Uh-oh – there it is again. That shimmying vapor that is the Hypnagogic Portal! Step though with me, friends, to see what lies on the other side… But be warned – the vapor is not without its hallucinogenic effects…!
Whoa! It’s Jason Bateman! But not the revitalized, culturally-relevant Jason Bateman from Arrested Development. No way. This is the Bateman from Silver Spoons, he of the swooping feathered hair and hellion mien that shuddered the hearts of moms everywhere during the Reagan ‘80s. That guy. I see him surrounded by elementary-age girls waving 8×10 glossies and standing on the trampled carcass of Rick(y) Schroeder.
Jason! Jason! Ah, he can’t hear me. Wait, who’s that girl on the periphery, with the olive skin and doughnut in hand? Helen? “Oh my God!” she says and smacks me violently in the shoulder. (Only it doesn’t hurt; must be the vapors.) “You look like Derek Taylor!” The din quiets and heads turn my way. Samantha, my first crush, pushes through the crowd and lays her hands on my face to feel its contours, as if she’s blind. Bateman is just waiting there on his Greek column, smiling dumbly, waving his Sharpie with the gusto of a deranged bureaucrat. His t-shirt says “BODACIOUS” in day-glo orange.
But everybody’s looking at me now and, after a brief contemplative pause, they nod and say “Derek Taylor” before turning back to Bateman with renewed squealing vigor. The glossies flap and teased hair sways in the ensuing breeze. Only Samantha demurs: “Boy, you too ugly!”
Still, the majority rules. I am Derek Taylor. I proceed through the haze, my head propped higher with rebar borrowed from Adonis’ neck. My ego swells with a narcotic thought: Master Hillz, Lady Killer.
Argh, my footing! Did Adonis flush the loo? Swirling down down down I go, holding my breath and then rattling against the iron piping as it curves from Long Island around New York City and into New Jersey, further south into Maryland and Virginia, and through Confederate backwaters before emptying into a Florida swamp. Splat! I gasp for air. Muck drips from my temple. I wade past alligators basking on fallen cypress trunks and the humidity penetrates my clothes, my skin. The haze is palpable now. It engorges the fibers of my blue blazer, the matching Oxford shirt, and the cotton sweater in between.
The white sun streams rivulets into my eyes and I can’t blink away the salty sting. Derek Taylor is nothing for this…
Flash! I’m whitewashed by a dozen tiny suns. I’m standing at the edge of my high school stage, in triplicate, portraying Sodapop, “Amos” (from Beauty and the Beast), and Felix Unger. They’re mopey also-rans conjured during the now-moldering ’60s and ’70s and I play them like a fading leading man who thinks character acting is for pussies. The A/C whispers to me urgently as dust dances in the fans of light, but I can’t understand what it’s saying – all I can hear is the bustling of girls as they burst through the heavy lobby doors and flood the aisles toward the proscenium.
They’re wearing flannel shirts over concert tees and carrying throw-away cameras and tent-sized pocket books. There’s a lot of Carmex in the room. Half are staring into their compacts when a beeper sounds and the cheerleading squad runs off to practice, squawking “Go Warriors” (our school’s PC euphemism for Indians) as its co-captains do handsprings in the wings. The auditorium’s Body Shop-scent diminishes noticeably on their exit.
“Where is he?!” the holdovers shout. Flashbulbs pop and a portly goth bounds onto the stage, her shirt uncuffed and black Docs ready to kick shit. My alter egos curl up like armadillos, their tails entangled in cowering solidarity, and the sounds of Def Leppard fill the theater. The goth rouses Sodapop to his feet first. He – I? – is wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, with a rectangular something rolled into its sleeve – a thrift-store iteration of myself. “NO WAY!” she says. “He does look like the guy from Dead Poet’s Society!” She raises Soda’s arms and inspects his torso as the flash storm continues. Her chipped black nail polish absorbs the bursts of light.
“Who now?” Soda says, and the crowd surges. “The actor guy!” they yell. Oh, great. The guy who killed himself, they mean. Neil Perry, a.k.a. Puck. Amos and Felix climb to their feet, defiant, and put their hands on Soda’s shoulders. Should we kill ourselves, too, then? A refrain coalesces among the gathered – “Cute! Cute! Cute! Cute!” – but among the trinity, a palpable disdain dims the scene, darker and quieter, until only the unintelligible A/C whisper remains. Then, finally, blackout…
Whump whump whump whump whump!! Saturday night in DC, fifteen Miller Lites in… Darkness and a heavy umbrella of cigarette smoke smother the flickering strobes and laser lights that illuminate the dance floor at 12 frames per second. My arms and legs noodle as I scream along with ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and ponder the sweat-softened cheek of a woman wearing peel-off jeans and a tank top. I’m so drunk! Want some Rumple Minze? These lines just might work.
I look up to my boys dangling from the light racks in harnesses made of surplus Redskins swag – thumbs up all around. Their hands transform into handguns as if to say, “Go get ‘er, killer.” I cross the wet floor toward the woman and her cohort, polka-dotted and swaying like birches in the wind. But halfway across the bog of booze and vomit and Maxipads(tm) and broken glass, a woman tugs my arm. And then another. Ten, 30 more. They whirl me ’round and ’round til I’m surrounded by a blur of hair and breasts and pink fingernails and bangles jangling in urgent slow motion. Ice cubes crash against walls of cocktail glasses. At last, the President of Delta Gamma (GWU) grabs me by the forearms and steadies my view. Her gaze is gauzy but earnest.
“We wanted to tell you that you look just like Dean Cain.” She doubles over in bubbly laughter as her posse murmurs “Dean Cain” in a zombie rhythm and paws at my chest and shoulders. I hear hoots from above: my boys are doing Jager shots and air-fucking like twitchy marionettes. Adam Sandler is their coach. But I betray myself. Who’s Dean Cain?
Superman? Go with it, Hillz! Rumple Minze for everyone! But they immediately start filing away, one-by-one, in a swirling bacterial mass. The president stands next to me, taking roll, and as the women pass they blow kisses until the last one heads for the exit. Then the strobes stop. I look around for the woman in the peel-off jeans, but she’s gone. Only her droplets of sweat remain.
My boys are still there, though, hanging in the rafters and peeing into a fetid curtain. They’re hollering for eggs-over-easy in Georgetown. The cigarette smoke lingers, too. It’s the acid scent of hangover…
Jason Bateman? Again? Now he’s the one in the Oxford shirt. He’s eating a frozen banana atop a 10-foot stool while crazies ask for handouts; to him, everyone is “buddy.” I haven’t seen him in forever.
Hey! Back in elementary school, all the girls said that I looked like you. “That’s awesome, buddy.” Then this guy on a Segway clips my heels and he doesn’t even say he’s sorry. Off he goes, swerving into the sea, where the current drags him southward toward San Diego. Bateman eats on.
Next I’m struck with a leather handbag. “Tobias? I’ve told you, if you want to talk to Michael -” But I snap around before she can finish and see this bottle blond wearing heels and a mink snood. “Oh, no offense… it’s just that you resemble my husband.” Tobias? Honk honk! A Volkswagen Beetle convertible pulls up; the driver’s wearing cutoff jeans and a piratical shirt.
“Sorry I’m late. I was tied up packing fudge. At the factory!” David Cross? He extends his hand. “Don’t mind my trigger-finger grip!” I hesitate long enough for the blond (who I thought was Lindsay but now see is a lady quipster from my last storytelling show) to observe, “You two could be twins!” Bateman thrusts the rump of the banana in our direction, waving it between us as he chews, and Cross smiles warmly.
This means I’m funny, right? I run my fingers through my full-ish head of hair to prove that I’m still me and a gale picks up from the shore. It blows back my salt-and-pepper crown and whips up the coast, lifting lounge chairs and sunblock and medicinal marijuana from the boardwalk. The detritus pummels me.
And the Hypnagogic Portal closes…
*Appendix: Doppelganger Summary