I’ve been mistaken for someone else several times (as I’m sure most people experience at some point in their lives). Occasionally it happened on the phone and more often in person. The thing about being mistaken for someone else in person is that you’re actually there while someone thinks you are another person altogether. This causes all sorts of awkwardness, not to mention embarrassment. Again this is something I’m sure everyone experiences to some extent, but I have a couple of instances that, um, stand out.
Once, not long after we married, Chrisie and I ate lunch with my dad. We went to our usual steak place and settled in the booth the hostess gave us. I kept getting a strange feeling while we waited to order, but dismissed it as my usual low-grade paranoia. I shouldn’t have.
We ordered and then Chrisie excused herself to go to the restroom. Mere seconds after she left the table and was out of sight, one of the waitresses approached and leaned in my personal space, completely ignoring my father.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve been staring at you.” So that was my weird feeling. I love proof I’m not completely paranoid.
“I didn’t really notice.”
“Well, I was. I thought you were someone else and I thought you had a lot of nerve to come in here with that skank -”
“HEY! That’s my wife!”
Her eyes widened in a clear attempt to intimidate our bread plates. “Wait, no, I don’t mean she is a skank. She would have been if you were who I thought you were. You’re not, so she’s not. If you had been him, she’d have to be a skank considering what you, I mean he, what he did. You’re not him.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have even come over. I am so embarrassed. Can we just forget this?”
“I’m afraid not. Someday I plan on writing this down for amusement.” Okay, I totally just made that up. What I really said was, “It’s okay, I guess. As long as we agree my wife is not a skank.”
“No, of course not. I’m so sorry. I’m so stupid. I’m so glad I’m not your server.” At least I think that’s what she said. She was backing up and began to mumble toward the end.
Dad and I were still a little dumbstruck when Chrisie returned. She took one look at us after she sat down and asked, “What happened while I was gone?”
“I have no idea.”
At least that situation involved far fewer police officers than one from several years before. I drove my truck from my apartment off campus to one of the virgin vaults to visit a friend (no, really, we were just friends). I scored an excellent parking space right outside the building and went in.
An hour or so later, I walked back into to he lobby to leave. Another friend of mine who was a Resident Assistant at the dorm was at the desk. She looked up at me and said, “I just knew you were in the building.”
“Why? Because you saw my truck right outside?”
“No, because people keep asking me to call campus police.”
“Oh. Wait . . . what?”
“People want me to call campus police.”
“Because of you.”
“Because of me.”
“People want you to call campus police because of me.” No matter how much I repeated it, it just sounded wrong. “Did you call campus police?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
“But they wanted you to.”
I was about to ask what I was missing when I noticed a commotion outside.
“Why are campus police looking over my truck?”
“Because someone must have called campus police.”
“But you said -”
“I didn’t call campus police, but I’m sure someone else did.”
“Because they saw your truck.”
“Look, if I ask nicely will you please explain what’s going on?”
“You mean you don’t know?” she laughed.
“No, I really don’t know.”
I sat down as she explained there had been a couple of rapes (and another attempted) on campus all perpetuated by who campus police believed to be the same man. Since I am definitely not a rapist, I failed to see what this had to do with me. Then she brought me the flyer from the bulletin board. It was a simple notice that read:
BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR APPROXIMATELY 20 YEARS OLD WHITE MALE 5-6 FEET TALL LONG BLOND HAIR-SHOULDER LENGTH WEARS A BLUE JACKET CARRIES SOME TYPE OF BADGE DRIVES AN ICE_BLUE NISSIAN TRUCK -SMALL -BANGED UP CALL PUBLIC SAFETY IMMEDIATELY
So there I was is the lobby of a girls’ dorm. A 19-year-old, 5′ 7″ white male with long shoulder length blond hair wearing a blue wind breaker. At least I didn’t have any type of badge and my truck was a Ford (that was blue and small, but not banged up).
“I’m not a rapist,” I said.
“I know,” my friend consoled me, “but you kind of, sort of, match that description a bit.”
I held and stared at the flyer. I wanted to point out that most of the student population was “approximately 20 years old.” I also wanted to congratulate Public Safety on narrowing down the height to a range that includes the majority of men. I wanted to scream that no one could drive a “NISSIAN” truck because such a brand did not exist.
I didn’t do any of that of course. I knew it would be futile, so I did the only thing that made any sense. I asked for a copy of the flyer.
“Why would you want that?”
“Well, someday I’ll tell this story and I want proof.” And that is exactly what I said and meant.
I drove away without incident. I did quit driving on campus for a while after that and kept that particular wind breaker in the closet. The real culprit was eventually caught and people stopped getting nervous when I was around at night.
Mostly, it gave me a sense of perspective for when I’m mistaken for someone else. Almost anything is better than being called a rapist. If I happen to forget, I just pull out that flyer. I kept my copy, just in case.