It would be nice to be confused with a movie star. The only time I was the subject of mistaken identity was when I was turned in as an armed robber.
It was back when I was a reporter working the crime and courts beat, and I was worn out after a long, long day. I filed my last story and dragged myself to a fast-food restaurant to vegetate with some deep-fried vegetables and a shallow book that wouldn’t endanger the one brain cell that remained.
Strangely, three people worked on my order, taking care to make sure everything was just right. I grunted a weary thanks and slunk off to the booth in the far corner. I opened my book, scrunched behind it and began munching fries.
A couple minutes later, I noticed a patrolman walking in one door. Instead of ordering, he leaned against the wall and glanced about as if waiting for someone. A few paragraphs later, I looked up to see a sheriff’s deputy at the other door doing the same thing.
As the watchful officers ignored each other, I ignored them and went back to reading.
Then a packet of four people strode through the first doorway. I recognized them as police and sheriff’s detectives I knew from my daily rounds.
I was wiped out and didn’t feel like talking shop. I slunk a little lower in the seat and hid behind my book.
Peering over the pages, I saw the lead guy, Detective Kenny, at the counter. The restaurant manager, without looking at me, nodded in my direction. Kenny turned around and glowered, his hand pressed to a leather bulk on his hip.
Reluctantly, I raised my head from the book and gave a little wave.
Kenny’s eyes popped out. Then he burst out laughing hysterically. “That,” he gasped to the manager, “that’s just Burt.”
“Man,” he said coming back to me with the other five lawmen in tow, “they thought you were that gunman who’s been holding up all the drug stores in town!”
Wiping tears from his eyes, Detective Kenny said, “Yeah, ridiculous, isn’t it?”
“OK,” I agreed.
“You’re wearing a blue parka like in the description. And I gotta say, you look really awful, dude!”
“It’s been a long day,” I said.
“That’s about the only things that fit. The perp has a beard. The scraggles on your chin barely count.”
“Thanks. I guess.”
“And the robber is a tough guy. Muscular. A real man.”
“Yeah, that’s … hey, wait a minute! And what did you mean by, ‘That’s JUST Burt’?”
“I mean, we’re not talking some wimpy marshmallow who’d cower in a corner behind some sissy book.”
“I have half a mind to slap you silly with my notebook right now.”
“What a hoot! You. A man of danger. Sheesh! See you around, Puffy.”
“Hey, I could be dangerous,” I spluttered to their backs. “I demand to be taken in for questioning!”
“What a goofball,” Kenny chuckled as the posse chortled their way out the door.
The manager came over to apologize. But I was too upset to let him off the hook.
“You were right to be concerned, sir,” I said. “I can be vicious and vile. Yeah, that’s right, I’m bad! Oh, here, you gave me a nickel too much change.”
And then I walked out, leaving a dirty napkin on my table. It bothered me to do so but sometimes you just have to prove to people that you’re not someone to be trifled with.