Alternate Ithaca Tom Transcript

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There are some scientists who say that the universe that we inhabit is not the only universe there is. There are alternate universes. They say that these universes arise from the subatomic realm of quantum physics. Here's how they say it works. Every time a quantum event happens, it produces all of its possible results. This is like saying if you flip a coin, it comes up heads, but it also comes up tails. Since those two results are mutually exclusive, the flipping of the coin splits the universe into two alternate universes: the heads universe and the tails universe. And since quantum events are happening all the time, it means that alternate universes are bubbling up continually. They're always being created, splitting off from ours. And these alternate universes are real. They're not just figments of the imagination. They're complete, whole, real things.  

I know this is true because I experienced an alternate universe. I was driving in my Volkswagen van up to a Tai Chi camp in upstate New York a couple of summers ago. I bought the Volkswagen van when I'd quit my job a few years previously. I bought the van because I quit the job as a custom database application engineer. This was not a job that I really had intended to become. When I was a kid, that's not what I thought I was going to be. It's just sort of the job I happened into and I always thought of it as the work I was doing before I was going to find my real work. But when I got close to about forty, I suddenly thought, "Oh my God. This could be it. This could be what I end up doing. This could be on my tombstone: Tom Weiser. Custom database application engineer. Wrote well-optimized queries. Many customers satisfied." And I thought, "No, that can't be it. That can't all there is." And I quit the job without really knowing what I was going to do next.  

And I knew that what I should do was to take my skill set and to make a lateral move to a career path that was more appropriate but I really didn't want to do that. I didn't want to be so logical. I actually wanted something more magic. I wanted to be like the guy in the fairy tale that trades the cow for the magic beans. And I know that that's a bad deal. I know that the cow's a better investment. The cow's going to pay off in the long term but, but, but, but if the magic beans work out, you're in a whole new story. So, I quit the job and I bought a Volkswagen Pop Top Camper van. And I drove around the country, and what I thought was, "OK, I'm not going to make a lateral move. I am going to just drive around the country. And I'm gonna open myself up to whatever may come. And then what I'm going to do is going to arise organically. I'm gonna find my next pad there by the side of the road in Arizona. I'm going to pick it up and bring it back to New York."  

So, I drove around the country: Twenty-five thousand miles, eight months. And when I got back to New York, I had no clue. I really didn't know and it left me very vulnerable to the "New York Question." The first question anybody asks, which is, "So, what do you do?" I didn't know. I didn't know, I didn't have a good answer and it made me feel really embarrassed because everybody knows what they do. Everybody does, and I thought I should too. So, when I was driving the Volkswagen van up to Tai Chi camp the other summer, I felt very relieved because in camp, I know what I do. I do the camp thing. I do what's at camp, and I don't know if you know this, but there are a lot of camps for adults that are out there. I found them when I was driving around the country. There are Tai Chi camps and yoga camps and birdwatching camps. There's even a camp where you can dress up in armor and joust. All the things that give us joy and that we tend to demean with the name "hobby." Those are the things that are celebrated in camp. And when people go to camp, they are so lit up. They are finally getting to do that thing, the thing they love. It's like, "Yes, I finally get to joust. I don't have time for that anymore." Really.  

So, I was going up to camp and feeling pretty good about it. Now I decided on the way, I would stop into Ithaca. I'd heard that it was a kind of a neat town. So, I pulled off the highway into Ithaca, and it's on the southern shore of Lake Cayuga. There's flat land and then these hills and it has a very particular microclimate there, which allows hippies to survive. All the stores have names like "It Takes a Village" or "Hemp Unlimited." And the children are all completely multi-ethnic and only wear cloth organic diapers. It was really something. I drove around sort of like Disney Hippieland, just watching it. And then I drove up the hill, up toward Cornell, which has these stately buildings on the hilltop. And as I drove onto the campus, I had this standing sensation, and I suddenly was pierced with a vision of an alternate universe. My alternate life. I thought, "Oh my God. I was supposed to go to Cornell. If I'd gone to Cornell I would have studied animal behavior. And right now, I'd be a professor of Evolutionary Biology. I'm a professor of Evolutionary Biology and I've got a wife. She's got dark hair. She's really smart. And I'm a professor with a wife and we've got two kids. They like to sing." It was this completely realized vision of this alternate life and it looked so good. Alternate Ithaca Tom; He'd made these great choices. It was really working out.  

And I drove around in a kind of a wash of nostalgia for this life that I hadn't had. It was like, "Wow, there's the Human Ecology Center. I did all my grad work there. And there was this funky cottage that I used to live in where I had six roommates and we had a chore wheel and ate brown rice. And there was these gorges that we used to do drum circles in and songs to the Goddess, and it was... And there was this woman that looked just like my wife would have looked when I would have met her." I was overwhelmed by it. I couldn't stand to stay there any longer. I drove off the campus. I fled Ithaca and flew to Tai Chi camp. But Alternate Ithaca Tom came with me.  

Now, at camps, I tend to really have a good time. I laugh a lot, I joke a lot, especially in Tai Chi camp, where the residents are kind of serious and slow-moving. I can't help but kind of tease them. And in this particular camp, the teacher said that we were going to be meditating every morning from seven to eight. And she was looking for a volunteer: someone, a musician, that would wander the hallways playing an instrument or singing to wake up the residents. I'm not a morning person. And so, I thought, "Oh, so I have a choice here. Either it's going to be 6:30, I'll be lying in my bed really grumpy while some asshole sings outside my door or I could be the singing asshole." For the rest of that week, I was the singing asshole of the camp. Every morning, I would roam the halls, singing lustily, waking up all my fellow Tai Chi players.  

And the people there saw me laughing and singing. And they said, "Tom, it's really great to have you here. You're so happy. You're such a happy guy."  

And I thought, ''Yeah, you think I'm happy but you haven't seen Alternate Ithaca Tom. I've seen him; He's happy.'' And the fact that he was so much happier than me was making me miserable. And I kept looking at everybody else's life and comparing myself to them. And I remember having lunch with a woman who was in her 60s and she was a calligrapher. And she was about to have her first grandchild. She was really excited, and I thought, "Maybe calligraphy. That could be it." And then there was this other guy and he had studied Tai Chi when he was in his twenties and now he was a sales rep at Dell. And I thought, "Damnit, if I had studied Tai Chi in my twenties, maybe I could be a sales rep at Dell now." I've never wanted to be a sales rep but I was just getting carried away. That feeling that I was in the wrong life, I was is in the wrong place. I couldn't shake it. I really tried to absorb the lesson of Tai Chi, which is to be present, just relax. Accept what's coming to you and be present here. But I thought, "Yeah, yeah, that would be easy. It's so much easier to accept where you are, if only you're in the right place."  

Eventually, camp was over and I left. I drove back to New York. And as I was driving over the George Washington Bridge I could still hear Alternate Ithaca Tom. He was hanging around me, haunting me like a ghost. And I thought, "Oh God, I need professional help." So, I made an appointment with the family psychic. This is the guy that's done readings for all of my siblings and my cousins. And I went to see him, and he's an astrologer, so he did out my chart. And this time, he was very interested in this polarity that he saw.  

He said, "You have Saturn in the mid-heaven. And this marks you as a person who could be very organizational. The organizational man, the hierarchical one. The corporate guy, the dad, the provider. Not particularly sexy, but a straight up guy. On the other hand, there's Pisces in the sun, and they're squared with each other. You can't resolve them. Piscean:  the dreamer, the mystic. The guy that's the artist, never quite pinned down, never quite in a relationship. And you have to balance these two. You have to choose one or the other." And normally, I love to hear this kind of thing. This is the great thing about going to a psychic, is that for an hour, they just talk about me. It's so interesting. But this time, I was so caught up with Alternate Ithaca Tom, I couldn't really appreciate it all, so I just blurted out what had happened to me.  

And I asked him, "What does this mean?"  

And the psychic said, "Well, this represents a fundamental choice that you've made in your life. You could have been the hierarchical guy. But you chose to be the Piscean. If you had decided to be an academic, you would have been very successful. There's no doubt that the university structure would have raised you up. You probably would be married, have kids."  

I thought, "Oh, shit. Alternate Ithaca Tom made the right choices."  

"But,” the psychic said, "if you had become an academic, your wife would have had an affair with your brother or your best friend."  

Alternate Ithaca Tom is crushed. He's just found out that his wife is having an affair with his research partner. This is the guy's been working with for fifteen years. It's a long-term affair. They're moving in together. She's taking the kids. He's completely crushed, poor Alternate Ithaca Tom. He starts drinking. He can't keep his lecture notes together. He can't keep his research together. He's coming up for tenure and it's all falling apart. And in the midst of his turmoil, he's suddenly pierced by this vision of himself driving a Volkswagen van. He's off to camp, to Tai Chi camp. He's not married. He doesn't have kids. He doesn't even have a job. He's completely free. It looks so good, this image. It pierces him to his heart, begins to hang around him and haunt him like a hungry ghost.