IT’S ALL IN MY GENES

My wife decided to have our DNA tested. She didn’t do it to search for genetically based diseases or even for a DNA identification in case I get lost again.

I am a person who gets lost a lot. I get lost in large buildings. I get lost in parking lots. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been somewhere, I will still lose my way the next time I go there. There is a parking lot in San Diego’s Horton Plaza Shopping Center in which I am guaranteed to get lost. The structure is built so that I can see my car but I cannot get to my car. If the car is a floor beneath me, I will try to walk to that floor. I will walk to the floor below, and the car will then appear to be on the floor above me. It is the New England idiom “You can’t get there from here” made real. No matter where your car is, you can’t get there from where you are.

I’ve gotten lost in New Mexico sorghum fields, in bays, canyons, my own house at night, department stores, and shopping centers. I have a lousy sense of direction. Luckily I can read maps, because men, even those with a poor sense of direction, don’t enjoy stopping and asking for directions. I believe one of the two greatest inventions of the last century was GPS. The other was refrigerators with ice machines.

Because I always get lost (and not in an existential sense. If I was Sisyphus I probably wouldn’t be able to find the hill, and if I did, I’d lose the boulder before I got there), I decided my wife decided to have my DNA tested for two reasons. Firstly, scientists may be able to discover alleles for getting lost and losing things, and then with a CRISPR (some sort of device or method to re-arrange genes) they could re-order my genes so I never lose anything or get lost again. They would be creating a lost and found designer gene.

Secondly, she would have a way to identify me if I got lost. Suppose my life became a soap opera, I was hit over my head by a croquet mallet-wielding English terrorist (they’d be the only brand of terrorist who’d play croquet), developed amnesia, hitchhiked to Vermont, and forgot who I was. If the local Vermont trooper who found me ran my DNA against a 23 and Me data base, they would discover who I was and cheerfully return me to her.

No, she didn’t have her own DNA analyzed so she would never get lost. And she really didn’t care about what Albert Camus thought about Sisyphus’ boulder or hill in The Myth of Sisyphus. No. She did it for an existential reason, although only closer to John Paul Sartre’s reason: She wanted to discover the essence of her existence.

Because Americans don’t know who they are, we seem to love genealogy and heredity. For a relatively small sum, one can spit into a tube, send it back to the folks at 23 and Me, and learn who they are.

Since I am uncertain even whether I want to know who I am, she went first, sent in her DNA, and recently learned who she is.

For generations the belief was her maternal and paternal lineage consisted of French, Irish, British Isles, Northern European, and Cherokee stock. There were several surprises.

Even though everyone in my wife’s paternal family said they were part Cherokee, the genes disagreed. However, the surprise was that she is well over three percent Neanderthal, which puts her in the 99th percentile of people today of Neanderthal background. I, of course, am unable to resist the obvious and now refer to her as a Cave Chick.

She is a très chic Cave Chick, however, because much of her DNA comes from the part of Europe now called France as well as other parts of Northern Europe and the British Isles. A little derives from Eastern Europe, and a tincture from Sub-Saharan West Africa.

She is, except for the substitution of Neanderthal for Cherokee, pretty much who she thought she was: French, Irish, Scottish, English, and Northern European. But no Cherokee, and she seemed a little disappointed. She said for generations her family has lived a lie. Although she is a fair-skinned, green-eyed, redhead, she wanted to be something else besides simple European. Even Neanderthals came from Europe and some even had red hair.

Because of existential reasons, I really don’t want to know who I am. But she insisted, and I have learned after four and a half decades of marriage to just give in and do what she wants because she will never stop pestering me. So recently, I sent my DNA to the folks at 23 and Me.

I admit some competitiveness. I know I am Irish, Scottish, German, and Welsh. But mostly Irish. My father’s father was Irish. I know my mother’s mother was Irish. I also think my grandmother’s family were Irish Travelers because she was a card shark, she could cheat at cards very skillfully, and I had an uncle who could count cards.

Although my genes may disagree (I have not as yet received my results) I am pretty certain the gambling gene eluded me. I don’t play poker because I don’t know how to bluff.

At one time I could ride a unicycle so I must have a unicycle-riding gene.

It seems the more research is done the more important genes seem to be to behavior. For example, it was believed the “refrigerator mom” was to blame for causing autism. However, recently genes have been discovered that may be the true cause (along with genetic mutations caused by older fathers and environmental toxins). It is believed an athletic gene has been discovered. I am sure I don’t have that one either.

At one time it was believed homosexuality was caused by the way parents, particularly mothers, treated children. It is now believed to have a strong genetic component. I don’t know if there is a homophobic gene.

Some day places like 23 and Me will be able to look at your genes and plan your future. I don’t know if this is good or not, but it is better than my junior high school teacher who told my mother I should be a plumber. The Air Force told me I should be an electronics engineer. I don’t think my genes match either analysis. For one thing, I can never remember whether it’s righty tighty-lefty loosie or the other way around, and for another, I can’t draw a straight line and since I don’t know the difference between right and left, any electronics I design would be, uh, shocking.

Among other behaviors scientists tell us are determined by genes are: who we marry, musical ability, political beliefs, religious beliefs, vocal qualities, intelligence, sense of humor, alcoholism, and weight. Of course, environmental factors are in play, but even those are based more on chemical environment. Suppose you have a garden (I do) and you plant squash (I did). Whatever you do, if something grows, it’ll be squash. How good the squash turns out to be is determined by its chemical environment of soil, fertilizer, sunlight, and water. It doesn’t matter if its mother squash hugs it enough. Of course, if it is traumatized by a hailstorm its growth will be affected, but it will still be squash.

And my genes tell me it is good to eat. Or at least that’s what my wife’s genes tell her to tell me.

HAVE WE ALL BEEN TYPE-CAST IN THE GREAT AMERICAN LIFE?

I flew to Sacramento for a law firm job interview. I walked into the office lobby, and the senior partner appeared on a balcony above me. I knew from the partner’s facial expression when she looked at me there was no way in hell I’d be hired. I don’t know what she expected, but it wasn’t me.

After I was lead to her office, she asked me the weirdest question I have ever been asked in a job interview: “Do you think a man like you can work for a woman like me?” It was the first question asked, and I had no idea what she meant or how to respond. Potential replies raced through my mind, but I needed some answers from her before I could respond: What kind of a woman was she? What kind of man did she think I was?

Since the goal of a job interview is to get a job, and at the time I needed a job, I didn’t say what I was thinking which was, “What the fuck do you mean?” I knew before she asked the question I wasn’t getting the job but still mumbled something about how I was certain I could work for her.

It was a Sacramento law firm that did political/governmental law and lobbying, and needed someone who could do some press work. She read my resume and called me and asked if I would come to Sacramento. She seemed impressed by my bio, and I thought the job sounded like a good fit. I bought a new suit, paid for a fresh haircut, and she sprung for my airfare.

I admit I will never — at least in this universe — be model for GQ Magazine or even Car and Driver. While I was a writer/editor at San Diego Magazine, whenever they needed someone to model who remotely looked like a criminal, commercial fisherman, or truck driver, I was usually recruited. Once I was used as a stand-in for Santa Claus (even though at the time I was 30 pounds lighter than I am now), but if Santa is anything, he is blue collar. I mean, the guy can build anything.

I also confess, since beginning working for money above the table I have worked as a deckhand, window washer, construction worker, carpenter, avionics technician, plumber, burglar alarm repairman. (My wife made me quit that one because after the police allegedly checked out a burglary at the old Campus drive in theatre in San Diego I was confronted by an actual burglar who waived a long metal object, which appeared to be a knife, at me and announced his intention to kill me. I told him he should leave quickly because the police were coming. He turned around and ran. I. Guess he thought I was a fellow criminal. At another alarm, a policeman pulled his gun, pointed it at me, and commanded I halt and lay down in front of my truck, which had the San Diego Alarm logo printed on its side — the same logo that was on my work shirt.)

But, again, I digress. I also have been public relations writer, technical writer, magazine writer/editor, and both a criminal defense and civil attorney. I have never been a criminal that I recall.

But for some reason, people insist on stereotyping me. I call it “Castingism”. Once, while working as a deputy public defender, a young colleague approached me and asked to view my tattoos. When I told him I had none, he was shocked. He had thought I was a reformed outlaw biker.

My wife worked at the public defender’s office before I did. One Saturday we happened to encounter one of her colleagues and she introduced me.

He returned in shock to the office and announced, “Julie is married to a biker guy.”

Now, while I have owned a motorcycle or two (actually six), my background qualifies me to be more of a nerd than biker. I’ve worked as an electronics technician in avionics, as a technical writer, am a Phi Beta Kappa, and a graduate of a reasonably good law school. I have even been to Comic Con.

I once, for a short time, worked for a large cosmopolitan law firm where the managing partner said to me, “You know, Mike, you look just like a client I had once, a trucker who bought a suit and got a haircut for court. He looked like a truck driver who just bought a new suit and got a hair cut.”

The problem is people watch too much television and have seen too many movies where all plumbers show plumber’s crack when they bend over, most criminals look mean, a disproportionate number of suspects on cop shows are minorities, blondes are ditzy, redheads are fiery, Irish are drunks, surfers are spaced-out potheads, Black people are sidekicks to White people, and all fathers are blowhards like Homer Simpson.

It is as though casting directors for a television reality show called Life in America have chosen only male medical doctors who are incredibly thin and handsome, if not a little androgynous, female doctors who are beautiful but seem a little promiscuous and are so thin they appear to have eating disorders.

The legal shows are usually the same — beautiful lawyers unless, of course, they are criminal defense lawyers who appear sneaky enough to “get people off on mere technicalities.” The police all have college degrees, speak three languages, and are dedicated public servants, even though real police officers have IQs in the average range and more than a few police departments refuse to hire applicants with above-average intelligence. (There are exceptions. It’s my understanding Southern California departments do not turn down applicants who are extra bright.)

Life in America would be perfectly scripted. Plumbers would be showing their cracks, construction workers would harass young females who are just strolling past, powerful women would be beautiful, thin bitches, and everybody would seem to date everyone else.

Shakespeare said art imitates life. That may have been true in Elizabethan England, but in 21st Century America it’s the opposite: Life imitates art.

While statistics vary, most say Americans watch television six hours a day and spend another three to six hours a day watching taped shows. In short they either work or sleep or watch television. These estimates are probably on the low side because, according to the Nielsen ratings folks, people underestimate the time they spend watching television. There are not enough hours in a day, and something has to give. it’s usually sleep, which is probably why everyone seems sleep deprived, and may explain the rise in the number of Zombie movies.

It leaves four hours for the rest of living — things like sleeping, getting dressed, driving to and from work, cleaning house, shopping, paying bills, and the myriad other chores people perform. That doesn’t leave much time to spend with family and friends. In fact one book, Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam, says television has decimated organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Shriners, and bowling leagues. It appears people are too busy watching television to join a club.

Teenagers watch the least amount of television, and people over 65 watch the most, probably because teens have homework and spend time hanging with friends, and old folks like me live off Social Security and retirement income that often punishes them for working part-time, we usually don’t have homework, and instead of hanging out we go to bed early. When people ask me what I do for living, I tell them I get paid to get up in the morning. In truth, my hips, back, and various other health issues prevent me from doing much else. I usually have three to four doctor appointments a week.

What amazes me, however, is that people actually develop pseudo-friendships with television characters. People seem to love and anticipate “reunion” shows where characters from previously cancelled programs have a get together showing how the characters aged with time. Viewers act as though they are attending a reunion of old friends and become part of the television show

Since I grew up without a television, and my wife and I didn’t have one for six years, many old shows most people see as repeats, I will see for the first time.

Please excuse me. Gilligan’s Island is on.

Do they ever get off that damn island?