Your Greatness May Be Determined By A Pair of Genes
Past lives and “The Honeymooners”: together at last
By Ed Goldman
Ed Norton’s 12th-great grandmother was Pocahontas, according to the PBS show, “Finding Your Roots.” You could find this news shocking if you thought that“ Ed Norton” was not a real person— but instead, the sewer worker Art Carney played beside Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden on the classic TV show “The Honeymooners.”
Why, you could be wondering, would anyone spend time researching the genealogical background of a fictional person?
Aghast in the (time) machine
The Ed Norton PBS researched to is, of course, one of our finest film actors. He just happens to share a name with one of the most beloved characters in television history. It’s a little like the magician who inexplicably calls himself David Copperfield, after the title character of the 1851 Charles Dickens novel but whose real name is David Seth Kotkin. (I suppose he might have called himself Uriah Heep but a British rock band beat him to it.)
For some reason the obsession many of us have with our genealogy reminds me of those people who, under hypnosis, believe they regress to their past lives. I’ve spoken with a number of them—and not one of them thinks he or she was anything less than a famous explorer, a war hero or a royal (Henry the 8th and Cleopatra are faves, though I should point out it was a guy who thought he had been the legendary queen of the Nile).
The strangest case—and I swear this claim was made by a TV news photographer I used to know—was that 20+ centuries back he’d been the Prince of Peace.
My conversation with him went something like this:
TV NEWS PHOTOGAPHER: I found out that in my past life I was the Son of God.
ME: Jesus Christ!
TV NEWS PHOTOGAPHER: No, really. I mean it.
I have a feeling that if I discovered I had a number of past lives, they wouldn’t be as especially exalted human beings.
My understanding is that reincarnation pretty much presupposes that with each new life you’re going to somehow improve. Ergo, if I’m currently living my 10th life, say—and the best I could become was a freelance writer—”humble beginnings” wouldn’t begin to describe the gene pool I climbed out of to towel off.
Running from about 750 BCE—or just plain old BC, if you’re trying to economize on your use of capital E’s, since they mean the same thing—to about 1490-something, these are what I imagine my past lives could have been:
– I believe that, circa 750 BCE, I might have written a blurb for “The Iliad and The Odyssey.” However, knowing my inclination to slothfulness, I probably wrote only about “The Odyssey” and it would have been the very soul of brevity:
“Homer takes an awful lot of time and uses up tons of papyrus just to make the point that ‘East is east/West is west/But home is best.’ Two stars and a parental-caution rating (for scenes of a minotaur turning brave soldiers into hors d’oeuvres).”
– On a similar cultural note, around 469-399 B.C. I might have worked as a barista and given Socrates that fatal cup of hemlock when he’d actually ordered a nonfat, decaf latte (to which I perhaps joked, “Well, why even bother to call it coffee, Soc, am I right?”).
– My soul then seems to have skipped a number of years and turned up around 751 AD, when Pepin the Short was anointed king of the Franks. At the time, I apparently was the driver of the Oscar Meyer wienerchariot and reportedly was quite chagrinned to learn that I wasn’t King of the Franks. Trouble ensued.
– Somewhere between 1140 and 1260 A.D., I was hired to translate Aristotle’s works from the original Greek into Latin. They fired me for instead translating them from Greek into pig-Latin, which was all I knew at the time. Defending myself shortly before being executed, I’m alleged to have protested, “Hey, it was all Greek to me.” Wotta ummer-bay!
– When I re-emerged around 1310, I found myself playing one of the tines on Satan’s pitchfork in the world premiere of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” While this was a professional and personal setback for me, as I mentioned earlier I haven’t necessarily improved my career options with each incarnation.
– Things looked up a little 159 years later when I was hired as the wedding singer at the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Knowing Christopher Columbus was getting funding to embark on a global voyage in 1492—during which he’d mistake the Indies for North America but stop and do a little enslaving of the natives anyway—I sang “Around the World in 80 Days.” Ferdinand considered me heretical for suggesting such a thing could be accomplished and I was promptly executed—though not before over hearing Isabella whisper rather passionately to Columbus, “Just discover America and come right back.”
She may have added, “And give my regards to Ed and Pocahontas Norton,” but the acoustics were awful in the dungeon.