2.13 Identity Theft
Two weeks ago, I was riding on the subway. Across from me sat two young women. As usual, I was off in my own little world but tuned in when I noticed these young women stared at me as they attempted to suppress a fit of laughter. They finally exploded when they exited at the next stop. I am self-conscious on a day when everyone ignores me, so this threw me for a loop. Was my hair sticking up in bed-headed angles? My wardrobe inappropriately colour-matched? Fly down? Nothing seemed out of place.
Puzzled, I arrived home to a phone call from a friend and who informed me of my new celebrity status. “Go grab one of the free weeklies,” he said. “Check the advertisement on page 37.”
I immediately collected the recommended newspaper. There it was, on page 37, an advertisement for a hair growth spray: Me looking at me. But it wasn’t me. Was it?
I tracked down the advertisement on the internet and included it with this article. If you look in the top right hand corner, there was a ‘before’ picture and an ‘after’ picture. The ‘after’ picture was me, or someone that looked exactly like me. Confusion set in: I didn’t remember starting a career in modeling and I certainly didn’t remember taking this therapy that promised, ‘Quick hair regain in 7 days’.
At least the company used me as the ‘after’ picture. I lament every hair I find that falls. Every haircut makes me wonder: Is this the time baldness will begin its assault on my (for now) mostly covered head? I refuse to wear hats, even in the winter, as I was once told covering your head for large amounts of time promotes hair loss. But now this. Sure, I wasn’t promoting hair loss, quite the opposite, but I couldn’t help feeling violated in some way.
This led to a more disturbing stream of thought. There were two possibilities: 1.Without my consent, this company somehow used a picture of me to sell their hair growth spray; or 2.There is someone out there that looks exactly like me.
#1 is highly unlikely, but possible. Technology and access to private information on the internet through social networks such as Facebook could potentially make it easy for a company to steal a photograph and use it for something entirely different from its original intent. In this case, a hair growth spray.
#2 is probably the answer but this opened up an entirely new discussion in my head. Even though this person only looks like me, what are the parameters for a doppelgänger? If they are profiting off their looks in some way, and I look the same, should I not get a cut? If this person is out there, modeling for hair growth sprays, what else are they doing? And if people think it is me, will they also think that I am promoting this product? That because I am the ‘after’ picture in the advertisement, I believe that if they use this spray, the result is ‘Quick hair regain in 7 days’?
I ordered a box of the hair growth spray through the internet. When the package arrived, I invited my same friend who alerted me of my star status. He has been losing his hair for a steady few years and already tried acupuncture, various vitamin supplements and scalp massages. Nothing worked. Maybe this was his answer. He was to report back in 7 days so we could measure the results and see whether this product did what it proposed.
Let me say that we lacked confidence.
It was a long 7 days. The advertisement haunted me. Every newspaper I opened, there was my coiffed head staring back. I walked along a construction site: The plywood fence had rows of the advertisement stapled all the way down the street. People pointed, snickered, or at least I imagined them pointing and snickering.
Finally, my friend returned for our assessment. With a magnifying glass, I inspected his head. Nothing. Not even one bud. How could I walk around with people thinking I was promoting a product that didn’t work?
“There’s something else,” my friend said. “I’ve been reading about String Theory. There’s a book called The Hidden Reality by a Physicist named Brian Greene. He’s been on all the important talk shows like David Letterman and Stephen Colbert. Greene believes math suggests the possibility of alternate realities.”
“What does this have to do with hair growth spray?” I asked.
“It’s not proven – yet. But there is a theory that suggests everything, including us, is hologram-like. That true reality is only a thin bounding surface. A real hologram is a thin piece of plastic that you illuminate with a laser, creating a three dimensional surface. Us, sitting right here, might just be the three-dimensional surface created by complex mathematical equations. These mathematical equations might be a gateway to the multiverse. Your doppelgänger might be the suggestion that math has been potentially proposing since Einstein.”
“So, what you’re saying,” I said, “is that if we find this man in this advertisement, who looks like me, who might very well be me - if we find him, we could prove string theory, something that thus far has been unprovable?”
“A bit of a leap, but yes,” he said.
“I feel like we’re in The Matrix.”
My friend and I tracked down the company. They were located outside the city, on the outskirts of a small town. The building was monolithic, out of place in the rural surroundings. There was no sign out front, a barbed wire fence and a security guard. We drove up to the security guard. He took one look at me and waved us through.
Inside the building, the person at the front desk smiled at me and said, “Welcome back, Mr. Dore.” We tried to remain calm and made it look as though we’ve been here many times. The elevator operated by placing your thumb on a small platform where it read your print. It recognized my thumb, the doors closed and it started moving without us pressing any buttons. The elevator doors opened to a room full of people staring at computer screens.
My friend elbow-nudged me and whispered, “Every man in this office is bald.”
When you normally step into a room, you don’t notice if everyone in the room has hair. Nor are you surprised at baldness. However, under the circumstances, especially since it was a hair gain spray product that has brought us here, the fact that every person in this room was bald unsettled us immensely.
We were met immediately by a perfectly put together executive/important-looking man. He was also bald. We shook hands and he welcomed ‘me’ back and took us into his office. People pretended not to look.
“What can I do for you?” The executive asked.
“This is kind of a strange request,” I said. “But um, we’ve discovered you’ve been using my image for one of your advertisements.”
The man looked confused. “Of course we have,” he said.
“Well, I’d like them to stop. You see, people are associating me with a product that doesn’t really work. Item A: my friend here. He used the spray for 7 days and not even a bud.”
It was at this point that the man’s face dropped. He realized that I was Mr. Dore, but a different Mr. Dore. Yes, I was as confused as he was. He immediately called security, stood and tried to get us to leave.
As we were pushed out the doors, I said, “What is going on here?”
We were ushered back through the rows of people working at computer screens. One of the workers dropped a piece of paper on the floor in front of me. I picked it up without anyone noticing. We were escorted out of the building by security.
Down the street, we pulled the car over. I unfolded the piece of paper. There was a message: “Meet behind the McDonald’s in town.”
We waited at the McDonald's. Finally, a car drove up and a bald nervous-looking man approached us.
“I shouldn’t even be talking to you,” he said. “This isn’t a company that makes hair growth products. It is a front for a government agency that is doing research into black holes, string theory, time travel and parallel universes.”
“I told you!” My friend said.
“All useful things to explore that could explain many questions about the existence of multi-universes. It might show that our universe is only one of many.”
“The multiverse,” my friend said.
“Yes,” the nervous man said. “The multiverse.”
“What does this have to do with me?” I asked.
“I said it was a government agency, but this isn’t entirely true. The research has become controversial because it could provide evidence once and for all that existence is mathematical in origin. The people who head the company declared that they were going to prove that God had nothing to do with it. Because of the religious implications, the government stopped all funding. So the company went underground, privatized its funding and started pulling DNA from citizens like you.”
A black car pulled into the parking lot. The nervous man told us he couldn’t talk anymore, that they were watching. My friend and I returned to the car, not sure where to go from here.
We went to the local police sheriff. We explained the situation and the chubby man with the badge next to his heart suppressed laughter. He told us the most he dealt with around these parts was a few young kids causing trouble. But he would humour us 'city-folk' and we took a ride out to the company headquarters.
The security guard was gone and the parking lot empty. The front doors of the building were unlocked. Inside, the elevator took us to the floor we visited just a few hours before. Empty, everything and everyone was gone. The sheriff had a good laugh.
We returned home, scoured the newspapers but the advertisement was gone. We walked for hours looking for posters but none were found.
We agreed to pretend that nothing ever happened.