Editor's Note: This classic edition of "From Fly Creek" originally ran in 2003.
Tim Wiles urged me on. “You’ll get a column out of it,” he said.
“Just get on a search engine and give it your own name.”
So I did. I fired up the laptop, summoned search-engine Google, and typed in “Jim Atwell.” That set Google to examining (by its own claim) over three billion web pages, scanning single-mindedly for the words “Jim Atwell” in print.
Well, my surname’s not an unusual one; and, Lord knows, the nickname “Jim” is as common as dog dandruff. So Google was hugely successful. Don’t know how many pages of information it had lined up: I labored through only the first forty pages before my eyes started to cross. Google, you see, had found mentions of “Jim Atwell” by the thousand.
A scant handful referred to yours truly, which were citations of this column or of free-lance magazine work; comments about me from pieces by Rita Ferrandino and Tim Wiles. (Maybe that’s why Tim set me on this exercise.) But most of the entries were about other Jim Atwells, men living out their lives under my name. What nerve!
That was my first reaction. But then I had to admit that I had no more claim on the handle than they did. And further, I had to accept something more: The actual tally of Jim Atwells in the world towers beyond those cited on my screen. Google had only captured a fraction who’d somehow ended up in print.
It turns out that, since birth, I’ve marched in a legion of the identically named. We’re linked only by that shared name, as soldiers are by a shared uniform. (Oh, and we’re all marching, of course, toward a common end.)
Once I accepted all these nominal doppelgangers, I started studying the sampling that Google had presented me, trying to imagine lives as revealed by the citations.
A bunch of Jim Atwells, it appears, are sportsmen. Twelve-year-old Jim Atwell is on a team roster for Central Middle School, Warrenton, in some unidentified state. Another Jim was a winning tennis coach in Pen Argyl. Another is vice president of the California chapter of the American Horseshoe Pitching Association. Last summer, some Jim also attended the Frost Valley YMCA Centennial Reunion, though I’m not sure where or why.
And Jim Atwell is a legend in Cannonball Run circles. Back in the 70s he burned up the roads in a cross-country drive, almost beating the time of Brock Yates, granddaddy of all Cannonballers. Google even provided a photo of that Jim. (He looks to be in his late seventies, though maybe desert driving weathered his hide.)
Jim Atwell’s also an amateur photographer in Kentucky, a good one, to judge by his work. He’s nearly a match for the Jim who’s a photo pro up in Martha’s Vineyard.
I was sobered to read several times of Jim Atwell’s death, especially James S. “Jim” Atwell, formerly of Parisburg, Virginia. For 64 of his 87 years, he and I also shared a middle initial. I wonder, was he a Sam, too?
A lot of us Jims are in public service. Jim Atwell’s the public information man at the Center for Environmental Enterprise at Southern Maine Technical College. Down in Virginia, he’s president of Commonwealth Service Company, but he gives a lot of time to state highway committees. Another Jim chairs a Maryland county’s Housing Opportunities Commission. Jim’s a city councilman in Friona, Texas. And he also heads the dauntingly named Policy Management Branch, Civilian Personnel Directorate, in Heidelberg, Germany.
Jims have done very well in high finance. “Among the esteemed panelists,” I read, was “Jim Atwell, a partner with Summit Partners in Palo Alto.” Another Jim, of Deloitte and Touche LLP, is a regular speaker at financial conferences. And he’s not alone in this:
“’Companies that attract venture backing are on a better track ... for the tough scrutiny accorded public companies,’ notes Jim Atwell, San Jose-based chairman of the Coopers & Lybrand venture capital group.”
There are literary Jims, too. A Jim Atwell wrote a history of early Klickitat County in Washington State. Another Jim in the print game is a partner in Advanced Publications, which produces a line of “adult magazines.” Jim wants these sleazy products to be sold through vending machines. (He’s fighting a lawsuit just now.) And some other Jim published a 1997 article in “Friends Journal.” No, wait, that’s me.
An intriguing Jim Atwell in South Australia edits the newsletter for the UFO Research Society. This group scorns the “lunatic fringe who would regularly pop up on television declaring that every ‘light in the sky’ was our space brothers coming to save us.” In his newsletter, this objective Jim lists scores of odd phenomena in South Australia, but all of them in the neutral tone of a police report.
Another Jim Atwell who operates near the fringe just returned from the international Soul Vibrations Conference. He lectured there on healing through sound. And a bold Jim Atwell figures in the search for Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman of the Pacific Northwest.
Jim spotted a series of big barefoot tracks back in 1928, left by a creature that made a gigantic leap across a ditch and onto a log,“something no logger could have done [even] with caulked shoes.” His vivid account is on file with the International Society of Cryptozoology.
Well, you see the varied company I’m in, and I haven’t even mentioned Chief Master Sgt. Jim Atwell, just retired after thirty years of honorable service; or Tarboro, North Carolina’s Jim Atwell, who’s in the Longhorn Cattle Hall of Fame maintained at the Kat-El Ranch near Houston.
All you other Jim Atwells, I’m proud to share a name with you (except for that smarmy pornographer). I’m proud to be lost in your ranks, one more in the big parade. All the best to each of you, I say. Do the rest of us proud!