At a bookstore in Ocean City, N.J., a strange thing happened to me. I handed the really old guy behind the counter (either really old, or a remarkably tall kid suffering from Progeria, that disease that makes people age super fast) my debit card to pay for a book. He gave my card a look that implied I should’ve used cash and swiped the card. After the card went through, I signed the slip and was getting ready to walk out the door when I noticed the really old guy was starring intently at the pay slip. He then asked to see my debit card.
"You're Jared?" he asked looking at my card suspiciously.
"Yeah," I answered annoyed.
At that moment, I happened to glance down at my pay slip and noticed that for some reason I had decided to sign my name simply as "Carl" in huge, flamboyant script that encompassed the entire signature line. It was the obnoxious, flowing handwriting that belonged on a note that 12-year-old girl strategically folded and handed to her crush -- not on a credit card slip. It wasn't signed Carl Bilski, or even Carl Some Made Up Last Name, just, Carl. As if this fictional Carl was like Bono or Madonna, someone important enough to go through life with only one name.
"My friends call me Carl sometimes," I lamely attempted to explain.
But the damage had already been done. I could see in old guy/tall Progeria kid's eyes that he thought he'd caught me. I'm pretty sure he believed that I had found or, more likely, had stolen the real Jared Bilski's wallet. And because of elation at my good fortune or just plain old stupidity, I'd forgotten myself and revealed my true identity: Carl. Columbo really thought he'd caught Carl pretending to be Jared.
"Sign your full name please," the old guy commanded me.
I did as I was told, and he stepped away.
When the police arrived it was awkward for everybody except the old guy. He stood behind the register, arms crossed with a look that said You almost got away with it, too. I got the sense that this wasn't the first time the cops had been called down to this bookstore. I imagine this guy had the cops in there every time someone ignored the "No Food or Drink" sign that was prominently placed in the bottom right corner of a bulletin board overflowing with fliers for a garden variety of services that no one needs.
After spending some time convincing two annoyed policemen that I was, in fact, Jared Bilski, I had other questions to answer.
"So, why the hell would you sign your name as Carl?"
"My friends call me Carl sometimes," I repeated, but with less enthusiasm than the first time.
So the cops went in a different direction.
"Are you on something?"
In the end nothing happened. It had taken a helluva long time, but I finally was able to leave the bookstore with my copy of "One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest" -- a purchase that was paid for by Jared Bilski, but signed for by Carl. It was a little annoying, but it's also nice to know there are still old guys out there (or giant Progeria suffers) who are vigilantly working to protect patrons of seldom frequented bookstores against identify theft.