outside North America don't really count-- their city-ness is entirely different. They aren't all aspiring to be New York City, they seem content to just be what they are.

02 November 2007

Mistaken Identity

"I saw someone who looks just like you!"

Apparently, I'm the least original looking person on the planet. About once a week, someone will tell me that they saw someone who looks just like me somewhere (you'd think with that kind of universality I'd be able to get more modeling jobs . . . ).

For instance, there was the guy who used to frequent the gay bar who wore a monocle, a cape and carried a walking stick and looked just like me according to several of my friends.

Then there was the guy that Catie spotted walking down the street in Easttown, who, even though he looked just like me she knew he wasn't me because he did not walk with my elegance. Seriously. That's what she told me. If that particular doppelganger lacks my level of grace it's hard to believe he's even able to stand upright.

And there was the high school senior, according to Amy, who looked just like me that was recently crowned Homecoming King. Clearly, much like my own spot on Grand Rapids Christian High's homecoming court lo those many years ago, if this poor bastard does look just like me, his coronation was the end result of a cruel prank perpetrated upon him by a large portion of the all-hating student body*.

Most disturbingly is my double in Ohio whom Rose spotted shushing a child while sitting in a Catholic mass.

With my likeness being so horribly abused, do you suppose I could sue for defamation of character?

"You remind me of . . . "

Maybe this is something that happens to everyone (I don't know, I've only ever been the one person) but it seems like people are always telling me what celebrities they think I look like.

Just this last Wednesday at the bar I was told by one person that I look like Will Ferrell and by another that I look like "James Dean . . . if he were, like, a dad." Huh? Oh, and as a bonus, one guy told me I sound like Nicholas Cage.

Some other great comparisons that I've heard are Errol Flynn (because we both had goatees at one time!) and Ryan Reynolds, one of the titular guys from TV's Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. And while I both appreciate the artistic and cultural significance of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place and agree that, in fact, Ryan Reynolds is an attractive fella, one must acknowledge that only one suffering from Magoo like myopia could ever compare me to this.

Oh, and have you noticed how none of the people I'm compared to look anything like each other? Apparently, I'm like Martin Sheen who looks exactly like Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez even though the two of them look nothing alike.

What is your hair?

With increasing frequency, people have been referring to me as a redhead lately. Don't get me wrong, I love redheads and I take no offense at being called a redhead except that I DON'T HAVE RED HAIR! I even kind of wish I did, but I don't! So why in hell do people call me a redhead? Even other redheads have included me when referring to "us redheads." Really, I'm flattered but you're bringing down the redhead movement by trying to induct me. I can only hurt the cause.

Also in hair related news, an older gentleman at the bar the other night told me that I had gorgeous hair. I know that doesn't really fit with the whole mistaken identity theme I'm working with, but frankly, I was flattered and I wanted to share it with you anyway.

*Of course, there's always the possibility that, in fact, he was voted into the office of king (which, for the first time I'm realizing is exceptionally ironic) because he's a good person and people like him because of his work ethic and sparkling personality. Then again, we are talking about a high school so the cruel prank theory holds more water.