I wrote this for my website, then decided to hijack it for the blog. There will be formatting glitches because I wrote it in Word.
Earlier this month, I received a letter at my home addressed to someone who, to my knowledge, has never lived here. (I know the names of the three previous residents, going back to 1998).
Normally, I would toss such a letter into the recycling pile. But this letter looked official. I’ve had a lot of problems with my mail lately simply because I tried to have it forwarded for a few weeks, so I didn’t want someone else to miss an important document because of a delivery snafu.
I opened it and discovered a bill for the first payment on a $30,000-plus loan on a 2008 Audi, purchased last month.
Hmmm. I looked outside. Nope, I’m still driving a Jetta. We did have a big anniversary in the house last month, so let me check again. Nope, I’m still driving a Jetta. (Don’t pity me. It has Sirius radio, a diesel engine that gets 45 miles to the gallon on the highway AND it’s paid for.)
I called Audi Financial Service. The customer representative was gratifyingly perturbed, which is not the experience I always have when trying to be a good citizen. My sightings of rare fowl, for example – a crane in San Antonio, an albino peahen in New Orleans – were not treated with the respect and gravitas that I thought they deserved. The rep asked that I send the bill back to Audi. End of story.
Two days later, something pinged my memory. I knew the name on the bill: It was one of my 1,000-plus Facebook friends.
No, I don’t have 1,000 friends. I probably don’t even have ten, if one defines friends as “people who will drive you to the airport and go to your house late at night when you are seven time zones away and check to see why your front door is open.” (Love you, Linda and John and everyone on this block-that-must-not-be-named!) And when I joined Facebook two years ago, I intended to “friend” only people I knew.
But I also wanted to use FB to reach out to readers and I didn’t want to be hierarchical, or say, “No, you can’t be my friend, but you can join my fan page!” I also did not want to use Twitter, another bit of social networking that publishers like authors to try. To paraphrase Linda Evangelista, I don’t get out of bed in the morning for 140 characters. So I opened up my Facebook page to anyone who requested friendship, although I always checked our mutual friends first. Since that time, I have declined to friend two people – a creepy guy (based on his page/preferences) and an author who did something really bitchy to a writer I consider one of the nicest people in the world.
Now the name of the Audi owner, to borrow a Facebook friend’s pithy observation, falls somewhere between John Smith and Keyser Sose in the continuum of commonality. I dropped the name into the Switchboard.com database and found 59 matches. My own yields only ten (none of them me) and yet I know I have been confused with at least one other Laura Lippman.
I already subscribe to a service that monitors my credit rating and credit card applications to help protect me against identity theft. There has been no activity on my account in the past month. And, remember, my name doesn’t appear on the loan payment for the Audi. Just my address, which — I know from many hapless delivery guys who rely on GPS systems — is one letter off from a street in Baltimore County, a part of the county where a new Audi seems a completely reasonable purchase even in these hard times. (Just glanced outside. Still driving a Jetta.)
So, I was leaning toward coincidence.
Then I did another search. Of the 59 people with that name in the United States, there is one a block away. His address is one digit off from mine. So one day, when I glance outside, I might see an Audi. But I’ll still be driving a Jetta.
But I also might have found an idea for the next novel.