One of the consistently pleasurable experiences in my life is reading the morning papers. I enjoy at least three physical newspapers a day. There’s something about the tactile sensation of holding newsprint and the visual expression of the news that works better for me in print than on any screen. Also, the newspaper has many other utilitarian uses, trash can liner, fish wrapper, glass cleaner, etc.
I start with the New York Times, move on to The Guardian, and conclude with my local paper, the San Juan Reporter.
This morning in the Reporter I note a follow-up story concerning a bicyclist victim of a hit and run automobile accident. I read the initial story yesterday. However, the victim was not identified pending notification of next of kin.
The accident occurred within six blocks of my home on a street where I frequently bike. Therefore, I’m interested in determining the name of the victim. Perhaps, it was someone I knew or had biked with in the past.
The first name immediately catches and holds my attention, “Vernon.” Wow! That’s my first name. I don’t know another Vernon, who resides in this area.
I hold my breath as I glance at the middle name, “Rodrick.” Fuck! That’s my middle name too. My hands are shaking so bad that I have to lay the paper flat on the table, re-adjust my glasses, and take a deep breath before I read the last name, “Jennings.”
For a moment everything goes black, and I’m unable to catch my breath. I wipe my sweaty brow and conclude with a nervous chuckle, that this is obviously an error. A mistake. Someone transposed a name or, or I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but it’s highly unlikely that someone living in my neighborhood has exactly the same name as I do.
Or, or this is some kind of sick joke. I should call the newspaper and get a clarification. I can explain to the Editor that my name’s Vernon Rodrick Jennings and that I am very much alive. Somehow, the victim must have, I don’t know, stole my identity. Yes, that’s the most plausible explanation. Wow! It just took a moment to figure that out.
I take a deep breath and return to the article. What the hell. The victim is 45 years old. I’m 45 years old. Definitely, this is a case of identity theft.
I get up, pour myself another cup of coffee. I take one sip and set the coffee down. I go to the refrigerator and take out a beer. I pop the top and drink half the beer in one swallow. I pace around my kitchen and living room. I check my bedroom and my wallet rests comfortably where I left it. I pinch myself. I look in the mirror. I sit back on the couch, finish the beer, open another and steel myself for contacting the San Juan Reporter. This’s a genuinely unnerving experience.
Well, something has gone right this morning. It only takes me one call and two transfers to reach the City Desk Editor. I explained my plight to the middle-aged sounding Editor, and she’s at once sympathetic, considerate, and understanding. She promises to immediately confirm the identification with the authorities and to call me back as soon as she hears from them. This kind woman assures me that this is only the third time that this type of event has occurred in her 20 years in the newspaper business. In each case, the issues were quickly clarified, and the appropriate notifications and corrections were made.
I’m relieved beyond my expectations. My first instinct’s to jump on my bike and go for a ride. Biking’s one of the exercises that greatly relieves my stress. However, in light of the circumstances, I think I’ll walk instead. But, as I’m putting on my walking shoes, it occurs to me that Lucille, my long time, for want of a better word, girlfriend, might have seen this article. It’s unlikely that my kids and family in Oxford, England, and Stockholm would have gotten this news.
My call goes directly to Lucille’s voicemail, “Lucy, Lucy, listen if you read today’s Reporter, and you see the article identifying the hit and run bicycle accident victim, please, do not panic. The newspaper has somehow switched my identity or confused my identity, or my identity has been stolen, but just know that I am here alive and well and safe and sound, and I have not experienced any bike accident. I love you. Call me when you get this message.”
Shit! I forgot to call the office. I hope none of them have seen that blasted article. I’m a founding partner in Jennings, Okamoto, and Garcia, LLC. We’re one of the most influential lobbying firms in Northern California.
“Hello, Hello Meredith, this’s Vernon…” Hello, hello Meredith this is—“
“Sir, whoever you are, I don’t know why you’re doing this. This’s a very sad moment for us. I would hope that you would understand that.”
Meredith hangs up on me. What the fuck!
I call Danny Okamoto on his private cell phone number. The call immediately goes to voicemail. “Danny, this’s Vernon. I know you recognize my voice. However, our new receptionist didn’t. I called a moment ago. I think I need to come into the office and let everyone see that I’m alive and well. I hope to have this, this confusion cleared up by the end of the day. Call me when you get this message.”
Five minutes later Danny calls me back. “Asshole, I don’t know how you got Vernon’s telephone. And I really don’t care. What you’re doing is absolutely disgusting and sickening. I have alerted the police to your impersonation. Goodbye, asshole.”
I take deep breaths. I do a calming mantra. I try to clear my mind as I put on my walking shoes. I need to walk for a while. I’m in no condition to drive. I find myself walking one of my usual walking and bike routes. I’m trying to clear my mind, and I look up and see that I am approaching the spot of the bicycle hit and run accident. I have this tremendous desire to turn and sprint away from there as fast as my legs will carry me. I’m hyperventilating and sweating like a rainstorm. I’m locked into place unable to take the next step forward and trying to avoid a panicked retreat. It’s all too much. I slump to the sidewalk with my head between my knees. I try to recover as best I can what little sense of self, order, and sanity I can find.
Eventually, I come to my senses and my feet. I back away from the accident scene and jog back to my house. I rip off my clothes and turn the shower to ice-cold. I step into that stream of arctic water and hope that it’ll restore my sense of balance. My phone rings. I rush to answer. It’s the City Desk Editor.
“Please, please call me Jennings or Vernon or Rodrick, anything but Sir. I’m having a very rough day here. If you could just affirm my existence with a few kind words it will make all the difference to me.”
“Well, well, Mr. Jennings, Sir, the police confirm that the victim’s correctly identified and resided in the 1400 block of Sixth Avenue. Sir, I don’t understand what’s happening here. However, I can text you a copy of the driver’s license that the police used to make the initial identification.”
“No, no that will not prove anything. The victim must have stolen my identity, manufactured false IDs. What a maddening mess this is. Is there anything else? Anything at all that you could do to help me resolve this? Frankly, it’s about to drive me crazy.”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. At last, the Editor tells me, “Sir, I probably shouldn’t reveal this. However, I feel your distress. The victim had a two-inch-long surgical scar on his upper right arm between his shoulder and elbow and a small scar on his right eyebrow. Sir, Mr. Jennings—“
I close out the call and collapse on my couch. I look at the recent photo of Lucy and me.
I examine the scar on my right eyebrow as I scratch at the scar on my upper right arm. What’s happening? I must be losing my mind. The world’s tilting and I’m losing my grip.
It hits me like a bolt out of the blue. The police must have called my son, Langston, in Oxford. Shit, he was the first emergency contact address in my wallet. Langston probably asked them about the scars to help make his identification of the victim.
I try to dial Langston, but my phone service has been canceled. What the hell? Ahh, it’s my office phone. Damn you Okomoto. I go to my land line phone. I call my son. He responds immediately. “I don’t know who the fuck you are. I have been warned about you. If you know what’s good for you, you will vacate my father’s house immediately. I’m directing the police there even as we speak. You’re one ghoulish son-of-a-bitch.” He hangs up.
Police arrived 10 minutes later. Two young women in their mid-30s and they are very gracious and understanding. They admit that everything’s totally confused, but they accept my driver’s license as proof of identification, and they question my neighbor on my left, Ralph White. Ralph confirms that I am indeed Vernon Rodrick Jennings. He has known me for five years. The friendly young officers promised to try to straighten this matter out as soon as possible.
I use my land line to order my favorite Mexican food dinner from my favorite Mexican food restaurant. My office credit card is declined.
I consume every alcoholic beverage I have in the house. Fortunately, for me, I only have three beers and a five-year-old bottle of white wine.
I think the very best thing I can do is wait here for Langston and my daughter, Judith, to arrive. They’ll see me and know me and this nightmare will end.
Still, I don’t understand who the victim is, and how he can be my twin. It’s all in all one terrifying Twilight Zone episode. Rod Serling, where are you? It’s time to end this show.
In the midst of my alcoholic delirium, it occurs to me that my partners at work, the woman I have spent the last seven years with, and my two grown children have a choice to make. They can choose me, the living me, here to comfort and support them, to be part of their lives until my “real” death. Or, they can choose to accept the dead me instead. They have a choice.
My partners would benefit from having me gone. We have a generous insurance policy on each other. The three of us have gotten along well over the years that is how our partnership has flourished. However, my two partners have been persistent over the past year about broadening our customer base. I have blocked that kind of move arguing that it would dilute our brand. So, in the matter of income, which would substantially increase for the two of them, and insurance benefits and policy they might choose to see me dead.
On the other hand, Langston and Judith have never forgiven my divorcing their mother. My children and I are cordial at best. They would inherit my considerable wealth, erase their connection with a father who they claim is “distant, cold, and emotionally abusive.” I have never considered myself any of these. They have a choice of the living me or my dead twin. In my bones, I know the choice they will make.
My one hope is Lucille. I love that woman like I have never loved anyone in my entire life. Still, I think we have passed that decisive moment in our relationship where I had to commit to marriage and a long term togetherness or continue to move through life with our loose pairing. The latter’s far more appealing to me. I have no desire to engage in matrimony ever again. So, at this point, Lucy might find it to her advantage to accept the dead me in order to go in another direction. I mean, when you look at their bottom lines, a dead me is a lot more desirable to those closest to me than a living me.
I read the short news item over and over. I smooth out the paper on the table. I smell the newsprint ink. I fold the page around the story and tear out the article and pin it to my wall.
I sit here in my house in the dying light of evening and wait for one of my business associates and or family to open my door.
I’m not optimistic about the choices they will make.
I’m eager for the touch of tomorrow’s newspapers. Maybe there’s a correction, or retraction, and even an apology for misidentifying the dead man. I hope. I pray. I hope.
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