Barack & me: Too close for coincidence?

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It's official. I could be President-elect Barack Obama in an alternate universe.

Don't laugh. As much as it violates my natural sense of modesty to point these things out, the man who will be the 44th president of the United States is practically my psychic doppelganger.

Sure, he's a year younger, smarter, prettier, thinner, richer and more accomplished than yours truly, but I could have been those things too if I'd only followed a slightly different plan for my life.

Barack Obama loves Bob Dylan's music, particularly the brilliant but heartbreaking "Blood on the Tracks." I'm more a "Blonde on Blonde" guy, but "Blood" is my second favorite Dylan album.

Barack Obama loves the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Though I appreciate Niebuhr's tragic sense of irony, I'm more a Soren Kierkegaard guy. Still, Niebuhr will always be in my top five.

The incoming president considers Melville's "Moby-Dick" the greatest American novel, as do I, though Twain's "Adventures of Huck Finn" could easily supplant it again after I read it for a third time.

My favorite novel of all time is Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," a book I suspect Mr. Obama has dipped into more than once given his monk-like disposition and my own for many years.

Our paths never crossed when we both lived in New York, but that's a good thing. Any such meeting would have thrown the space-time continuum into chaos.

When Mr. Obama visited the editorial board of the Post-Gazette last spring, we had a nice chat about "The Wire," an HBO show we both esteem above all others.

Earlier this week, The Daily Telegraph of London reported that Mr. Obama collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comic books.

I also read those titles, but I no longer collect them. Still, as David Letterman often deadpans: "It's like I have a twin."

Maybe comic books are the peculiar affliction of middle-aged liberals. Mr. Obama's Democratic predecessor President Bill Clinton also read them, but he did it on the sly.

Mr. Obama is a "collector" -- a hard-core fan who goes to the trouble of slipping comics into polyester sleeves or Mylar bags before depositing them into specialty storage boxes never to see the light of day again.

Being a collector requires a level of psychic investment and discretionary cash this brother doesn't have. I stopped collecting comics in my late teens, but by the time I did, I had a complete run of Conans and a near-complete run of Spider-Man starting with issue No. 7. I sold them to comics dealers and other collectors in the early 1980s. Who knows, maybe Mr. Obama was one of them.

I imagine Michelle Obama's eyes bulged in horror the first time her husband came home from the Chicago Comicon babbling about having scored a near-mint copy of "Savage Tales No. 1" for hundreds of dollars less than he should have paid.

Comic collectors are usually completist -- which means they're inclined to hunt down whole runs of a title and its spin-offs because voices in their heads command them to.

They also carry checklists with them at all times just to keep track of their burgeoning collections.

Along with the nuclear codes, the new president will carry a list of missing "Marvel Team-Ups" he needs to fill the holes in his collection.

To be a collector of, say, Conan the Barbarian during its multidecade run at Marvel and its more recent run at Dark Horse means spending time at specialty shops or online auctions looking for pristine copies of the legendary issue 24, "The Song of Red Sonja," illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith.

A collector of Spider-Man has an even more daunting task with nearly 50 years of back issues to account for.

It will take all of Mr. Obama's political guile to get his hands on mint copies of those early Steve Ditko-illustrated Spideys without tapping into Sasha and Malia's college fund, but, hey, that's what scholarships are for.

When Mr. Obama takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, he will be the first president in history to have Peter Parker's mantra -- penned by Stan Lee -- going through his head: "With great power comes great responsibility."



Speaking of doppelgangers: I made it out to The Hold Steady's incredible show Wednesday night at the Carnegie Music Hall in Munhall. Though lead singer Craig Finn's vocals were on the muddy side, the show still rocked. Still, I'm wondering if anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between Finn and Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields?

Is Dougie Shields Pittsburgh's answer to Hannah Montana? Is he secretly the leader of the world's most popular bar band?


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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