Here is what the two young women told me.
They were sitting in an upscale bar in midtown Manhattan several weeks ago when they struck up a conversation with a man (well dressed, in his late thirties, alone at the bar, reading a book about Africa).
The man seemed nice interesting, educated. The three of them talked for a couple of hours. He said he had studied English at Harvard. At one point he recited a few lines of Chaucer.
The man said he worked for TIME magazine. He said that he had written articles in the past about Africa, and that he was about to leave on assignment to write another one.
He said that his name was Lance Morrow.
Hmmm. When I first heard the young women's story one of them sent me a jocular e-mail the next day, thinking she was e-mailing the man in the bar I burst out laughing.
It seemed to me pretty hilarious that a guy would think the way to pick up girls in a New York bar is to pretend to be Lance Morrow.
"Thay!" I spluttered, imitating Daffy Duck's voice of low cunning, "that'th a good idea! I think I'll try that mythelf!!"
Or I imagined a sort of "I am Spartacus No, I am Spartacus!" scene in singles bars all over town, legions of hopeful imposters insisting, "I am Lance!" I envisioned a barroomful of men wearing Lance masks like Groucho glasses and moustaches. Then I felt obscurely flattered: I thought, my charm is cloning itself franchising itself! Finding new host bodies!
I declaimed, "Who thtealth my good name, thtealth trash!"
Having entertained myself with this little circus, I began to get angry. Then I felt a sense of weirdness and unease moving in. This, as I e-mailed to the young women, is a very strange thing for a man to do to steal, or anyway to borrow for the evening, without permission, another man's identity. The young women and I exchanged a dozen e-mails. They are lively and intelligent; both work in media jobs in New York.
One of them through artful detective work (getting the bartender to sort through his credit card chits, among other things) found out who the fake Lance is.
This is even stranger. He turns out to have a very responsible job as a senior producer at a network television show in New York. The network might not be amused.
It seemed to me spooky that he knew things about me that I had gone to Harvard and studied English, that I had written articles for TIME about Africa. Did he do research? The main difference between us (other than the fact that he is he and I am I) is age: He is a good deal younger.
Well, I thought two possibilities. 1) He was out pub-crawling (though he was not drinking much that night and did not in any case get drunk), perhaps is married and didn't want to use his real name, and borrowed mine for the evening as a sort of private gag, a dumb, spur-of-the-moment stunt. 2) He makes a habit of this (how else explain what he knows about me?) he's a sick and mischievous character, a con artist with a personality disorder. Get out the bug spray.
I thought of a strange, sad story from years ago. The book critic at a large newspaper was discovered to have plagiarized a number of my essays from TIME not just a sentence here or there, but long paragraphs at a time. The man, thus exposed, committed suicide. I found out about this weeks after it had happened. The plagiarism was stupid and bizarre. The suicide was tragic; it took the case over into real darkness.
So what do I do about the fake Lance? I have talked to corporate security people about him. They have given their advice.
I have not yet called him up. One of the young women, acting on her own, has done so. He answered the phone, "This is ****." The woman said coyly, "Also known as Lance Morrow?"
There was a silence at the other end. Then a burst of hysterically nervous laughter. Then he hung up. And when she called back, she got his voicemail.
Oh, ****, you have been a naughty boy. I hope you are not also a sick one.
Editor's note: Like reading other people's e-mails? Here's your chance to read the contents of those electronic missives flying back and forth between the real Lance Morrow and the victims of his fake alter ego. Names and certain details have been deleted or changed to protect the participants.
FROM MS. "X" TO LANCE MORROW:
Hi. I will absolutely write you a detailed account of the evening. My friend who I was there with that evening will also e-mail you her account of the night.
My friend and I met at the bar on Wednesday night.
I must interrupt myself now, because the plot thickens. I just hung up with the manager of the bar who's calling me back in 10 minutes with the real name and identity of the perp with whom we were talking (I should've been a private investigator). So I will let you know the outcome.
Anyway, the man was reading a book (about Africa) and sitting by himself at the bar right beside us. I don't know what he was drinking but that was his "in" with us. My friend and I were ordering drinks when he piped in "that sounds good like a 'fizzy gimlet'" (my friend had ordered a Ketel One, Tonic and lime juice). So that's how it began, and this guy had what in the parlance of our times is called a "great rap." He ordered the same drink and we all started talking. He was very friendly from the start but not overly so (he never made any grand overtures during the course of the evening). My friend asked him what book he was reading, and that's how he told us about his upcoming trip to Africa to research a story for Time (as he's an editor there); he said the nature of the story was kind of confidential and didn't elaborate more than that. I asked him what kinds of stories he usually does, and he said "ones of international significance."
He said he'd always travelled for stories (he's been EVERYWHERE) up until recently, but now he was more of a desk jockey, basically editing other people's stories.
It's not like he told us a ton of stories about him, but information came out as the conversation continued....
Somehow it came out that he'd recently called off a wedding that was to have been a half-million-dollar affair. When we asked who the bride was he wouldn't say but he implied that she was the one with family money....
He was wearing a medium gray suit with a royal blue tie. He was nice looking - distinguished, with a slim build and light brown hair peppered with gray. He mentioned that he'd gone to Harvard (wouldn't tell us what year he graduated but said he was under 37 when pressed) and been an English major. I absolutely believed that he was a Harvard grad, or at the very least, extremely well educated. He was very well-spoken, very, very bright not verbose, but he was articulate and animated. Somehow we began talking about Shakespeare (he said he loved all of Shakespeare's comedies) and Chaucer, which is when he broke out in an Old English recitation of "Canterbury Tales." So it seemed to go without saying that this was a very smart guy.
At one point in the evening he lent a sympathetic hand basically solidifying the fact that he was a gentleman.
A guy came over and offered to buy us all drinks "in my honor" he was rather annoying and crude and I sort of looked at "Lance" for help. He suggested I run to the bathroom and when I came back just situate myself nearer to him and engage in a new conversation, which is just what I did. Again, there was nothing inappropriate about him, he seemed to just be helping out in a possible "damsel in distress" situation.
I do recall that he was very, very complimentary to both my friend and me (this didn't seem too out of the ordinary!). He asked if we hung out at some of the hottest city spots like "Lotus" (a new club and no). He did date himself at one point by mentioning that he used to hang out (presumably in the '70s) at a very cool club called "Save the Robots" or something like that.
His demeanor was confident, he had what seemed like a strong sense of self (how ironic is that?), friendly a little flirtatious but not overly so. He drank what we drank and bought us each a drink. When all's said and done, it's true: There are worse men out there to have impersonate you. He was attractive and intelligent. But either he's mentally ill, researching his own story, or just having fun with a couple of gullible women. He definitely didn't exude a "crazy" vibe.
Wish I could remember more but hope all this is enough for a story on this....
P.S.: The manager of the bar was totally intrigued by this story and did a little research in the name of duped women everywhere. It's really unbelievable after figuring out what time we paid our tabs (both on credit cards), where we sat (exactly), and what we all drank, she called me back to say the gentleman we're speaking of used a credit card WITH NO NAME ON IT! She said the signature is pretty illegible but it looked vaguely like DELETED (LM) with a dollar sign next to it. She said it could've just been scribble, but there was definitely no credit card with the name "Lance Morrow" used that evening. Interesting, huh?
FROM MS. "Y" TO LANCE MORROW:
Hi Lance. This story is really getting interesting. I was with my friend the night that we met "Lance Morrow" and I'm embarrassed to say, I had a funny feeling about him from the start. He presented himself extremely well. He seemed very intelligent. I guess that's because he was impersonating someone who, in actuality, is extremely intelligent. Maybe he just wants to be YOU! Maybe he was just having a good time. Whatever the reason, it's scary. He could be a stalker. Or a serial killer. My friend told me you need a detailed account of what transpired between the three of us last Wednesday evening . Here's what I can tell you:
"Lance" was sitting next to me and I knew he was eavesdropping on our conversation from the beginning. Every time I'd turn my head a bit in his direction he'd just keep staring over at us. He was so blatant about it. He didn't even bother to avert his gaze. He was unashamed to be caught eavesdropping.
He had a book with him. I kind of felt sorry for him because he was alone. It's sad to think of someone at bar, all by themselves, reading a book. That's just pitiful. So I started to talk to him. Or maybe he started to talk to us. I can't remember. He was very chatty. He asked a lot of questions. I think my friend asked him what book he was reading and he said it was a book about Africa. I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a journalist. He introduced himself as Lance (no last name). I then asked where he worked and he said he's worked for Time magazine for the past 7 years. He claimed he was studying this book because he was going to Africa in October for a story and was then to take vacation afterwards. He said he was going first to South Africa, then to Zimbabwe. He could not tell us what the story was about but did say that it was an evergreen piece, "possibly something that could win an award." He didn't know when it would run in the magazine. Also, he said that he was an editor. I remember asking him if he liked being an editor or missed being a reporter and writing more.
He said he missed the writing. Also, the man could quote Shakespeare and Chaucer..... I was an English major in college so it's not like he could randomly quote and we wouldn't know if he was lying. I remember saying that he should be a professor because he was so great at explaining Shakespeare in a very "hip" way....
He told us that he'd almost been married but broke off the engagement. He said it was to be a half-million-dollar wedding.... At the end of the night, after his barstool curiously slipped out from beneath him and he almost fell to the floor, he wrote his e-mail, phone number and address on a napkin. He said he lived in the Village I think but I've thrown out the napkin. By the way, at one point in he night I'd asked him for his card. He said he wasn't carrying any with him.
You know the rest of the saga... wrong e-mail, wrong phone number. And that's all. It seems embarrassing almost that two intelligent women approaching their thirties, with more than 10 years (combined) of higher education, and highly demanding media careers, were duped one Wednesday night at their favorite bar... which perfectly illustrates that they are more vulnerable than they originally thought....