Mike Tyson

November 14, 2007

A few years ago, while I was making a not-quite-living writing nonfiction young adult books for a small flat fee, an editor I knew mentioned that he might have a job for me. I don’t really remember the conversation, but I do recall that it was low-paying, per usual, and that the subject of the book was sports gambling. I probably expressed some interest, but then the job never came about. Maybe I said I’d get back to him about it and never did, or maybe he said he’d get back to me and never did. I don’t know. It was around the time when I started teaching college freshman composition classes, a job I’d never done before and that instantly consumed all my time, mostly either in abject terror over what might happen in an upcoming class or in abject shame and embarrassment about what actually had happened in a recent class. With a schedule like that I had to set aside the nonfiction young adult books for a while. But later I discovered a young adult book about sports gambling had been written by “Joshua D.G. Willker.”

I knew enough about the low-paying young adult nonfiction book racket to know that sometimes hard-working editors that had received unusable manuscripts from contracted authors had to hurriedly ghostwrite entire books without getting any authorial credit. Maybe my name had gotten pencilled in and the editor I knew or some other editor had scrambled to hit the deadline by throwing the book together and then, while racing with the manuscript to the local FedEx, had slightly altered the pencilled-in author name by adding an “ua” to the first name, a couple middle initials, and an extra “l” in the last name.

The discovery of this Other (did D.G. stand for “DoppelGanger”?) gave me a sort of sour feeling. I wonder if former Cardinals utility infielder Mike Tyson, shown above in a creased, smeared 1974 card, felt something similar to that when he started to understand that his own name was being eclipsed. If he did, it’s possible, oddly enough, that the feeling wasn’t altogether new. Note the cartoon on the back of his 1974 card:

In other words, it seems likely, given the overwhelming popularity of a certain 1976 Sylvester Stallone film, that—long before the other Mike Tyson—the chipmunk-cheeked Mike Tyson shown here was ribbed by his Cardinals teammates for sharing a name with a boxer.

Or maybe not. Who knows? All I can really say for sure about any of this is that if there actually is someone out there named Joshua D.G. Willker, I hope I never meet him. He sounds like a douche.


  1. 1.  I’d bet there’s an equal chance that Joshua DG Willker is a misunderstood dreamer, whishing he were the next Alfred Slote.

  2. 2.  Hmm, did this card spend a few weeks in some bicycle spokes or something?

  3. 3.  1 : Hm, maybe you’re right about that. Anybody who aspires to Slote-hood is OK with me.

    2 : I never did the bicycle spokes thing with baseball cards, so I’m not sure how my 1974 Mike Tyson got so thoroughly Buster-Douglassed. The real mystery to me is the nature of the reddish goo along the bottom border of the card and on Rocky Tyson’s thigh.

  4. 4.  It seems to me that most Mike Tysons nowadays have since switched over to “Michael” for one reason or another. That could be partly because when most people around here hear “Mike Tyson” nowadays, they usually react the same way John Cleese did to pineapples…


  5. 5.  A quick Googling shows “Joshua D.G. Wilker” co-wrote “Everything You Need to Know About Sports Gambling” with “Joshua D.G. Willker.” The aforementioned Mr. D.G. Wilker wrote several other YA novels.

  6. 6.  5 : Yeah, in cyberspace the “D.G.” has somehow insinuated itself over the years into many places where it did not originally exist.

  7. 7.  I am reminded of two things.

    I, as I’m sure is the case with most everyone, am often told that I remind people of someone else. Only once, though, have I ever actually seen somebody that I personally thought looked like me. And I thought this guy was a spitting image. Similar features. Similar glasses frame, hair, the whole bit. He had a small tattoo, which I would never have, but other than that . . . My reaction to this was, for some reason, to want to punch this DG in the face. I’m not a violent guy, but I seriously wanted to punch this person and say to him, “Who do you think you are? I’m me. I am me!”

    The other thing I am reminded of, of course, is Michael Bolton in Office Space. “Why should I change my name. He’s the one that sucks.”

    Identity can be a tenuous thing, I guess.

  8. 8.  The central character in Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’ is a reclusive author called Daniel Quinn, a writer of detective fiction, who hides behind the pseudonym of William Wilson. William Wilson is also the name of an Edgar Allan Poe short story about doppelgängers. During the 1980s there were two fleet centerfielders named Wilson; Mookie and Willie. The given name of both of them is William.

    You need to find Mookie Wilker, Josh.

  9. 9.  9 Baseball is replete with Alex Gonzalezes and Luis Gonzalezes. There is only one Alex Rodriguez.

    I swear I read City of Glass, as I went through a Paul Auster phase a decade or so ago. I don’t remember anything your describing, though

    I do remember that Philip Roth’s ‘Operation Shylock’ revolved around an impostor Philip Roth.

  10. 10.  Doesn’t Paul Auster get a phone call from Paul Auster in City of Glass?

    Maybe this DG fellow will call up Josh?

  11. 11.  Looked it up. Quinn gets a call intended for Paul Auster, the detective.

    Still, I’d watch out for this DG fellow and his penchant for gambling.

  12. 12.  I have a fairly common family name to pair up with “Dave”, so I have met a couple of my Doppelgängers. One guy was majoring in the same subject at the same school at the same time, though a little behind me. We did have a friend in common; how weird for that guy.

    I had to phone a Doppelgänger in my large company once. That was strange.

    “Hello, is this David X”?
    “Yes, I’m, uh, David X, from another part of company Y….”

  13. 13.  My sports figure DG has a penchant for gambling… and golf.

  14. 14.  Jazz immortal/multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef’s original name was “Bill Evans,” though luckily he sagely avoided piano and converted to Islam.

  15. 15.  So I’m bored, logged in, and browsing old entries…

    Though it’s not “Zernial”, I do have an uncommon name. I live in Chicago and there’s a man with the same name living in a nearby suburb. I’ve received mail for him, sent by an estranged family member trying to reestablish contact. He has received mail intended for me, sympathy cards following the death of my father. In both instances, we opened the items by mistake but returned the them to the sender.

    I’ve never met or contacted this other me.

    We share nothing in common but a name but, by virtue of that name being rare, we’ve inadvertantly learned intimate details of each others lives.

    Unlike some of the other doppelganger scenarios mentioned above, I don’t fear, resent, or have any antipathy towards him. Still, there’s an odd sense of displacement and I can’t help but wonder if he feels the same way.

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