Though some have conjectured that Sonoma’s preponderance of non-profit agencies is heading us toward a town-wide audit by the IRS, I’m more inclined to acknowledge the good work that these organizations graciously heap upon our citizenry. That is, every organization except the Sonoma Panel of Eclectic Wisdom.

Non-profit bylaws require that SPEW has a board of directors and a seat had apparently opened according to a letter I found tucked amongst the fan-mail that littered my desk Monday morning. The irritation of having Flash Lely’s correspondence dumped on my desk (again – apparently there was no room left on his desk) waned when I opened the sole letter written to me. It read: “Mr. Howell, it has come to our attention that you may have the intellectual, spiritual and social characteristics we seek in members of our board. A seat has opened with the recent and sad passing of one of our founders, for which you may be qualified.”

I was flattered and immediately made an appointment for an interview, which I later sailed through with aplomb. However, I stumbled when saying my goodbyes because I couldn’t remember all 19 of the board members’ names. They simply chuckled and informed me that they don’t use their real names on the board anyway, but rather an alpha-numeric code, with which I too would be christened after my “past-life regression analysis.”

Yes, I was skeptical, but then, clearly, so were they about me. I was fitted with electrodes as I reclined on a ratty chaise lounge and began answering questions that eventually lulled me asleep. When I awoke, the panel’s expressions contorted into the kind of horrified look most often seen on Maori masks. This, I took to mean, that I was some kind of revolting personage in my former incarnation. A knot formed in my gut as every misgiving I’ve ever had about myself bubbled into consciousness like some fetid folio of unfortunate traits. My repressed penchant for megalomania, of course, came to mind as did the sociopathology I stifled by quitting that telemarketing gig in college. Or perhaps it was the Machiavellian means with which I choose my drinking buddies and how shear venality clouds my loftier ambitions like lemon curdling milk in tea. I realized I was a prime candidate for a despot’s recycled soul. I’ve heard the name Rasputin muttered in my presence; and plainly that man at the bar was saying “Goebbels” when he was pretending to sneeze. Could it be worse? The panel’s pallid faces suggested so – but who?

“Mr. Howell,” the Elder 36B began gravely. “We regret to inform you that we cannot accept your membership to the panel due to revelations found in your past-life regression.”

“Who was I?” I pleaded. “Or do I want to know?”

“There’s nothing to tell. You’re not an old soul at all. You’re a newbie, a first-timer,” he said in a condescending tone, before adding, “An amateur.”

“So, I’m a new soul?” I asked, incredulous. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything. You’re obviously dharma-challenged,” came the riposte.

“Dharma? What is that – ‘drama’ for dyslexics?” I chortled. “Cosmically, I’m green. Hey, green is in, isn’t it?”

A collective sigh wafted from the panel, cruel like a sea breeze from the pools of Hell.

“You’re bound to make all manner of mistakes in this life and we just can’t have that kind of liability on the panel,” Elder 36B admonished.

“Besides, we’re all being reincarnated together – who will take your seat in the next life?”

“An older version of the younger me?”

The panel conferred amongst themselves, muttering and making the occasional furtive glance. Had I finally stumped them with my storied rhetorical finesse – the very qualification that led them to court me in the first place? They finally came to a consensus and in unison said,

“Get out.” I exited the boardroom while Elders 36B through 49C derided me as a “cosmic infant,” but not in those words.

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