Friday, January 4, 2008
The other day, I heard a loud honking outside. I went out and there were Mark and his car, Clive. Like a mother penguin recognizing her penguin babe's squawk in a sea of penguins, I'd recognized Clive's plaintive toot.
The fact that people can have such distinctly differing features, even though our range of features are limited, (eyes, nose, mouth, hair, skin color) baffles me. Only on rare occasion will I spot Mark's doppleganger. You'd think in large cities we'd run into each other's dopplegangers all the time.
Oliver Sacks wrote an excellent article in The New Yorker about a man with a severe case of amnesia. I'm surprised to find it online because the article was so intriguing and well-written.
Sacks' subject was 'Memento' personified. Every few minutes, his memory would reset, and he'd have no memory of what had just happened. You could come into the room, be introduced, and a moment later, he'd ask you who you were. He'd look at you as if he just woke up from a dream. (Interestingly, the amnesia patient was also named Clive. No relation).
Human Clive's diary entries were the most incredible things. Here's an excerpt from Sacks' article:
'His journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements “I am awake” or “I am conscious,” entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: “2:10 P.M: This time properly awake. . . . 2:14 P.M: this time finally awake. . . . 2:35 P.M: this time completely awake,” along with negations of these statements: “At 9:40 P.M. I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims.” This in turn was crossed out, followed by “I was fully conscious at 10:35 P.M., and awake for the first time in many, many weeks.” This in turn was cancelled out by the next entry.'
Even though Clive forgot pretty much everything - the present moments, and gradually, his long term memory, he retained a deep emotional memory. He remained married to his wife of twenty years, although they eventually lived apart. She'd walk into the room and he'd light up. When she was away, he felt blue.
In was inexplicable why Clive would light up around his wife, even though he'd forget things like repeated trips they took to Europe, their years together and whatever she'd tell him five minutes before. Sacks determined there was a deeper emotional memory that transcended facts, figures, even faces.
I thought about all this after racing out of the subway tonight and seeing Mini Cooper Clive parked across the street. I crossed at the light, opened the door and without a thought, plopped into the passenger's seat.
Clive could have easily been his doppleganger, another green Mini Cooper with certain rims and a certain antenna and certain side view mirrors. There aren't that many distinguishing features to choose from. I could easily have opened the door and plopped into the seat beside a completely different person than Mark. And then what?
It would've been an awkward moment. Unless Mark's doppleganger were driving Clive's doppleganger.
Photo by myself in Union Square.