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Sunday, Nov. 4, 2001


Just cloning around

I am sitting in a pub with two other foreign husbands of Japanese women. We are about the same age and build, with the same twitchy faces of men who have lived too long as outsiders in a nation full of insiders.

We look alike, dress alike and spill beer alike. A casual observer might think we were brothers or even (cue sinister clash of cymbals) . . . clones.

"My wife says she is against crones," Friend A wheezes. He has been wetting his whistle the most and now finds Japanese slipped consonants hilarious. "She thinks they should be outlawed."

"Here, here!" We drink to that.

Friend B then takes the conversation and pushes it to the ethical outer limits.

"I don't get this big brouhaha over cloning. Personally, I'm all for it."

I gawk at this comment, stunned that a man in his condition can actually say, "brouhaha."

"Me, too," interrupts Friend A. "I think we should take aging babes like Liz Taylor, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe and clone them all before it gets too late."

We set down our mugs. Friend B breaks the news.

"Um, Marilyn Monroe's already dead."

Friend A blinks furiously at this speck in his sexist vision. Then says, "No problem. All we gotta do is find a mosquito that sucked her blood, like in Jurassic Park."

Friend B and I exchange somewhat sober glances, then shrug. "Here, here!" We drink to mosquitoes, bombshells and velociraptors.

"I mean," says Friend B, "It seems cloning is perfect for Japan. The population's dropping, right? The Japanese have this thing about pure blood, right? So . . . why not clone? That way, when they claim they are one pure race, they'll be completely right."

"You're not serious," I say.

"Don't I look serious?" He has foam on his lip and a razory glint to his eye. More than anything, he looks rabid.

"What scares me about cloning," Friend A interrupts again, "is that only rich people will be able to afford it. Schmucks like me will be left out, and pretty soon rich people will take over the world." He seems truly upset by this.

"They've already done that," I tell him.

Friend B elbows me to hush and pats Friend A on the hand.

"Now, now . . . There will always be a need for schmucks like you. Who else will do the hard work that rich people hate? The truth is, your type will probably get cloned more than any other. In fact, you are a priceless human resource."

"Thanks," Friend A sniffles, then dribbles beer down his shirt.

Friend B turns my way. "Or you know in sumo, where they like to pass on famous names to up-and-coming wrestlers . . . Well, with cloning, they could pass on genes as well."

"Meaning," I draw the logical conclusion, "that not only will there always be a wrestler named Takanohana, there will always be the exact same Takanohana."

"Exactly. He'll hold every record in the book."

"And, instead of boasting about how great they were back in the '60s, the Yomiuri Giants would be able to field those same championship teams year after year. When one player gets too old, they could just replace him with a younger version."

"Perfect. We could have the young Nagashima playing and the old Nagashima managing."

Friend A is tickled by this. "Jordan steals the ball! He passes to Jordan! Jordan shoots! Jordan scores!"

"Exactly. Not only could every position be played by a superstar, it could be played by the very same superstar. And not just sports. Think of it: Norika Fujiwara could be hawking every product on Japanese TV forever."

"No, there's more," Friend B continues. "I've heard that in the future they'll be able to perpetuate existence by vacuuming memory out from your brain and then injecting it into the brain of your newborn clone. That way it really will be you. . . . Only you'll be dead."

"So what?" Friend A slurs. "That's a small price to pay for eternal life."

I wave all this off. "Wait a minute. Nature isn't all that's involved here. What about nurture? Just because a child has the same genes, or even the same memories, doesn't mean they will grow up to be the same person. Inside -- where it counts -- they will still be unique, just like we are all unique."

Friend A and Friend B both nod at this. In fact, Friend A nearly nods off.

"I mean, a new Nagashima might be more interested in fashion design than baseball. A new Fujiwara might want to perform orthodontics rather than show it off."

I go on. "Besides, the engine of life seems to purr better when blood is blended. We don't need cloning to teach us that. Mixed breeds are strong. They're clever. They live longer. We, the mutts of the world, should know their value better than anyone."

Friend A wakes up. "Most circus dogs are mutts," he says.

"Exactly. And all life is a circus. There is no question that the circus of life is better off with plentiful and everchanging variety."

With that, we once again clack our beer mugs. "To mutts! To variety! Here, here!"

We sit there, self-satisfied with our own uniqueness, until once again we summon the waitress.

Then, one by one, we each order the exact same thing.

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