Ghost Books; Ghost Lives - Umberto Tosi

 Dino Moro Sanchez, c 2012
Two phone numbers stare at me from a yellow, 3"x5"  Post-It note on a bulletin board next to my computer. They are the last two clues I uncovered in my search for a long-lost friend. I make an excuse and vow to try the numbers soon. Coward, I call myself. 

Like Schrödinger's cat, my erstwhile friend would exist both alive and dead until I dialed those numbers and, if I was lucky, discovered what had become of him.But nothing was certain, only probability curves. The numbers could turn out to be dead ends. I might not discover either possibility conclusively. 

From what I could gather searching records and reports extensively over the past weeks, my friend no longer lives at his last known address- - a Hollywood Hills house he owned for decades. He could be alive, but institutionalized. A ten-year-old LAPD report listed him as missing and suffering from dementia, "possibly abducted." That missing person's report included a phone number - one of the two on my Post-It note. The other number is supposed to be his, similar to one I remember for him from the pre-mobile-phone days in which we memorized numbers to dial. Deja vu.  

Dino Moro Sanchez and I became friends at Hollywood High School in the mid-1950s.  He and I attended college together, he earning a masters degree in information sciences from UCLA, me, dropping out to became a writer and later editor at the L.A. Times, marry and raise kids had too early. He was godfather to two of my now grown daughters, Alicia Sammons and Kara Julia Towe. My eldest, Alicia, a school administrator in Mexico City, helped me comb records to track him down, as did my inamorata, artist Eleanor Spiess-Ferris. What information we found was scant.

 Alicia, Kara, c.1968

 Dino neither married nor had kids of his own, although he got close to the altar at least twice that I know of. His father, a brother and his mother, with whom he lived, have long passed away. He was the brightest, most erudite, seriously engaging and witty conversationalist I've ever known. We would spend hours talking about history, philosophy, science, culture and life, as I drifted through multiple marriages and publishing jobs. He made his living importing books from Mexico through his own dealership, He lived well, not lavishly, but comfortably. Mutual friends have all gone on to their rewards. Dino would be 85 now, only a year older than I, but lived a much more reclusive life, more and more so as the years went on.

 Mostly he researched, thought and wrote -- and wrote, and wrote. He wrote scholarly articles and books, the principal one being a massive history of ideology. He drafted me as his editor on the latter. I read and discussed chapters and sections of it over a period of ten years in the 1980s and 90s, and as it reached what I thought was critical mass, I urged him and promised to help him seek a publisher for it -- commercial or a university press. But he always demurred, pleading that he had more work to do on it.

His theory of ideological metaphors preceded the pioneer findings of cognitive linguists George Lakoff (of UC Berkeley) and Mark Johnson (U of Kansas). Their book, Metaphors We Live By (1980)  proposed in that human thoughts and actions are largely governed by the building-block metaphors of our languages. 

He became more and more agoraphobic and paranoid about his work being plagiarized once shared. I reassured him that there are ways to protect one's copy, and that is a risk, albeit small, faced by all writers, but outweighed by the benefits and the imperative of sharing one's work with the world - at least trying. 

"One day," he said. "In the meantime, if anything happens to me before I'm done with it I want you to take what there is and try to publish it best you can," he asked me to promise. I did so, but the process seemed endless. 

We parted on difficult terms. I lived in San Francisco by then and had hit a rough patch, struggling to stay afloat financially and help raise my youngest daughter, a late-in-life product of my fourth marriage, then a wee five-year-old. I had become a publisher, and heir to truckloads of financial headache that came with a California state business magazine that I owned after engineering a leveraged buy-out of its considerable debts from a member of the Chicago Pritzker family, whose brother is now governor of Illinois. Printers, landlords, advertisers, sales people, even writers were all over me to collect debts as I begged for forbearance. 

 George Lakoff
Dino started phoning me in the midst of all this, giving me a blow-by-blow about a feud with a neighbour over a barking dog that had escalated to dangerous proportions, including his acquiring a gun. I kept urging mediation and de-escalation to no avail. The neighbour was a prominent woman who coached a local L.A. basketball team, from what I could read between the lines. My friend seemed to be interpreting my peace counselling as disloyalty. Finally, in the midst of a business day, I terminated our conversation. I don't recall is i said I'd call him back or asked him to do same, but the upshot was that neither of us did so, both being stubborn cusses. 

Our relationship had become more and more strained over such issues, and this proved to be its last straw. I lamented that my friend was throwing away his work and talent as he became more and more suspicious and resentful - although he had always been the most considerate and rational of men. It never occurred to me until years later that perhaps he was having some sort of mental breakdown and reaching out for help. Late in our friendship, as we both aged, he did confess to having been gravely abused as a child. Sad to hear, but healthy in that he could talk about it to a friend at last. It explained a lot about his phobic behaviour, even though he was always admired by colleagues and other friends over those many years.

Fast forward to the present, heart failure, hospitalization and some life-saving coronary procedures have a way of focusing the mind, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, I was talking to my eldest daughter about archiving and tending to my written works -- published and unpublished - and she mentioned my old friend who wrote and wrote what I considered a masterpiece, but, far as I know, hid his light under a bushel all these years. 

She suggested contacting him, and proposing to help him publish his work if he had not done so already. It is an assiduously researched original compendium on how -- due to linguistic hard wiring-- humans build meaning from metaphor, not just in legend and fiction, but in constructing our most cherished belief systems. These include, most emphatically, those social and cultural constructs in which movements rise and fall. Understanding their metaphoric basis, far from discounting them, leads to understanding systems lucidly. I can testify to this in that I've used the clear metaphoric model that he originated as a template to understand and predict current events for years now. it works! 

I wonder how many significant written works have lain fallow in someone's archives or desk drawers -- how many "Ghost Books." I suspect many. My friend's book is probably one of them, being as I am unlikely to find his manuscript and/or computer files at this juncture and searches reveal no trace of it's being published, independently or otherwise. I can only offer an illustrated sample from memory here -- ideas, vivid and useful all the same, but without the assiduous, scholarly corroborations that the original work presented. 

I finally sucked it up and phoned the two numbers. Neither offered conclusive evidence of his fate, although the evidence from all sources indicates that he is gone now, in one way or another. It would be a sin for my friend DMS' discoveries to fade away with him, even if he had met his end, as we all must.  For start, I've provided a very simplified outline of the basic ideal system here, with hopes I can one day find that manuscript if he left it behind and do what I can, as promised to see that it is published in some fashion:

Dino Moro Sanchez' - Universal Model of Metaphors
Through recorded history, societies have organized themselves around basic metaphors, although generally without their members acknowledgement. These metaphoric ideologies, or belief systems revolve around, evolve and organize themselves (as referenced and/or implied by leaders, historians, the powerful and their subjects, regents and revolutionaries) are:

ON THE IDEOLOGICAL RIGHT (Generally, but not always):

- An organismic order in which each branch, leaf, root, blossom, contributes harmoniously to the whole. Examples are kingdoms and empires perceived as having been  in their ideal, so-called golden ages along with peaceful villages and agrarian cultures, e.g. The Pax Augustus period of the Roman Empire, Elizabethan England, also, utopian communal settlements, St. Augustine's City of God, or Ronald Reagan's sloganesque "Shining City on a Hill."  Various theocracies like today's Iran, the Catholic Church and Medieval Europe, Louis XIV France, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Athens (to some degree)
Advantages: Security, cohesion, order, artistic excellence within approved boundaries.
Disadvantages: Stagnation, conformity, a tendency towards suppression and authoritarianism, inequality, rigid class structures.

 Jungle mural promoting "Madagascar"
: Every individual for himself -- the mythological American Frontier, the libertarian -Ayn Rand world in which unfettered individuals in unbridled competition produce innovation and excellence in ultimate creative, artistic, scientific, political freedom -- or a dystopic social Darwinism, either way, nightmare or dream. Here in the jungle it can be might makes right, but freedom makes the risks worth it. The "invisible hand" guides this society of self-seeking individuals to higher development, competition weeding out what is inferior. This is the Laisse Faire utopia. entrepreneurial Mecca,, elevating the myth of meritocracy, in deep denial about historic racial and class factors.
Examples: Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, Wall Street, the so-called Wild West, etc.
Advantages: Maximum economic and political freedom, promotes innovation,
Disadvantages: Incentivises destructive, anti-social behaviours over merit and creativity, neglects social and political support systems, promotes income disparity, puts undue emphasis on profit over all other social and individual values, denigrates ethics.

(ON THE LEFT (Generally)

(Polar opposite of The Tree, but like it, unitary): Society is organized as a machine coordinated under a single authority or mission - usually defined through the state, governed by a cohesive ideology and a technocratic elite.  Like "the Tree" the individual exists only to benefit the whole, with discipline, under stringent rules.
 Examples include Sparta, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Red China under Mao, North Korea, modern corporations.
 Advantages: Efficiency, cohesiveness, clear organization, military power, emphasis on technology.
 Disadvantages: Political and creative repression, paranoia, hubris, aggressiveness, overreach, stagnation.

 Particle array at CERN 

: Societies (and the universe) are seen as byproducts of atoms (and subatomic particles) colliding in billiard-ball fashion, forming and breaking up according to the random laws of chance. Like the jungle (of which it is the polar opposite) it's a to-each-his-own,, the individual is everything, and social structures devoid of intrinsic meanings.
Examples: Revolutionary France during the Reign of Terror, Mao's Cultural Revolution in China, Warlord rule in early 20th-century China and midcentury Africa, the Fall of the Roman Empire to barbarian hordes sacking cities.
Advantages: Individual freedom, innovation, social mobility.
Disadvantages: Tendency towards chaos, bullying, emotional and creative desolation, breakdown of social order.

THE DYNAMICS: Evolution v. Revolution, left v. right, tradition v. change.

All societies, organizations, ideologies, belief systems and movements incorporate one metaphor or the other, but not at the same time.

None remain static. All undergo change - some quickly, some gradually -  morphing from one metaphor into another. This happens either through revolutionary (deliberate) action or evolutionary (natural) causes, simply driven by human nature and natural causes.

These changes follow predictable paths.
On the right: The Tree - or organismic entities tend to decay from single to the plural -- becoming The Jungle.

Commensurately, individuals in The Jungle find it advantageous to come together into unified organisms -- i.e. The Tree. Or they gravitate towards seeing themselves as atoms - go from evolutionary to revolutionary.
Examples: China deteriorated into chaos with the fall of the Emperor, corrupt nationalists, colonial powers and warlords, until Mao's reds won the civil war reorganizing China as an ideal "dictatorship of the proletariat" Marxist machine. 

On the left: The Atomistic Society becomes the Big Machine. The Big Machine breaks down into random colliding atoms..

And so it became useful as a tool as well as a template for societal organizing concepts - whether or not acknowledged formally..

This is but a bare-bones summary of Dino's high concept. He explained and documented all aspects of his theory its dynamics in his assiduously researched book of 1000 pages (at last count).

Maybe I'll try to blog about this, although Dino swore me to secrecy until he was ready, or had passed away -- provided if that was before me.

It's a "ghost book." Perhaps every piece of writing expands our consciousness, seen or unseen. Who knows? I am too old, and no scholar. The Metaphor Model awaits another to complete, in any case. 


Umberto Tosi's books include, The Phantom Eye, Sometimes Ridiculous, Ophelia Rising, Milagro on 34th Street and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published widely, most recently in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. His nonfiction has been published widely in print and online. He began his career as a journalist for Los Angeles Times and an editor for its prize-winning, Sunday magazine, West, and as editor of San Francisco Magazine. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to several of its anthologies, including Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult children. He resides in Chicago.


Enjoy my latest Hollywood noir detective thriller: The Phantom Eye (a Frank Ritz Mystery) newly released in paperback and ebook by Light Fantastic Publishing.

 "Tosi writes with tremendous style and a pitch perfect ear for everything that makes the classic noir detective story irresistible. Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, make room for Frank Ritz!" - Elizabeth McKenzie, best-selling author of The Portable Veblen.

"... reminds me of Chandler's The Little Sister, and The Big Sleep of course." - Actor playwright Gary Houston.



Bill Kirton said…
What a wonderful, fascinating dual, or should that be 'triple’ blog, Umberto?
The relationship with and search for the old friend has all the ingredients of an involving mystery. It then outlines a unifying theme whose importance for each of these seemingly very different individuals is self-evident, before sketching the basic tenets of what is obviously a shared belief system which both wish to broadcast more widely. Good luck with the ongoing search for your ghost book.
Wendy H. Jones said…
This is fascinating. Thank you

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