We interrupt our usual program…..
Back in the early 1980s, there was this up-and-coming guy on television named David Letterman; our names, though spelled slightly differently, sound alike. We also both live and work in New York, and although we’ve never met, I have had a lot of fun with it.
It started in 1981, when I was paged at a supermarket in Malibu (why is a longer story; suffice it to say that she was at the checkout and I was at the magazine rack in the back). As I sprinted up to the front of the store, I saw that a crowd had formed, gawking and craning their necks for a celebrity sighting. I stopped, threw out my arms, and exclaimed, “Sorry folks, it’s only me!”
As that guy on television became more popular, the pace picked up. People started asking me to do stupid pet tricks. I don’t have a pet. I’ve always done a lot of business by phone; time and again I would call someone, his assistant would answer, and I’d announce myself as David Lederman calling for whoever. More often than not, the response was something like, “Yeah, sure”, “Yeah, right,”, “No, it isn’t”, or “Hahaha, this is Jay Leno”. Someone even hung up on me once, thinking it was a prank call.
From time to time, though, there have been benefits. I was working as an architect in the 1980s. When the time came to leave the small firm I was with, my then-boss made an introduction to Richard Meier, who, while not yet the starchitect he is today, was justifiably renowned. Calling Mr. Meier’s office to make an appointment, I said no more than my name, and I was put immediately through. When, a week or so later, I arrived for the interview, the receptionist turned bright red. Clearly she had thought that she was dealing with a famous client; just as clearly, someone had reminded her that she wasn’t to put anyone through.
Then someone decided that I look like Jay Leno; I’ve never seen the resemblance. At around the same time the requests for Top Ten Lists started. I was always at a loss for words until finally, during the Clinton years, I put one together: Bill Clinton’s favorite songs, including such hits as “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”, “Love to Love You Baby”, “Bad Girls”, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” and six other similarly themed tracks. And sure enough, someone at a party asked me for my Top Ten list. I rattled it off, emptying the room in the process. Being funny is a lot harder than it looks.
I should have remembered that lesson later on when, starting my own business, I cold called a man in the entertainment business in Las Vegas. I got him on the line and introduced myself, naturally, as David Lederman calling from New York. Without missing a beat he said, “Tell me a joke.” And so I did. The line went dead silent for an uncomfortably long moment. Just because your friend who works on a trading desk thinks a joke is funny doesn’t mean that normal people will.
No one has asked me for a Top Ten list in years, but I still get asked if I get great tables at hot new restaurants. I don’t. I did, though, get bumped up to first class once. We were flying to the Caribbean, and the lady at the check-in desk was thrilled to be able to tell her husband that she had met David Lederman. She asked me to autograph something, handed me the first class boarding passes, and away we went. As the other two couples we were travelling with passed by us on their way to steerage in the back, I got to say, just once, “that’s how I roll”.
At one time in my career I was running a field office in midtown, and Ed, one of my colleagues, was running another one on the Lower East Side. When he called, weekly or so, I always knew it was him whenever my secretary told me that Paul Schaffer was holding on the line. She never caught on, to our endless amusement.
New York can also be a very small place, and collisions are inevitable. I have never actually met Letterman, but it turned out years ago that he and I were seeing the same cardiologist. I found this out one day when on the phone with my doctor. He asked for my birthdate; when I asked why he told me that we were both patients and he couldn’t keep us straight. All I could say was, “I’ll give you a hint. He had bypass.”
To this day, I can telephone someone, identify myself, and get something like Really?”. I’ve long ago learned to say, “you’re the first one today.” And in all these years I must confess that I have only occasionally watched the show. But I did meet a young man at a party who worked for the show. Intrigued by the idea of booking me, he thought it would be most entertaining if I could come on and talk about how having the same name ruined my life. When I told him that it really hadn’t ruined my life, he lost interest and went to freshen up his drink.
Still, I’m going to miss him.