What happens when a guy meets another guy who’s a mirror image of himself? Colin Berry meets his doppelgänger.
I thought everyone was unique in the little town where I lived a few years ago. But people kept mistaking me for Patrick Pennington.
Usually it happened in Safeway. Once, it was the checkout girl, who burst into a certain smile I’d come to recognize.
“And how are you?” she beamed, scanning my orange juice. Her nametag said LUANNE. It was March, in Northern California, and Luanne was very tan and wore an aloha-print tie.
My wife and I had moved to town a few years ago, working as writers in the redwoods. You’d have thought that in a place this small, everyone would know everyone else. But in all the times I’d been to Safeway, Luanne had never said two words to me.
I knew what was going on: She thought I was Patrick Pennington. Patrick was a mortgage broker in town — a successful one, too, judging by the big laminated poster he had hanging outside the store. I knew from his poster that he and I were dead ringers for each other: shaved head, goatee, Irish eyes and features. It made for awkward situations.
Still, my policy is, no matter who you think I am, if you’re friendly, I’m friendly back. “Great,” I told Luanne. “Nice to get a break in this rain. How are you?”
She looked askance, like I should know how she was. “Hawaii??” she said, pointing at her tie. “Ten days?”
Whereas I was a relative newcomer, Patrick had evidently lived here for years; maybe he’d found some equity in Luanne’s house that had allowed her to take the trip.
She went on. “The twins’ birthday was Valentine’s Day—three years. I had to get away.”
“Absolutely,” I said.
By then, my name must have come up on her screen, because she seemed to realize I wasn’t the bald, bearded man she’d thought she’d been talking to.
“Well, great to have you back,” I smiled.
As I left, she gave me a wary glare.
It happened often, being mistaken for Patrick Pennington: by beefy guys in big-tired pickups in the post office parking lot; by church ladies at the café on Sunday mornings; by a rough-looking young man in a black sweatshirt, who clapped me on the back one afternoon at the Northwood bar, where I sat waiting for my wife.
“Dude!” he shouted, “How’ve you been?!”
“Uh — fine,” I said. “And you are —?”
“Awesome!” he answered, fishing out a cigarette. “Man, you missed it Saturday! Martha’s mom’s place!” Then: “Hey, buy you a beer?”
I was lucky Patrick Pennington was the kind of guy people wanted to buy a beer for and not drag outside for a fight.
“O-kay,” I said, awkwardly, wondering when to reveal myself.
But my stranger kept moving. “Listen, can’t hang, gotta run out to Parmeter’s.” He tossed a fiver on the bar. “He just bought a new pistol! But hey, enjoy! Talk to you later!” He waved his Winston from the door. “See you at Pat’s!” — another local watering hole.
Maybe not, I thought.
Sipping my free beer, I considered how popular Patrick Pennington was in this town. Everybody seemed to be his friend. Could I? I’d like to meet the guy, I thought. We might sit together—maybe in this very bar—and toast our similarities. We had more in common than plenty of folks. People would see us together and smile. “The Pennington Twins!” they’d say.
Still, Patrick and I kept missing one another.
One Saturday, I stopped by the Home Expo, an eager annual event where Realtors, contactors, pest control guys, and other home-related businesses convened in the school gym. I was studying a septic system brochure when a very attractive woman approached me. She was blonde, and her smile caught my eye from several tables away.
(Something else to know about our town: Beautiful women were rare. I was married to one, and knew of a couple of others, but in our community, genuine female attractiveness was as scarce as a parking ticket.)
At five yards, she gave me a look reserved for lovers. I was taken aback. She was flirting, boldly, and in the millisecond I had to say or do something clever, she stepped close enough to look me squarely in the face—and whirl away in horror.
What the hell was going on?
When I turned around, everything fell into place. There behind me, manning his own booth, was my doppelgänger, Patrick Pennington. The blonde was his lady, for God’s sake. She’d mistaken me for him.
Pretty as she was, at that moment I chose to stare at Patrick, whom I’d never actually seen in person. Our eyes met. It sounds cliché, but it was exactly like looking into a mirror: same polished head, same trimmed beard, same eyes and eyelashes. Even our smiles were alike. He was completely familiar—a total stranger.
For a few seconds neither of us spoke.
“People keep thinking I’m you,” I offered, tentatively.
“Yeah, I heard something about that,” he said. Even his voice was similar. It was spooky.
Finally I had to ask: “Do people ever think you’re…me?”
He considered this. “I think once somebody did,” he said. He seemed to be sorting something out in his head. Our connection was unfurling, and I stood there frozen, savoring those first moments of what I figured would be a long friendship with Patrick Pennington.
He was still smiling when he spoke. “So,” he said, “were you interested in doing some refinancing?”
And that was it.
Patrick and I, it turned out, were nothing alike. Utterly identical, yet completely different. I strung words and sentences into stories; he brokered mortgages and re-fi’s. I’d been intrigued at meeting my doppelganger; he could have just as easily been washing his car, or buying orange juice at Safeway. In the end, all we had in common was our looks, our taste in women, and our little town — where, it turned out, everyone really was unique.