attended university for some reason. While there I had a very strange experience. First semester, first week, a professor was doing attendance. That was strange enough at the university level, but what happened next was statistically nothing short of incredible.
I could feel the kid next to me turn and stare as my name was called. Then his name was called. And it was my turn to twist my neck and stare. We stared at each other in amazement. Wonder. Even the professor scratched his head.
But for a three letter suffix at the end of this complete stranger’s surname our names were identical. First and last.
Until that day we’d never met. Never uttered a word to one another. Seating in the classroom was at our discretion. Random. Somehow two people of the same age, enrolled in the same program, who shared 85% of the same name had plunked down next to one another.
I supposed having the exact same name would have been quite something. But my name isn’t Michael Smith or Mohamed Ahmed. It’s a bit off the beaten track. So the odds on an 85% match was remarkable.
Memorable to say the least.
The other day I got a call from a Hollywood producer. And not to abuse a term, this is a bona fide Hollywood money man who’s movies I did not have to dig up from the annals of the internet to watch. I’d seen them all. And liked them very much.
He’d come across some of my work. Not my screenwriting but my directing work. And that’s a pretty small body of work, I have to tell you. He was calling to tell me that he liked what he’d seen.
Now, when a guy who spends millions of dollars on motion pictures tells you he likes your motion pictures… Time sort of stops.
Often I mentally step out of a conversation. Sometimes even during very important conversations. I mentally step out and start analyzing the conversation itself. The interaction. Sometimes I just contemplate things like how telephones work. I try to control this habit as much as possible.
When bona fide Hollywood players call me up, however, I usually only mentally step out to wonder one thing: Are you sure you’ve got the right guy? I only think it. Bite my lip. Are you sure you’re talking about me?
I attended university for three years. At the end of that period I had a one on one pre-graduation interview with one of my professors. He began by telling me that I was a bit of an enigma to him. My work was often very good but then other times it was not very good at all. And my lack of attendance, he said, was rather unacceptable–
Hang on. You can bash my work. That’s fine. But my attendance is solid. He checks his notes. Furrows his brow. Wait– Aren’t you “Michael Smithson”?
No, damn it! I’m “Michael Smith”!
He’d confused me with my phonetic doppelgänger. And for how long, who knows. The entire three years? Had other professors done the same? I know that to the other students I’d become known as the other guy. So that wasn’t great. And who’s work was good vs who’s work was not very good at all is one for the ages. But I did graduate, that much I know.
Even after we hang up, the feeling stays with me. Every time. Every time I get off the phone after an incredible call. A call from someone who can truly help me realize what often times feel like impossible dreams. All I can do is wonder. Am I really the person they think I am? Did someone read the credits wrong? Is my doppelgänger still out there? Am I ever living off his thunder? Is he ever living off mine?
It’s not til the follow up email that I know for sure.