Doppelgängers, Identical Cousins, and Twin Peaks

In college I heard stories of another student who looked exactly like me. Everyone said it was uncanny how much we looked alike. But there were so many occasions when I would show up at a party to have someone say “He was just here!” that I had the feeling they were putting me on.

"How 'bout some eggs to go with that coffee, Agent Cooper?"

“How ’bout some eggs to go with that coffee, Agent Cooper?”

The number of times I’ve been told I look like someone else is astronomical. One day I was leaving the Orange County Court and I heard someone behind me yell “Hey, Jeff!” I didn’t turn around since that wasn’t my name and kept walking across the parking lot. I heard it again and still didn’t turn around. Then I heard feet running up behind me. I was in the courthouse parking lot. I decided I better turn around.

A guy ran up to me and stopped. “Jeff, didn’t you…hear…” He was so shocked that I wasn’t Jeff that he just turned around and walked away. It was at this time in my life I learned about the idea of doppelgängers. I wondered if the guy at school was my doppelganger.

It is 1989. David David Lynch plays with doppelgangers on ‘Twin Peaks. He didn’t invent the idea of identical cousins (Think ‘The Patty Duke Show and their funhouse mirror routines). On his show they are Laura Palmer and her cousin, Maddy.

They finally reveal Laura’s killer in a horrific scene. Laura’s father, Leland, is possessed by the killer, Bob. As he looks at his reflection in a mirror, shaggy Bob appears. Then Leland beats Maddy to death.

Frank Da Silva was cast as Bob after appearing in a scene by accident. He was arranging props on set and got caught in front of the camera when they called “Action!”. Lynch was so taken with him when he saw the footage that he created the part and cast him.

I am in the Red Carpet Club at LAX a couple of weeks after the violent episode airs. They call my flight. I grab my bags. I pull open the door. There, in front of me, is shaggy Frank/Bob. I gulp, then very deliberately step to the right. Bob steps to his left.

I step left. He steps right.

We both smile.

Fathers and Sons

In the spring of 1977, when I was almost 18, I was watching television after school. A Public Service Announcement about breast cancer came on. I wasn’t really paying attention, until they went from advising women to examine their breasts to showing a woman examining her breast. Right there in our dining room was a boob on the tube. I’d never seen anything like this before (And, frankly haven’t since).Dad and I at Holly's

The woman used her index and middle fingers, gently working in a circular pattern outward. I couldn’t help it – I slipped my hand up under my T-shirt and began aping her movements. I was in hysterics.

Until I felt the lump.

It was just on the perimeter of what I quickly came to learn was the areola, the dark tissue surrounding the nipple. It was about the size of a pea and hard. I felt around both my breasts to see how they felt. Other than the lump, I felt nothing odd. But, there was a lump.

I showed it to my mother. She felt it. My father came home and they had a ‘conference’. A doctor’s appointment was made. I was old enough to drive, even had my own car by then, but my father insisted on going with me. We drove there in our mustard-colored Volvo.

The doctor had me remove my shirt and duplicated my examination, carefully drawing the location of the ‘mass’ on a drawing of a breast in my medical chart. He measured it and added the dimensions in millimeters. And then he faced us.

“I want to have the surgeon look at him right away. This might be nothing. But we should have it biopsied as soon as possible to make sure.”

He gave us the name of the surgeon and contact information. I never got the biopsy, but two weeks later the lump was completely gone. Apparently these types of masses can occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is consuming lots of caffeine.

I am very thankful that it wasn’t a tumor, let alone cancer. But I am equally thankful for the experience, because it showed me how much my father cared for me. We had, at times, a problematic relationship. Perhaps it was because we were so much alike – in temperament as much as appearance. He sometimes had a temper and I was a smart ass. But he was one of the things that made me smart.

What I recognize now is the amount of concern he had for me that day. And love. For that I am grateful.

Now, each morning and evening I walk out into my backyard and look up at the peak where his ashes are buried.

And I thank my father for everything he did for me.

 

Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem: They Might Be (Literary) Giants

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I do not consider myself a fan of science fiction, but please don’t hold that against me. I’m not a genre reader – I read good writing, in all its forms. I have read some of the classics, like ‘Fahrenheit 451’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’…I’m already reaching.sphere-163623_1280

As it happens, two of my favorite writers are considered to be writers of science fiction. Stanislaw Lem wrote many books, and some of them deal with astronauts and space travel. But what attracts me to Lem’s work is the psychology of his stories and characters. Lem began writing ‘science fiction’ because the communist regime didn’t take it seriously. He could express ideas in that genre that would have been censored or gotten him imprisoned. Lem’s book ‘The Chain of Chance’ features a former astronaut as it’s protagonist, but his mission is to find out whether a colleague’s fall from a window here on Earth was murder or suicide. Lem’s ‘Solaris’ has been made into feature films twice (Once in the USSR by Andrei Tarkovsky (The ‘other’ great science fiction film of the late ‘60s with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey’) and more recently in the U.S. by Steven Soderbergh).

Philip K. Dick is better known to the general public, since several of his books have been made into feature films (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ is perhaps most well known). Most recently, Amazon Video produced a series based on the Hugo Award-winning novel ‘The Man in the High Castle’. Dick also aspired to write beyond the genre, even going so far as to say he didn’t care if it took him 30 years to achieve any success at it. ‘The Man in the High Castle’ is the perfect example. The book is an alternate history of the United States, positing what might have happened had the Axis forces won World War II and taken over our country as the spoils of war.

These two writers have some other things in common, not the least of which (To me) is that I had ‘Ships passing in the night’ experiences with both men. In the late ‘70s I wrote for the student newspaper at the community college I attended in Long Beach, California. During our Thursday afternoon review of the week’s issue I discovered a small story about Lem visiting classes on campus. Lem was from Poland and his opportunities to travel outside the country were few. That a door had opened in the Iron Curtain allowing him to briefly come to my town on the other side of the world was a miracle. But, like I said…ships in the night.

After college I lived in Tustin, in Orange County, California (Fans of ‘Lost’ will know this as the location of John Locke’s box factory). I learned after I’d moved that Phil Dick had lived right around the corner from me and I didn’t even know it. I could have stopped by his apartment on my way to get a Slurpee at the 7-11. If only I’d known who he was then.

Rick Kleffel, of the Agony Column (www.agonycolumn.com), introduced me to these and many other excellent writers. I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, but Rick has helped direct my exploration of both literature and film). If you ever see me in the science fiction aisle of your used book store, Phil Dick and Stanislaw Lem are the reasons I am there.

In addition to my reading, I also like to research the artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians/composers who have inspired and influenced me. I was very surprised to discover that there was a connection between the two writers of which I had been totally unaware.

Apparently Lem had high regard for Dick’s writing and had been responsible for getting some of Dick’s work translated and published in Poland. He also made sure that Dick was paid, albeit nominally, for the work.

Those familiar with Dick’s history of mental health know that – he had issues. He made the aluminum foil hat, but he made his with a satellite dish in order to receive the communications. This became the subject of the ‘Valis Trilogy‘, which is Dick turning his mind inside out.

To learn that Dick had issues with Lem wasn’t so surprising. Dick came to believe that he was being shorted on his royalties from the Polish editions and he blamed Lem. In fact he didn’t believe that Lem was a person at all. He had come to the conclusion that Lem was a facade for a committee of the Communist Party bent on mind control, even going so far as to write a letter to the FBI stating this.

For more information on Stanislaw Lem, visit his official website at www.lem.pl. For more information on Philip K. Dick, put on your aluminum foil satellite dish. His official site has shut down and the domain is for sale. But check out www.philipkdickkfans.com for discussion forums and updates on all things Dick.