Mandela Effect

I had a long conversation about the Mandela Effect with Nicole and her friend because he had stated he wanted to see a band in concert, she told him he had already, he told her he hadn’t, and she found pictures on Instagram of him seeing that band in a concert he had no recollection of.

The Mandela Effect, if you don’t know, is the collective false memories that our society has about famous events. For example, most people remember four people in the presidential limo on November 22, 1963, despite the fact that there were actually six. Mostly, it’s pop culture, like the lines “Hello, Clarice” from The Silence of the Lambs, “Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, or “Beam me up, Scotty,” from Star Trek, lines that were never uttered in any of those movies or TV shows. Some say that they saw video of the man in Tiananmen Square get run over by a tank, despite that no such video exists. There are those who swear that it’s spelled Volkswagon, not Volkswagen (despite that the former is not remotely German). The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, despite the fact that a large number of people remember seeing his funeral on TV years before that, and if you go to any page on the subject, particularly pages with comments, people are really freaked out about it.

I have a Mandela Effect of my own, in a guy I went to college with who married someone close to me and is friends with most of my friends from back then and has pictures on their Facebook page of concerts that I’ve been to and is someone I should at least know peripherally, but I have no memory of whatsoever. I’ve spoken to my psychiatrist about this, and he agrees that selective editing of my life like this is highly unusual, even for someone with a legendarily lousy memory such as myself. But there it is, a “this-guy” hole in my life.

There are lots of explanations for the Mandela Effect, including alternate realities and the fact that the world actually ended on December 21, 2012, as was predicted by the Mayans, making this is some kind of weird echo/restart. Perhaps we’re all in virtual reality, and they keep rewriting the Matrix. Maybe something went funky with the Hadron collider.

In the end, though, it is simply misremembering things. Memory is one of the most fallible parts of our experiences as humans, and in a world that makes very little sense, our minds will fill in blanks to make things coherent. For example, one of the biggest bits of evidence that people will use for the Mandela Effect is the Berenstain Bears, the children’s book and cartoon series. People will swear up and down in a court of law that it’s Berenstein Bears, and the fact that it’s not is evidence that something’s not right in the world, not that they just remembered it wrong. When you think about it, -stain isn’t very often the end of someone’s surname. It’s usually -stein. People made assumptions, they were wrong, and they dug in their heels and declared that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so the universe must be broken. I myself thought it was Berenstein until I learned about its place in the Mandela Effect conspiracy, and I just accepted the truth (i.e. it has always, from day one, been Berenstain) like an adult.

The Mandela Effect is kind of fun and a little bit creepy at times, but there is no such thing as alternate dimensions where they’re known as Looney Toons, not Looney Tunes, as they have been since the forties. This conspiracy is just another way that (mostly) Americans can defy the truth that’s in front of our eyes in favor of our “intuition.” This is yet one more reason we’re still in quarantine six months later when listening to the medical experts could have slowed down if not stopped the spread of a deadly virus. It’s the reason our president can gleefully violate the Constitution and other American laws and get away with it.

You’re going to be wrong about things, even things you’re positive you’re right about. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It makes you more of one.

An Honest Profession

A little over two years ago, Kate and I were on a cruise of Alaska, whale-watching, spa-enjoying, and quaint-stuff-shopping. It was the last real thing we did together, and I will always remember it fondly.

In the town of Ketchican, we wandered around and headed back to the boat, but I stopped. We had man hours ago before we had to board, and I wanted to tour Dolly’s House, a museum upstairs from the Red Onion Saloon. Dolly’s House was not only a brothel, but one of the best and most successful in the Alaska territory.

When the tour group gathered in the foyer, the tour guide, in character in her finest risqué Wild West dress and Warby Parker glasses, looked around the crowd and said, “Seeing a lot of familiar faces among the gentlemen.” We looked at each other and laughed at the absurdity that us straight-laced tourists would go to a whorehouse this day and age.

As we went on, our guide was describing some of the complexities of how business was run, and she said, “And they have to follow the first rule of prostitution. Who knows what that is?”

I raised my hand and said, “Get the money first.”

She looked at me, nodded her head, and said, “I knew I’ve seen you here before!”

And that is how I got called out by a fake prostitute.  

Antisocial Studies

If I needed any further proof that I have completely lost my ability to be a normal, social human being functioning in society, I have it.

Today at the pet store, the clerk was delighted by my Doctor Who mask, and he started a conversation with me about it. And I just stood there, staring blankly, like I was in a spelling bee, and they asked me to do Zstylzhemghi. I know I should have answered in depth and asked him some questions, but I had no idea what to say or how to say it. The moment passed, and I knew I had dropped the ball, and that’s been haunting me all day.

I used to be social. While not an extrovert by any means, I used to be friendly and chatty and attentive, and now I’m decidedly not. One of these days, I’m going to need to make more friends, and I can’t if I’m always standing there, like a deer in headlights.

Oh, No, Mr. Build!

When LEGO started to transition from freestyle building to model building, I was resentful. I spent a large fraction of my childhood with my LEGOs, creating worlds from a handful of styles of bricks. My imagination could fill in the rest. I was sad that the next generation of youth was going to have these rigid rules forced on them about what they should be playing with. What was the purpose of a set of blocks if they could only go together a certain way?

My attitude on that changed many, many years later, as a plague wept the nation, and there wasn’t much to do. I decided that I wanted a TARDIS for my LEGO-compatible (but not actually LEGO, let’s be clear on this) action figures to play with, and I remembered that LEGO had made a playset. It’s out of circulation, so I had to pay an obscene amount of money for it, but it arrived in the mail, and I spent an afternoon following the directions, watching as the familiar shapes and colors met with new shapes and colors and formed a TARDIS, a console room, and a pair of Daleks. I had to put it in a display case because Henry the Cat insists on knocking it to the floor whenever he feels not loved enough, so I can’t play with it anymore, but I still have that powerful feeling of accomplishment from converting a pile of modular plastic into something that looks mostly like something I watched on TV for years.

Months later, I’ve been living a routine of writing my book, going to work, watching TV, going on walks, and going to bed, with eating in there someplace. I decided to break out of the cycle and drop another ridiculous sum of money on another LEGO kit, this time just for the joy of building it.

People who suffer from attention-deficit disorder sometimes go through something called “hyperfocus.” I’m pretty sure people who don’t have ADD have experienced it too. It’s when you set yourself on a task, and nothing else matters. Your house could catch fire, but you don’t even care because YOU HAVE TO DO THIS THING. I can get this way with writing, though not lately. Today, though, as I poured the thousand-plus little pieces onto my desk and opened the instruction manual, I was there. I’ve been at it for two-and-a-half hours, and I’m only a third of the way through, and I pried myself away to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, and pet Henry, who can’t wait for me to finish, so he can knock it off of a shelf.

Me, I don’t want it to ever end.

Cat Nap Fever

Lately, I’ve been feeling … I don’t know if guilty is the right word … about Newcastle, because all he does is sleep. He will aggressively snuggle with me about once or twice a day, he likes to watch the birds sometimes and tries to attack them through the window. He and Henry will wrestle every other day, and occasionally, he will run the length of the apartment and back again. Of course he eats and goes to the bathroom. But that’s all he does.

I shouldn’t be so concerned. He’s sixteen years old. I wouldn’t expect a senior citizen to go running around like his cousin, who is a third his age. I just don’t want him to be napping all the time because he’s depressed. I don’t want him to be wishing he’d stayed in Reston with the other two cats, group snuggling. Is he bummed out that my roommate has been gone for the past two months? Are his needs being met? Is he seeing and smelling enough to stimulate him? Is he happy? And then I remind myself, he’s not a person. He doesn’t think like we do.

This is the part of quarantine where I’m starting to crack up. The rest of the city is acting like the pandemic is over when it’s actually as bad as it’s ever been, if not worse, and instead of relaxing my protective measures, I am solidifying them. Thanks to grocery deliveries, the only reason I leave my apartment now is to go to the drug store (they won’t deliver with my insurance for some reason). With my world having gotten smaller and smaller, and is now only about 800 square feet, this means I may be worrying a little too much about things that aren’t a problem.

I tell you what, though. That cat is one hell of a cute sleeper.

The Sort of Gift

I just awoke to a delightful birthday surprise. In this apartment, our packages come after my bedtime, so the best time to check for them is first thing in the morning. What I found was a box from Kate Schroeder. Apparently, she’d found a photo album that belonged to me, and rather than throw it away, she shipped it over here. I wasn’t sure which photo album this was, but when I opened the box this morning, I found a book full of vintage photos of myself and my family going all the way back to the 1970s. I remember this book from when it was given to me by my parents back when I lived in New York. It was a connection to my past that I’d never really had, and I can’t believe how close I almost came to losing it forever. (I’d honestly thought I had it in my mementos roughneck. Oops!) This was a kind, thoughtful gesture by Kate that I will treasure.

She charged me for postage because she’s Kate, but still, she got it back in my hands.

Lost Friends

I was poking through my laptop this morning, and I found this. Shortly before I left home to begin my new life, our baby Andrew was not doing so hot. I had sat down at a café and written him an obituary the day I thought we were going to put him to sleep, but that day the vet had an idea for a new painkiller that really rejuvenated him. But the vet also said not to bring him back until the last time because he was old and frail. This was about a month before the divorce papers were handed to me. My last request of Kate was that she tell me when Andrew left our world, but the only communication I’ve had with her this past year and a half were about taxes. The fact is, Andrew is most definitely dead, and I don’t know when it happened or how it happened. Did Kate hold him in the vet’s office while he went to sleep forever, or did he just curl up in a sunbeam and never wake up? Andrew was my friend for fourteen years, and it’s past time to memorialize him.

Andrew Fuzzbutt Schroeder

January 2000 to ?

Andrew has never been much of a lap cat, so when, a few months ago, he started crawling on my chest and taking residence, thoroughly dislodging me from whatever I’d been doing, I was thrilled. It’s been brought to my attention, given his health, that he may have been coming to me for comfort. And so that leads to the big conflict—can I enjoy the memories of him cuddling with me, purring away, when it was a symptom of discomfort?

It’s a smaller version of the bigger conflict—can I, in good conscience, fight tooth and nail to keep this cat alive when he’s got a tumor eating him from the inside out, when the only humane thing to do is put him to sleep? It’s me being selfish, and I don’t want to be a selfish person. But how am I supposed to live without him?

I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard a million times the tale of how he was adopted. Kate had gone to the shelter on a mission for a black cat she could name Magik. While standing in front of the cages, she felt something tugging on her leg, and so she looked down to see a little gray fluffball whose name was Andrew. When she didn’t pay sufficient attention to him, he reached through the bars, opened the latch of his cage, and took off. She said, “I’ll take that one.”

One should never adopt smart pets, particularly cats, because they get bored. Andrew cut a path of destruction across the house, and, as an athletic leaper, he could get anywhere he wanted. Kate was forced to give him a middle name so she could yell at him like a parent when he misbehaved (“Andrew Fuzzbutt Schroeder, you stop that!”). And yet he was cute, the cutest in the world, an observation based on strict scientific principles, so one look with his big yellow eyes could disarm your rage. Based on his intelligence and vertical reach, as well as the way he sleeps, Kate has concluded that he’s not really a cat, but rather a dragon disguised as a cat. I’ve seen nothing that contradicts this.

I moved in four years after she found him, and I became primary caretaker of the cats, feeding them and cleaning their litter. Andrew recognized that, and he respected me, but we never bonded like he and Kate did. But I love him all the same. That’s why it’s been so painful watching him studying countertops as if he were going to jump on them, but being too weak or too hurting to make it. He used to be the most gluttonous of the cats, sometimes eating out of the scoop as I distributed the dry food, but lately, I’ve been rejoicing whenever I see him eat.

The fact is, it was time for Andrew to retire (that’s my euphemism; I like it, and I’m keeping it), and no amount of love from me was going to stop that. And so he did.

He was my friend. I’m going to miss him. I’m lucky I have two more little friends to help me through this.

A Hazy Shade of Back When

There was one thing I could say about my time in high school, college, and my days in New York: I was pretty miserable through a lot of it. I was frequently anxious and frequently depressed, and I imagine that being my friend or lover was a major challenge. But here’s the thing about that. I can’t remember why. I mean, I know now that it was my bipolar disorder getting me on downswings, but the individual things that were depressing me or causing me anxiety are a mystery to me. I know that I constantly wanted to be in a relationship with a woman, and I was broke, but was that it?

I guess I’m wearing a thick pair of rose-colored glasses about the past, because I remember when it went well. I recall the parties and the hanging out and the getting to know people and the long walks and the joy of exploring the world. What keeps these glasses from becoming delusional, however, is that I am well aware of how unhappy I was at the time. I don’t want to go live in the past because the peace I feel in the present from being myself and being by myself is probably my greatest achievement.

It’s funny, though, the selective editing in my head. I may not have fully enjoyed my life at the time, but I fully enjoy my history now.

The Ghost of Anniversaries Past

I said I wasn’t going to spend any extra time thinking about this day, but I can’t seem to ignore it. I’m doing so well. I’m happy, and, while I’m not exactly eating healthily, I am mostly healthy. I’ve written five and almost finished with a sixth novel in the intervening year. I have a real, full-time job now that has promised me they’re not going to lay me off in the midst of the pandemic. I’m financially doing extremely well, and I’m making plans to take at least one vacation once the crisis has passed. The last year has been good to me.

It’s been fifteen years since April 30 has simply been the last day of the month. And what I’m feeling now is not nostalgia for the marriage. I do feel that sometimes, and it comes and goes like a song that gets stuck in your head. What I’m feeling is nostalgia for this day meaning something. It was a day when my wife and I would have a nice dinner together (usually steak because she’s a Nebraska girl), and I would compose a Facebook post that summed up where I was in the relationship. Sometimes she’d take the day off, but mostly she didn’t (she took all of the pagan holidays off, and I think she didn’t want to push it). I’d tease her about all the times she told people that our anniversary was April 31 (i.e. the last day of April). It was a low-key holiday, and I’m programmed to recognize it when it comes up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. My predictions last year that I would by now haven’t proven true. Maybe I’ll just defy what I’m supposed to do and recognize the day as a kind of trophy to the fact that I was married once, for a really long time, and I’m the man I am today because of it. That I can remember that part of my life without bitterness or longing, but as a part of me, as much a part of me as my six years in New York or my four years in college or my two years in Qatar or my ten years with an on-again-off-again drinking problem.

It’s who I was. It’s who I am.

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.