"This is Mark Moorhead from New Times, right?"
A publicist asked me this a few weeks ago, when I called to inquire about a screening. Sure it is, I told her, puzzled. I had often talked to her; I was pretty sure she knew which publication I wrote for by now. Then she explained to me why she asked -- she thought she might be hearing from the other Mark Moorehead.
The other movie critic Mark Moorehead.
It was no joke. For several months now, it turns out, the film reviewer for the Wrangler News, a small-circulation community free-sheet serving south Tempe and north Chandler, has been a guy by the name of Mark Moorehead. A few days after this conversation, somebody else who had seen this guy's byline told me she assumed that it was me, working at the other paper as a sideline.
Well, I thought, sooner or later this other M.M. and I are going to meet at a screening or something, and if it's going to result in a major matter/anti-matter interface resulting in some sort of dimensional implosion on a galactic scale or something like that, we might as well get it over with. So I called the Wrangler News, got in touch with MM2, and made a date for lunch at P.F. Chang's at Centerpoint.
I was late. He was on time. He's almost 10 years older than I am, but he has a fuller head of hair. He's in better shape. He's better dressed. He's taller. I felt a little anxious shaking hands with him. Apparently I'm MM2, not him.
Ah, but there are differences, thank God. The most obvious is the name -- his is spelled with an e between the r and the h, English-style, like Agnes, as opposed to my Scottish-style spelling. In the U.K., I'm told, our names wouldn't be pronounced the same; his would be Moorehead, rhymes with "forehead," and mine would be Moorhead, rhymes with "poor head." Moorehead shows me a genealogical document from the 1920s that had belonged to his father, showing that the English "Moorehead" and the Scottish "Moorhead" and "Muirhead" all have distant origins in the same Scottish clan.
So we're family after all. We sit and order, then my new cousin launches into his tales.
The first concerns how he ended up out here in Arizona, not long after he dropped out of law school at the University of Detroit when his first marriage had become turbulent. He was threatened, he says, by the brother of his Iranian first wife.
"He was a revolutionary guard for Khomeini," Moorehead says. "He was displeased, to say the least, about my marriage to his sister. She was supposed to return to Tehran after her education. When she refused to and married me, he said he had an obligation to kill me, in a very serious way. He said, 'I will come there, kill you, kill her, kill myself, and then we'll all go to heaven,' and it would all be okay then. . . . I was curious about those guarantees, but I dismissed it until her parents told me how easy it was for Iranians to obtain visas in Istanbul, and that he had connections and could very well do this and that I should be very cautious. That put a crimp on my law school career, and the marriage."
He landed in Phoenix after his divorce and started an insurance agency in Scottsdale. But "1989 was not an ideal year to start an insurance agency," he ruefully recalls. "Lots of bankruptcies, the Savings and Loan debacle . . . I lost a lot of money."
Thereafter, Moorehead went to work in the claims department of another insurance company. He's still a claims adjuster, which sometimes takes him to disaster scenes -- he worked the Northridge earthquake and Hurricane Andrew.
Our crab wonton appetizer arrives. As we munch, Moorehead tells me how he met his second wife, local freelance writer Lynda Exley, while hiking, his major pastime; they have a five-year-old son. He started writing for Wrangler News about two years ago after a long career as a writer of letters to the editor. "I would submit articles, 'cause I'm very active in our little community in south Tempe," recalls Moorehead. "So I'd do articles on stuff like the Kyrene School Board, you know, very innocuous." When the previous film and video critic left, however, the editor asked Moorehead if he wanted to take over, and Moorehead readily agreed. "I have a theatrical background. My parents were involved in community theater, I was involved in community theater, took a film class in college. I'm a big film buff."
Our main courses arrive. Almond and cashew chicken for Mark Moorhead -- perfectly edible, but also perfectly ordinary -- and a concoction called vegetable chow fun for Mark Moorehead. While we dig in, Moorehead backs up, and starts his story from the beginning.
Like me, he's from the Rust Belt. One of nine children, Moorehead grew up near Detroit City Airport. His father was a roofing contractor with an aforementioned passion for community theater, while his mother's passion was for local Republican politics. Meaning to follow in the latter's footsteps, he attended college at the University of Michigan, majoring in political science.
"She was so involved in Republican politics, she ran for state representative in '66. Children growing up in that environment want to go into politics." Moorehead got involved in Richard Nixon's campaign in 1968, when he was 14 -- he claims Nixon's headquarters in D.C. sent him all their news releases and position papers, assuming he was the local campaign organizer.
"But then I evolved," he says. "First year in college, I'm working for McGovern's campaign, and my parents disown me. Then in 1974, I start working for the Human Rights Party at Michigan State University. My opinion then was that the Democrats and the Republicans were nothing but lackeys for a capitalist system, and I don't have time for any of them. The Human Rights Party's where it's at. In fact, the Human Rights Party seemed to me a little too conservative, so I moved two years later to the Socialist Workers' Party. You can imagine my parents, the hysteria. I mean, I was hangin' around with Trotskyites. I was quoting the Communist Manifesto to my parents at Christmastime." Surprise, surprise, the pendulum has since swung back; Moorehead now calls himself a moderate Republican.
Moorehead also took a brief turn as a history teacher at a working-class Michigan high school. "It was depressing," he says. "I was a police officer. I had kids keying my car." Despite his disappointment, he often thinks about returning to teaching. One of his sisters, with whom he was particularly close, died recently. She was an English teacher, and, says Moorehead, 2,000 people turned out at her funeral. "That was the impression she made on people as a teacher. I thought, 'Maybe I missed the boat.'"
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I ask Moorehead if, during either his student or his teaching career in high school, he had suffered any of the same japes that I had, arising from our name. He gives me a but-of-course look.
"'More head, less brains,'" he quotes wearily. "Nothing original, of course. Then, when I was teaching, and I wrote my name on the board, you can imagine the snickers. All the girls saying, 'Oh, is that what you want?' Very embarrassing."
There's one more thing I have to know. All my life, I've had my name misspelled his way -- with the extra e. Has he ever had his name misspelled my way?
"Oh, all the time," says Mark Moorhead. Sorry, make that Mark Moorehead.