I think I’m an average looking guy. Even a bald head is not such a novelty these days, so you are not as likely to notice me now as much as you might have singled me out some years ago had I been bald then. One thing I would assume, though: if you had a friend who looked somewhat like me and at some point noticed me across a street or a room, as you approached me, I am sure that you would notice enough differences not to confuse me with him for long.
I imagine something would have to be a dead giveaway. If not directly in my face, then the color of my eyes, or my clothes, the way I move, my choice of words, the sound of my voice—something. Even if I had an identical twin—which I don’t—there would have to be a tell.
This year was the third time I’ve run into someone who thought I was someone else. Not the casual mistake of an acquaintance. Not an old friend who has changed so much I have a hard time connecting his face to his name. Someone who adamantly and persistently insists that I am someone who he knows, and sees on a regular basis.
The first one on my list was a white guy of average height and build; seedy, smirky, he at first thought I was playing some kind of a game with him when I politely told him he must have mistaken me for someone else. He insisted we had been friends for years, and frequented the same watering hole just down the road. When I told him I don’t drink, he seemed genuinely confused, even hurt.
This was about a ten-minute walk from home; I saw him twice in the space of a few days, at the same place while out on a stroll. The second encounter was creepy. He approached me with a broad swagger, jolly and smug, apparently sure I’d drop my “pretense” from the other day and let him in on the joke. I again politely declined and repeated my assertion that he had confused me with someone else. The friendly façade dropped in an instant—he was getting pissed, so I got up in his face. In one of the strangest body-language morphs I’ve witnessed, it was as if rage and fear had plowed into each other headlong, and fear had won. In one instant, he looked as if he was just about to take a swing at me, in the very next moment, he backed away with a look of horror in his eyes. I gave him a cold stare, and you would have thought I had stuck a knife in his gut.
As I resumed my walk, he stalked me for a block, muttering, coming closer than backing off, as if the neurochemistry of fear and courage pushed and then pulled him. His pattern mirrored incidents in which an angry dog circled me, growling, barking menace, working up enough rage to attack. I watched him in my peripheral vision and maintained my stride, just a bit concerned that if I turned or stopped, he’d charge. Apparently fear or discretion prevailed, and he backed down.
The second incident on my list also took place while on a walk, also about ten minutes from home, but in a different direction. In this instance, I had taken my notebook to Steak & Shake, and worked on some story notes and lists; when it was time to meet up with Flo, this scrawny black guy approached me. The exchange was similar to the first encounter above, and this fellow also became quite pissed when I told him I didn’t know him. When I insisted the second time, he snarled, “I don’t like you since you shaved your head.”
That was a few years ago. This year, Flo and I were shopping together, and we split up to find different items, at a thrift store close to the Speedway race track. While scanning an isle for, I believe, a flavor of mustard I favor, this huge black guy came up to me. He was friendly, like we were pals. Like the two previous guys, he acted as if we regularly saw each other, as if it had only been a day or two since we’d last visited. He also seemed put out that I didn’t know him, as if there were something wrong with me, or else I was playing a cruel game on him. I calmly assured him I wasn’t who he thought I was, and he started dropping names of people we supposedly knew, as if he were trying to jog an amnesiac’s memory. After blankly shaking my head at six or eight names I’d never heard before, he became impatient, perhaps a bit angry. I tried to excuse myself and slip past him, but he blocked my way and became more insistent. He threw two or three more names at me, and nothing rang a bell. I think we got the willies at the same moment, and just parted ways. Still curious, I cut to the front of the store, intending to stake out a place where I could watch him leave, see what kind of vehicle he got into, or which direction he took – but he was simply gone. I grid-searched the store, but never got another glimpse of him.
In all three cases, I made a point of getting up close enough, talking enough that something should have clued them in to the fact that I wasn’t who they thought I was. In case number two, apparently my “double” had started shaving his head around the time I did. In all three instances, instead of realizing their mistake, not one of them could be convinced I wasn’t who they thought. Of the three, the huge black guy seemed more upset and confused instead of angry, though the choice of street names he tossed off at me added him to the other two as volatile characters I would not likely count as friends.
The one thing that puzzles me about my own behavior in each of these instances, is that in none of them did it occur to me to ask the name of my apparent double. If this happens again, that will definitely be my first question.