9780547519272_hresPart One

These then are some of my first memories. But of course as an account of my life they are misleading, because the things one does not remember are as important; perhaps they are more important.

Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

I was standing when I came to. Not lying down. And it wasn’t a gradual waking process. It was darkness darkness darkness, then snap. Me. Now awake.

It was hot. My thin shirt clung to my back and shoulders, and my underwear was bunched into a sweaty wad. The heat left the ground in wavy lines, and the air was tinged blue with diesel exhaust. A woman in a burqa pushed past me. A small man in a ragged red vest ducked around me. He was hunched under the massive steel trunk on his back; the corner of the trunk nicked my shoulder as he maneuvered by. I was in the center of a crowd, half surging for the train, half surging for the exits. I stood still. I had no idea who I was. This fact didn’t panic me at first. I didn’t know enough to panic.

David MacLean

Your book The Answer to the Riddle is Me is subtitled “A Memoir of Amnesia.” Isn’t that a contradiction?

Yes and no. On the surface, it has the pleasing allure of an oxymoron. But deeper in, one of the things I remember best in my life is the time when I had no memory. My brain was stripped and open to sensory data. I think most of my life I treat life like triage as I move from errand to errand, chore to chore. These errands and chores create in my brain a hierarchy of the data I take in, things that aren’t associated with whatever task at hand get winnowed out of my consciousness. When I woke up on the train platform in India, I had no narrative, no chore, no task at hand, and so the sensory data I was receiving wasn’t ranked by any hierarchy. It flattened the world so that all data was of similar importance. The birds in the rafters were as important as the train in front of me. This feeling haunts me. It has made me aware of how much of the world I miss on a daily basis. In some ways I remember the feeling of no memory better than I remember anything else.

mountford8

Peter Mountford’s enthralling new novel, The Dismal Science, looks at what happens when a recently widowed World Bank administrator gets embroiled in Latin American politics. In this companion to Mountford’s debut, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, middle-aged and recently widowed World Bank administrator Vincenzo D’Orsi comes undone, jettisoning nearly every one of his personal and professional relationships.

Peter and I met at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle for a talk about identity, middle-age, and the 1 percent.

cooper.t.photo © Ryan PflugerDon’t you just love writing?

Yeah. It’s so fun, quick, and easy.

 

Were you surprised to be included on The New Yorker’s 20 under 65* list?

Yes, totally. That was crazy. Such an honor. Although in truth, I would gladly give back the honorific to be five inches taller. It sucks being a short dude (except when I’m in Miami, New York, or Southeast Asia). See the chapter entitled “40 Successful Men of My Stature or Shorter” (pg. 215) in Real Man Adventures for further explanation.

 

Instead of just telling me to go read a chapter in your book, why don’t you tell me about Real Man Adventures.

I have a lot of them in the book.

realman_pb_cover_FINAL_PRWhy They’re Called Passports

Partial transcript of a telephone conversation I had with a representative of the U.S. Department of State ¹ [after having my passport renewal application rejected and returned in the mail]:

ME: I don’t understand what the problem is. You have my fee, you have my correctly filled-out application, and you have a letter from a surgeon saying that I had sexual reassignment surgery and have lived as a man for several years.

 

“We need to talk,” said my mom. I was 14, and this could have meant any number of ominous things. We’d had many “talks” over the years, most of them related to my adolescent misbehavior, which arrived at 12 in particularly worrying form.

We sat together at our breakfast counter, she with a mug of Bengal spice tea, me with a glass of OJ. My mother was, and is, a very pretty woman, with bright blue eyes, skyscraper cheekbones, and an easy laugh. She sipped her tea and took a breath.

“Karen and I aren’t just friends, honey.” Her features tightened, but her eyes met mine, clear and steady. “We’re more than friends.”

I have an overwhelming urge to tattoo myself, basically at all times.

I have exactly zero tattoos.

I have threatened to get any number of tattoos over the years, a fact of which no one is quite so acutely aware as my dear friend Brad, who has drawn for me–at my request and even once combined with cash as a wedding gift–no fewer than four different tattoos.

The summer before we stole the car from the English electrician, our friend who arranged for us to pick grapes in Southern France, Eve, gushed from her perch in the 107th Street bistro, glass of wine in hand, fresh-faced and rested from what we would later learn was an extended stay at a sanatorium.

“I’ve spoken to the Madame, and her grapes are definitely growing,” Eve’s smoky laugh tinkled imperceptibly in the noisy bar. “She’s very excited to host you girls in Provence this fall. Oh, I wish I were going,” Eve lamented politely. “I’ve got to finish this semester, though. I’ve got to finish something.”

I admired so many things about Eve: her frosty hair and lined face seemed worldly at 20, as did her dry pride in the social nuisance of finishing college in four years. Add the fact that she kept disappearing, keeping my travel partners and I guessing about the grape-picking gig, and she quickly became just the right type of mysterious to me. One week I’d bump into her on the crowded city campus, finishing a blue cigarette by the Pan statue before our creative writing class. “See you upstairs in a minute,” she’d said with a weary smile. But when her empty chair persisted for that day and days after, Eve’s power only grew in my mind. She was living an urban, Cheshire life and I couldn’t think of anything more romantic.

I longed to break out of my suburban girl’s shell. Besides working as a hostess in a dingy, Upper West Side jazz club, I lived a fairly sheltered life for a twenty-one-year- old, commuting by bus from my parents’ house to Columbia University, scrunchies in my ponytail, buried under books in the magnificent library after lectures. I had no social life to speak of since relinquishing my cool magazine internship (I couldn’t afford not to be paid). New York was all around me, but I hardly felt like a city girl.

According to Eve’s pitch, if I was willing to take a semester off and fly to France, I could work the harvest for a few weeks and stay with Eve’s family friend, Madame Beauvert, who prevailed over acres of what would become Cotes du Rhone. My imagination conjured not backbreaking work, but lavender fields and nearby Mediterranean beaches; and Paris. I could live in France instead of read about how Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller did. So I withdrew from the upcoming fall semester and bought non-refundable plane tickets in cash, my first two major decisions made without parental consent. With a few hundred dollars saved from drunken tippers, I boarded a plane with a borrowed backpack and an elevated feeling that I was both finally living and pulling off a stunt meant for other, more privileged people.

But once seated and angling into the air, I felt sweat seep into the armpits of my Putamayo dress. In retrospect this onset of in-flight panic, prompted by fears of a future ruined while sipping free champagne on Air France, stood to reason. I had had no direct contact with Madame Beauvert. Our “plans”, arranged through Eve, had no confirmed dates of beginning or ending. I had no credit card, and of the three of us traveling, my college-level French was by far the best (I had gotten a B- in Conversation).

My travel partner, Mae, shook her head. “We’re in the right place at the right time,” she said, as one who had the glorious trait of worrying about nothing might. Mae was my age but Southern. She waited tables and lived alone in her mother’s Washington Heights apartment, and one of those circumstances made her as fearless as a secret agent.

Kay, our party’s third member, agreed. “Traveling is one of the good things in life,” she soothed, and because Kay was an artist and daughter of a tragically famous New Yorker, I believed she knew more about life than I.

We lugged our bags through the chaos of Orly airport, amid the human-smelling crowds and sexy, overhead announcements. Not one familiar face, sound or scent. Nothing to read, study or intelligently discuss. Someone stepped on my foot, but I didn’t care. I glimpsed a crepe stand and while waiting for a taxi, my fears became small and ornamental. That safe state in which I had lived, that of dissatisfied longing, had gone. I leaned my head out the window, feeling the urge to make a mark strike my face like raindrops on headlights.

For weeks, Paris was wet. We walked over puddles in our black city shoes and red lipstick, exploring old cathedrals and desecrated cemeteries that, while lovely, didn’t match my visions of sun, wine and the Mediterranean Sea. I had imagined there would be an obvious beginning by now, the pop of a cork, a magnanimous “welcome” from Madame Beauvert and ensuing directions of how to get to our new jobs at her palatial estate. Mae tried calling Madame Beauvert once or twice a day casually, as if it didn’t matter, and Kay echoed Mae’s cool calm about money more easily than I, sketching leisurely in the Left Bank tabacs. She had already finished college, and since Mae had no real intention of going back, the two of them shared a drifter’s context perfect for long afternoons in the Latin Quarter. I was alone with my urgency.

In order to not worry about money during the day, I tried evoking what I imagined would be Eve’s demeanor, smoking and ordering water and coffee to keep from wanting to eat more than camembert on baguettes. At night, I counted my remaining francs and dollars, about 150 total, and imagined myself as Eve, sitting by the statue of Pan, Greek God of the Wild, awaiting a change of fortune.

It was as if I had inadvertently said a prayer.

“Hi Madame Beauvert? My friends and I have arrived in Paris.”

“Sorry?”

Mae cleared her throat and spoke loudly into the youth hostel pay phone.

“We came from New York to work on your vineyard? For the harvest? For faire le vendage?”

“You are American?”

“Yes. Our friend Eve said she had spoken to you about our arrival. We’re here to pick–”

“I have men from Spain and Portugal to do that.”

“I see. Eve had said–”

“I am not well. I cannot take care of three girls. I’m sorry. Please enjoy Paris. Tell Eve I’m sorry.”

*

A few days earlier, a nun in a church vestibule where I had waited out a rainstorm had looked at me with pity. I scanned the wall full of nanny job postings, but her stare reminded me I didn’t belong, so I grabbed a few free publications like Libre Paris and France/USA, and covered my head across the street to the post office. In line for postcard stamps, two classifieds had caught my eye.

1. Join a crew of hot air balloon professionals for a two-month race across Europe. No experience necessary.

2. Restore a medieval farmhouse in the Provence countryside. Light construction/electrical experience preferred. Room and board.

My parents’ postcard, Dear Mom and Dad, Paris is beautiful never slipped down the mail slot that day; the line for stamps was too long and the message felt untrue. But now, this morning after Madame Beauvert refused us, the sun cracked through gray clouds while Mae fed the phone franc after franc, finally reaching the medieval farmhouse (the hot air balloon line buzzed a constant busy).

“You can do construction?” the male voice asked.

“Let’s just say I know how to use a hammer,” Mae replied.

“Let me talk to him,” I grabbed the phone. Picking grapes had slipped through our fingers, but a medieval farmhouse in the French countryside, and the grand adventure I now felt entitled to, would not.

“I’ve helped build my grandfather’s shed,” I lied into the phone without the least bit of regret. “I’ve carried wood, I’ve worked in gardens. I’ve even dug a ditch.”

“You did all of this in New York?”

“Upstate New York. It’s very rural. But we can tell you about it when we meet. How do we get there?”

Within one hour, our bags were packed. I amended my parents’ postcard message, Dear Mom and Dad, Paris is beautiful. We’re taking the train to Provence this afternoon but I was so excited, I forgot to drop it in the mailbox.

End of Part 1

Introduction

My name is James D. Irwin, and after being alive for over two decades I feel incomplete. I don’t feel as though I really know myself, and I think that’s a major obstacle in my development as a rounded, confident young man.

How can you pretend to know anything about the world if you don’t even know who you are? I mean, who you really are. We get told things like where we come from and how old we are etc, etc, but we don’t really know. We don’t come from wherever we were born; we come from our pasts, our history, and our heritage.

With this in mind I set out to investigate the real James D. Irwin— the enigmatic genetic make up that makes a humanoid, carbon-based life form so much more than the sum of its biological parts.

I will question everything and leave no stone unturned to discover just who the fuck I really am.


How Old Am I?

Although we can only prove that we’re really, really alive by releasing adrenaline or feeling pain, there are also birth certificates which prove we’re alive in a less philosophical and more legal sense.

Mine says that I was born in 1989, which means that I am, in the chronological sense, twenty-one years old.

However, Greg Olear repeatedly insists that I am in fact fifteen years of age. Scientific studies prove that if you hear something enough times you begin to accept it as fact. There are also scientific studies which say the memory is inherently unreliable so I may be making up that study, or simply inventing in my mind numerous instances where Greg exaggerates my youth. The upshot of all this means that it may or may not be true.

Then there are my behavioural traits, which must be taken into account:

I often sit in my pyjamas watching cartoons, eating cereal and watching cartoons like a six year old, yet I also like drinking scotch in quiet pubs like an eighty-five year old.

Finally we come to the theory of age put forth by the controversial philosopher Groucho Marx who believes ‘you’re only as old as the woman you feel.’

Unfortunately I am not currently feeling any women, so there is no data available.

We then add these figures together and divide them by the number of figures for an average.

So, that’s 21, 15, 6, and 85.

The cold hard maths:

21+15+6+85= 127.

There are four figures, so we divide 127 by 4.

Conclusion: I am in fact a little over thirty-one years of age.

Am I a man or a woman?

Initially this would seem to be quite simple: I have slight facial hair and I don’t have breasts. But then I watched a female athletics event with my grandmother and discovered it was perfectly possibly to be a woman without breasts, or despite having a moustache.

My old neighbours, both younger than six, used to ask me why I wore ‘girl shoes’, ‘girl trousers’ and why I had ‘girl hair.’ They make a compelling argument: I wear boots, flared jeans and I have long hair— all quite feminine characteristics.

I also own a lot of scarves, I’m quite thin and I’m no taller than 5’8. It does seem entirely plausible that I was a taller-than-average woman.

However, I do have extremely hairy legs and a penis with all the biological accessories you might expect (scrotum, pubes etc).

Conclusion: In the face of overwhelming biological evidence I can rationally conclude that I am a man; a fairly effeminate, skinny man, but a man nonetheless.

Where do I come from?

Once again we can turn to official documentation for this, documentation that claims I am English.

However, that’s merely a technicality based on the fact that I was dragged into the world in a hospital in Swindon that has since been demolished. For example, the actress Sienna Miller was born in New York and holds an American passport, but is no more American than she is Azerbaijani. It’s family origins that count, the legs you crawled out of— not wherever those legs were at a time. Otherwise babies delivered by water birth could go around telling everyone that they’re mermaids.

My family history can be traced back to Germany, Ireland, the north of England and the West Country.

I have a reasonable claim to being German— I love sausages, potatoes, beer, Claudia Schiffer and the song 99 Red Balloons by Nena. However, Ireland produces a lot of beer, sausages and potatoes, as does England. I also only like the English language version of Nena’s 1984 hit single.

Although I have German blood and I like a lot of what the country has to offer— mostly women who were incredibly attractive twenty years ago— the main Germanic traits I possess can also be attributed to my English and Irish ancestry. In short all I have learnt about myself is that I like beer and pork, like most men from Western civilization. There is nothing in my personality that is uniquely German, and I don’t much care for David Hasselhoff— Knight Rider doesn’t even compare to Magnum P.I.

So I must turn to Ireland and England and study those cultures to see which is closest to the man I think I am/wish to be/seek to become.

My family name is Irish. I know it’s an Irish name because there’s a soda bread company that shares my family name and soda bread is as Irish as being turned away from a job in 19th century New York. There was also a footballer called Dennis Irwin who played for Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland. And sure enough my family tree goes back to the early 1800s where the Irwin family are potato farming in County Mayo, Ireland.

However, I visited a Genealogy institute in Dublin a few years ago and was told that ‘Irwin’ is not an Irish name, and although having Celtic origins, it is closer to the Welsh ‘Owen’ and the Scottish name ‘Irvine.’ Apparently I’m no more Irish than a giant novelty Guinness hat. As with my German ancestry it doesn’t matter how much pork and potato I eat, or how much beer I drink, it doesn’t count for anything.

At some point during the potato famine from 1845-1852 the Scottish or Welsh conmen masquerading as potato farmers and calling themselves the Irwin’s moved across the water to Manchester, England. They probably spent most of that time building roads and doing other things associated with the Irish of that time just to fit in and keep up the whole ‘being Irish’ charade.

Eventually the family settled in the West Country, which is interesting. Firstly, because there was a lot of potato farming in the area and secondly because it’s very, very close to the Welsh border.

So far it’s all fairly inconclusive; I don’t think I’m any closer to discovering my true heritage. Although I think I have discovered something important about my family DNA…

We’ve moved again, this time to Cambridgeshire. We’re very close to a turnip farm, whilst the house itself was originally built for the farm workers who used to live in the area. A quick look at the history of the property shows that the majority of the families who have lived in this property have been farmers— potato farmers.

The Irwin’s cannot escape the ghosts of their potato farming past.

Conclusion: The only heritage I have is the heritage of potato farming. I am essentially descended from Welsh or Scottish con artists who spent centuries pretending to be Irish, presumably for the pure love of farming potatoes; they only left Ireland when the spuds ran out.

What is my purpose?

I’m interpreting this as my purpose in life— not so much in the sense as why I’m here on this, the third rock from the Sun, drifting in an ape descended civilization that tries to find meaning and purpose from concepts ranging from religion to spider solitaire— more in the sense of which social mechanism I am a cog in. Am I a big cog? Is my cog used often? Will I be a cog that fails to function in old age?

In other words: what profession do I fit into?

Like Randy Bachman I am self-employed, working at nothing all day aside from occasionally attending to business that needs takin’ care of.

Or to put in another way, I’m unemployed.

I prefer ‘between jobs.’

I have done work, but failed to achieve professionalism in most fields. For example my work here and in other publications has never earned me anything but kind words, good will and a paragraph on my C.V. I am not a writer, writing is not my profession— it’s merely a hobby I have like stamp collecting or masturbation.

I used to help out at my mum’s old hardware shop, but only manning the till in times of necessity. My duties earned little more than insincere praise and maybe a biscuit from the back if I was lucky. I also did work experience at a hotel, but as it was work experience it was unpaid. I also walked out after a few days because the manager was a bastard— the hotel would later be featured on TV’s ‘Hotels From Hell.’

However, I did work experience at an estate agency and I got paid for that. It was my job to file new properties and ‘un-file’ old ones. I was pretty good at it, so I was rewarded with a ten pound note.

The only thing I have ever been paid for is stand up comedy.

I haven’t done it in a while, but science clearly says I’m an out of work comedian with a sideline working in real estate.


General Conclusions

I wanted to find out who I really was in as I found myself both directionless and at a crossroads. I felt that I could only truly evolve into my true self by knowing who that was.

And it’s been a huge help. The biggest surprise for me was discovering that I was already a professional comedian. I haven’t performed for years, and thought I never would again. Before I undertook this research I’d been thinking about making ‘a comeback’ and with the benefit of this knowledge I can proceed with confidence.

And a lot of comedy comes from identity, and now I can shape my ‘comedic persona’ by drawing on my true self— a thirty-one year old Welsh potato farmer with a taste for trashy ‘80s Europop.

Before this research I only felt like half a man— half directionless young man, half genealogical enigma. In unlocking that enigma I have unlocked the other half of myself; I have unleashed the ‘real me.’

Now, who wants some mashed potato and a joke?

When I finished my new novel POINT DUME I asked all my characters to collect their things and head to the guest quarters in the back of my mind where they’d be living for the rest of their lives.There isn’t room for them in the main house anymore.Luckily, my people were very cooperative.We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.I won’t lie, there were tears but I’d warned them, right from the start, that our time together was limited.They knew that once I told their story they would have to move out to make room for my next group.

On May 19, 1993, I reported to work for my first real job…or more precisely the first one I held after graduating from university. Prior to that I had worked three years as an electronics salesperson at Sears while attending Texas A&M, and before that I toiled in the pit room of a barbecue restaurant for three other years. Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t enjoy bouncing from one job to the next, so as far as teenage employees were concerned I was about as loyal as they come.

My stepfather–who we’ll just call G.–sat across the dinner table from me. My mother sat to my left, silently pushing her food around the plate. I assumed this was because she’d discovered G.’s latest affair and was dealing with it in her usual silent denial. G. discussed what he’d be doing if it were his sophomore year in college instead of mine, Things I Would Have Done with Your Opportunities being a favorite topic of his. I’d only come to town to retrieve a few things I had left behind when I moved into my apartment, and I was eager to get back on the road as soon as possible.

It was early October, 1998. I was 19 years old.

G. was a Machiavellian bully of a parent, though one who preferred to intimidate psychologically rather than physically. My mother moved him in when I was six, and the ink was barely dry on her divorce decree before she married him. As the only boy in the house, I received the brunt of his attention. Everything was subject to scrutiny: my clothes, my taste in music, my prowess with girls, my lack of interest in team sports—all measured by some unspoken standard of masculinity I perpetually failed to live up to. That I earned a black belt in karate at sixteen made no substantial impression. I grew up in a state of quiet but pervasive fear, only finally escaping when I went off to college. I deliberately chose a university elsewhere in the state and came home infrequently.

Though not typically violent, G. hit me three times before I reached the age of 10. Once hard enough to make my gums bleed.

He largely ignored my little sister. This is the only reason she survived this period of our lives.

I finished my meal, but when I went to clear my plate my mother took it instead. “I’ll get this,” she said. “You just relax.”

Alarm bells went off in my head. Each family member was responsible for his/her dirty dishes, an inviolate rule for as long as I could remember.

She cleared not just my plate but the entire table, portioning the leftovers into Tupperware containers with astonishing economy of speed. G. sipped at his beer and made a show of appearing nonchalant. Some weird, nervous energy encoded his body language, and I found it vaguely threatening. Every lizard-brain instinct told me to flee, but before I could conjure an excuse my mother returned to her seat.

“There’s something we need to tell you,” G. said. “It’s about your father.”

My father? My father had become persona non grata years ago. During the divorce he battled viciously in court to avoid owing child support, a prolonged conflict which left my sister and I with smoking blast craters marring the landscape of our youth. When the courts decided against him, he abandoned his children in favor of his new wife.

“We’ve never been completely honest with you,” my stepfather continued. He stared me straight in the eyes, his poker face rapidly abandoning him. “But we think it’s time you know the truth. You’re not really his son. You’re mine.”

Mine.

The world fell away from me like a free-fall ride at an amusement park.

G. grinned as though he’d won a fucking prize.

My mother said nothing.

When I didn’t respond, G. kept talking: about his affair with my mother; about the anecdotal evidence that “proved” I was his biological son; how my various aunts and uncles had been aware for years. Something about how this would “free” me from the pain of the divorce.

I wasn’t really listening. I felt like a  freshly branded cow, a smoking MINE seared into my flesh. My heart beat against the ragged edges of broken feelings: betrayal, violation, confusion.

And so much anger. I wanted to glove my fists in the grinning bastard’s blood.

“I have to go,” I said, grabbing my leather jacket off the chair. No one tried to stop me.

Here’s where I lose the plot a bit. Everything was scattered, my head as big a jumble as a bag of Scrabble letters. I drove aimlessly, circling around the freeways, taking whatever off-ramp or side street presented itself. The city seemed both starkly real and yet grotesquely unreal, as though I’d stumbled into some Twilight Zone simulacrum of my life.

I stopped at payphones, attempting to get in touch with my friends, but it was Saturday and they were all out. I left them rambling, nonsensical messages.

Eventually, running low on gas and inertia, I found myself at the beach. The early autumn days were still running late, and the evening sun was just setting. I sat down on the sand to watch it, jacket pulled around me like a turtle shell. It was just another sunset, the exact same image I’d seen countless times, and yet so stunningly beautiful that for a moment I was able to forget about everything. One last explosion of color before the world finished turning to gray.

My crappy little 35MM Kodak was in my jacket pocket, and I snapped a few pictures.


Later I would pick myself up off the beach, drive back to school, and with the help of my friends, begin the process of reassembling myself, fearing for years afterward that crucial pieces were irretrievably lost.

I would not speak to any member of my family, save my sister, for months.

I would learn that G. had been threatening to leave my mother for his current mistress; she had hoped that allowing him to openly claim me as his offspring would prevent him from leaving her. But G. would move out before Christmas, and they would be divorced by springtime.

And before graduation, I would publicly–and cathartically–disown him.

But those events were in the future, still waiting to happen. For now I just sat there, alone on an empty shelf of beach, watching the sun slowly dive into the Pacific as bit by bit the earth carried me away from it.

Of all the available super hero powers, I wish that I were telekinetic.

I’ve taken a close look at all the options out there: flying, invisibility, super strength…but these all seem so out of reach, and therefore completely unreasonable. I’m a pragmatist, and the truth is, somewhere in the depths of my being, I believe that if I really tried hard enough, I could do it. I could move stuff with my mind.

I had a kung fu teacher one time who swore that he could move things with his chi. Claimed he could blow out a candle with one focused ka-pow! I asked him to show me, but for one reason or another, we never got around to it.

I’ve tried teaching myself.  If you Google telekinesis, you’ll find all sorts of advice and demonstrations. Like this one: Guy moves CD using only his mind! And then, there’s this one: Guy bends spoon using only his mind!And then there’s this Dutchman fellow who appears to be able to levitate, using only his mind!

I even found an old documentary about a woman in Russia named Nina Kulagina who had been studied by a whole battery of scientists. She, too, could move objects on the table, such as utensils and balls, using only her mind!  

So, in the face of this incontrovertible evidence from the Internet, I know it can be done. I just haven’t figured out how to do it.

Yet.

A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor friend of mine told me about an energy vortex in the field across from her house. She said that if you stand there with a coat hanger (bent in the shape of an L, and then with one of the arms in a cardboard cylinder to reduce friction) it will spin in circles. You better believe that within minutes I was asking her to take me to this place. Take me to the vortex.

The next day, we met in the field. It’s in the back of someone’s house on the edge of the forest, so we called ahead to get permission. We took our coat hangers, and traipsed down the hill to the spot. Sure enough, the coat hangers immediately began spinning. My husband, Scott – who is kind of a geek and totally gets off on offering scientific explanations for everything – had taken along a meter to measure electric currents. What he found surprised him. He hadn’t expected to find anything – and that was exactly what he found.

That’s not exactly true.  While the coat hangers were spinning, he was actually able to measure a current.

“The air-voltage potential is going wild!” He exclaimed wide-eyed, before adding somewhat more quietly, “although it’s not repeatable or consistent enough to be conclusive.”

I eyed him darkly over my spinning coat hanger.

“What?” He asked, pulling out a magnetometer.

It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate his attempt at explaining the phenomenon in a scientific manner.  I’m a gemini and the more rational of my wonder twins welcomed it with a hearty “Form of …a modern, rational thinker!”  But I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that wanted something unexplainable to be happening.  My other twin sort of bit her tongue and defiantly thought in her head something to the effect of “Shape of a why-can’t-you-just-experience-the-moment, bitch.”  When the twins are at odds, it’s hard to come across with any sense of uniformity in the party line.


When the magnetometer returned inconclusive results, as well, I was secretly pleased. He’s lucky he’s cute.

When we got home, I needed to think about things. I needed to go over my experience and decide what had happened.  Had it been a scientific phenomenon that we had witnessed?  And if so, is it true that all paranormal phenomena can be explained scientifically – but that we just don’t have the science to explain it yet?  

From there, my brain went wild.  What if it were actually possible for people to possess paranormal traits, such as possessing the ability to project one’s self across space and time, being psychic, being telekinetic? I mean, how would I know?  For years, I had been assuming these things weren’t possible, but what if?  What if it was only my rational mind getting in the way?

I stood up from my place on the edge of the bed and peeked around the door.  I was alone.  I closed the door.  I knew I was being ridiculous, but I needed to know.  I hadn’t checked in years.  What if something had changed?  What if my experience in the vortex had changed me?  

Carefully, I pulled out a blue marble from a drawer and put it on the table in front of me, and…focused.

Nothing.

No matter. I closed my eyes, put my hand near the marble and tried again.

Still nothing.

I started getting agitated. If I was going to exhibit signs of telekinesis, I needed to act now. Who knew how long the power of the vortex would remain within my mortal frame? Plus, who knew how much time I had before Scott walked into our bedroom and found me staring at a blue marble on my nightstand like Saruman the White over the Great Eye?


I tried again.

Still nothing.

And suddenly, I felt, once again, ridiculous.  I would love to say that there was alcohol involved, but there was not.  Why would I even think I could do such a thing?  It’s absurd!  Had I watched too much TV?  Too much Batman Wonder Woman Spiderman SuperMan Super Friends Great American Hero X Files X Men Star Trek Star Wars Stargate Stargate Atlantis Battlestar Gallactica Lois and Clark Smallville Heroes?  Do other seemingly normal people out there perform periodic checks to see if they might be the unwitting carriers of assorted psychic powers?   Where did I even get this idea?  Have I always had this idea?  Have I been secretly harboring the assumption that deep within I have a hidden well of psychic abilities and have not been able to manifest them thus propelling myself into a life of frustration and disillusionment?

When I was a kid, I had a pair of Supergirl Underoos. They had been given to me by my older half sister, seven years cooler than I. I loved my Underoos with a zealot’s passion. To me, they were not just “the underwear that’s fun to wear” – they were a life choice. When I wore them, they made me feel as if I could accomplish anything. They completed me.

Supergirl was telekinetic. She was also extremely powerful and was a bit of a shape-shifter, but whatev. This girl could move things with her mind.

I have fond memories of posing in front of the large bathroom mirror over the sink in the bathroom. When I wore the Supergirl Underoos, I became Supergirl. I’d flex my muscles, I’d pretend to fly. I’d move things on the counter, using only my mind! It was my secret identity, known only to me…and sometimes my younger sister, who would occasionally barge into the bathroom unannounced and catch me at it.

We really could have used a lock on that door.

Incidentally, my younger sister and I also had a pair of Wonder Woman Underoos (also a gift from big sis), which we fought over tooth and nail when the Supergirl Underoos mysteriously disappeared.


I believe my mother can be blamed for the heist. Unlike Wonder Woman, which was comprised of an undershirt styled top and panty, Supergirl had a top that looked suspiciously like a bra.


At the age of 9 in a conservative Evangelical household, this did not exactly fly. I had already been shamed by my ungodly desire to want to shave my legs after I had been caught in the bathroom by my mother with her pink Lady Remington. (What? I was a hairy 9-year-old.)

Faced with only one top and panty set – Underoos is clear on the use of “panty” in the singular – competition between us was fierce. If there was only one set between us, and mom only washed clothes once per week, then it stood to reason that each of us could only wear the set once in a two-week time period. This led to all manner of deals and threats between us, including some interesting outfit choices in order to try and extend the life of the Underoos beyond a bi-weekly event. Sure, a panty can only be worn once before it needs washing, but the cool top with the gold eagle-emblazoned red bustier could be worn at least a few times before it needed cleansing treatment. I’d pair the undershirt with a pair of light blue panties (plural, and therefore not as amazing or powerful), pull on a pair of red knee highs,et voila! I was Wonder Woman on laundry day.

I miss my Underoos. They had a brief, but brilliant life. At some point near the beginning of the fourth grade, I decided to make a secret appearance as Wonder Woman. Little did I know that it would be my last time. I dug out the Wonderwoman Underoos from my drawer and got ready for school. I knew in my gut that I was too old for that, and yet…and yet.

My teachers and classmates had no idea how protected they were that day – that a Superhero walked amongst them. Nobody had to know. It was my little secret. Somewhere around lunchtime, however, I realized the flaw in my plan.

Gym class.

I panicked. What if my shirt crept up in the process of clearing the projectile of a dodge ball? Seeing the potential horror of my decision I began to grow self-conscious that I might be discovered – that my identity would be exposed to the jeering taunts of my fourth grade class. I tried not participate. Used my superhero strength for good and turned Dodge Ball into Wall Ball. I went home at the end of school and retired my secret identity forever.


I believe that my first feelings of disillusionment followed shortly on the heels of this event.
To this day, I find myself feeling that I’m missing something in life – like I should be capable of something more. I should be able to accomplish bigger things, get places faster, fight for the greater good,
be telekinetic.

I decided to poll my friends to see if anybody else felt this connection – this strange sense of loss and lack of purpose in life after a childhood devoted to pretending to be a superhero. 21 of my friends actually responded to my poll. Of course, it is a rather small sampling of a huge cross section of our society, but I think we can learn from it all the same.

In my poll, I asked several questions, which for our purposes, I shall narrow down to three:


1.If you were a superhero, what would your special power be?

2.Did you have Underoos (and what were they)?

3.Do you have a clear sense of purpose in life, or is it hazy?


Here are the responses:
1 – Super strength / Superman / Hazy
2 – Know what people are thinking / Rainbow Brite / hazy
3 – Ability to beam places / Wonderwoman / hazy
4 – freeze time / no / clear
5 – Flying / Minerva / hazy
6 – get pregnant / Josie and the Pussycats / hazy
7 – flying / wonderwoman / hazy
8 – bendy / bat woman / hazy
9 – healing / wonderwoman, cat woman, spiderman / clear
10 – flying / superman / hazy
11 – the ability to dance and teleportation / no / clear
12 – flight / wonderwoman and Josie and the Pussycats / hazy
13 – telekinesis / batman, superman, he-man/hazy
14 – ability to survive on little sleep / no, but desperately wanted Superwoman / hazy
15 – treetop running, blasting off ground / no, but wanted He-man / hazy
16 – invisibility / Superman/clear
17 – telekinesis / Wonderwoman / hazy
18 – flight / wonderwoman / hazy
19 – flight / no / clear
20 – invisibility and omniscience / Incredible Hulk / hazy
21 – the ability to see through clothes / no / clear

Here is the final tally:

Of those who had Underoos:

hazy sense of purpose in life: 13 (87%)
clear sense of purpose in life: 2 (13%)

Of those who did NOT have Underoos:

hazy sense of purpose in life: 2 (33%)
clear sense of purpose in life: 4 (66%)

So, of those who wore Underoos, 13% feel as if they have a clear purpose in life.  Of those who did not wear Underoos, 66% feel as if they have a clear purpose in life.  

It may be interesting to note, that of the two respondents who did NOT have Underoos and who claimed that their sense of purpose was hazy, they both made a point of stating that they intensely pined over a pair of Underoos, but that their parents would not let them. So, it could be argued that these 2 people really belong amongst their Underoos wearing peers as they may have exhibited the same behavior – perhaps by making their own costumes out of felt and bedsheets. So, this final tally may be skewed with a deeper analysis of the situation.

Generation X has been referred to as “the lost generation.” For some reason, we who were born between 1965 and 1981 are said to exhibit a “hazy sense of identity.” Numerous reasons have been cited as possible contributors, including the collapse of the Soviet Union, a rise in the divorce rate, drugs and economic strain. No doubt, these all played their role.

We are also the generation whose parents told us that we could accomplish anything that we set our minds to. We were assured that we were amazing and that we could change the world. We were the world. We werethe children. We were the ones to make a brighter day, so we had better start living.

And to prove it, we were bought Underoos.

Is there a connection? I don’t know. Was it that Underoos were a symptom of the times…or were they a contributing factor?  That is the question.  What do you think?


* I would like to note for the record that none of my friends had the Monchichi Underoos.