I have a celebrity last name. Savvy strangers assume a connection to that fame. Most of the time, when they hear it, they cannot help themselves, and ask instantly and directly how or if 'we' are related. Happens nearly every time I say my name.
Tell a banker that your last name is Rockefeller, or let a War'shington insider hear your surname as Obama. Watch what happens.
A person I loved very much used that feed, took my name and betrayed not only a trust, but a relationship, the after effects of which have lasted 22 years, until today.
Pete, a brilliant writer, was blocked on a rough manuscript for over three years. To help him out of that dormancy, I offered to edit and prepare his book for publication. He took me up on the offer and brought it tucked safely in a brown paper grocery sack -- all mixed up.
A month later, he took his new, neatly organized, 3-ring binder filled with a First Draft, made quick changes and self-published.
In typical "Pete-the-Publicist" style, he managed guest appearances on Sally Jesse Raphael, The Phil Donahue Show and Morton Downey Late Night. I have the tapes.
Before his first appearance, we role-played possible on air-questions at my dining room table. Needless to say, our investment in each other, in our friendship and in his book was not light.
The book did well at first.
Sales began to wane as he conjured new ways to increase his profits. One creative marketing technique, free, was to get high visibility in the now defunct, Houston Post, 7th largest newspaper in the US.
Ken Hoffman's column had a huge following and a distinct draw. Everybody knew it – get a letter in the Post, and watch your ratings...and sales...escalate. Fast. It was hard enough to get one letter published, let alone two.
Pete timed his submissions for the sole purpose of getting the letters published on high circulation dates, aka, Sundays.
He was good at working a plan.
Pete knew I rarely had time in those days to read the Post, so a letter for Hoffman's column would go unnoticed, he thought. It was a beautiful set up.
The first fictitious letter asked for help in 'dealing with a struggling marriage.' Fatal flaw: I was single.
I missed the first, but I certainly did not miss the second ... where he skillfully thanked the columnist, in my persona, for 'steering' ME in my "search for answers" to his all-capped, waning-in-sales and bolded, book title.
Divorced debutantes added his title to their coffers, just so they could mention Hoffman's 'recommendation', at the next social event, where Ken more than likely was in attendance.
People love celebrity.
Story short: Pete took something precious from me, albeit short-lived; he used my name and created a whole life for me in those letters.
During an In-Service seminar that week, wish you could have heard a colleague congratulating me about my letter in the Post the day before. After a bit of confusion,stunned disbelief and argumentation on my part, I asked two questions and knew what Pete had done –
(1) "Did the letter have anything to do with a book title?" and
(2) "Did it happen to mention a local author?"...
"Why YES! That's the one. So it was yours, BR!"
I raced home, got the Post, saw the letter and reference of another, short as they were, and called Hoffman, demanding disclaimers. Hoffman called me back after talking to Pete who, of course, denied the ruse. If he hadn't, he and the Post as well, could have faced some very stiff fines, and possibly litigation if I'd pressed the issue. The problem: I couldn't prove this perfect crime and they knew it. Especially Pete.
Hoffman's return call response: "Mr. D" has no knowledge of any letter, and feels very badly that this has happened. He sends his deepest regrets. In consolation, he wants to send you an autographed copy of his book." Hoffman even offered to be a celebrity guest at our next "Career Fair" as another consolation. What a prize, you say?
My flashing response: "Mr. HOFF-man, I have the original in a brown paper bag in my closet as we speak, remnants of the book that I personally edited for "MR. D."
Tell him this: I do not want or need his gift of remorse.
I wish I could remember word-for-word what I said in the final confrontation. It went something like: "I will write an article for a rival column, and create a whole life for you, Pete – and as you know, it will get published. Only mine will be much longer, and more detailed. Call it war if you like, friend. Which do you prefer, the pen or the sword?"
His cavalier response set the betrayal in stone: "Well, BR, some publicity is better than none at all!"
He used my name, not my writings, thinking no one would be the wiser.
His wife called about 8 years after the 'break up' and simply asked, "Is it over, yet?"
I know he was standing by the phone letting her test the waters, but I told her that the multiple betrayals were too great, where they have remained for twenty-two years.
Recently, a person I barely knew betrayed my trust, and the trust of several of my friends. The confrontation was simple and almost mono-syllabic: I asked him directly about the betrayal, and he responded directly with a heart-felt, remorse-driven reply. His sincerity convinced me, just like that.
Reading his words of remorse rang true, and with a flick of the wrist, it was over. Just like that. I forgave his stupidity, if that's really possible to do. I even think I told him he should be 'horse-whipped, drawn and quartered,' but left him with the notion that it was futile because he was mercilessly doing it to himself.
I never gave Pete that chance... for 22 years.
The one I loved, I banished from my life. The one I didn't, was accepted with no reservations. Just like that.
Last week, conflicted, I e-mailed Pete from his website under "Contact Us" using a pseudonym. No response. Last night I braved a call, but had to leave a message on his recorder. I don't know even if he is alive.
If you're reading this, Pete -- "Yeah, it's over." Call me.