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The other Paul Fletcher

When your husband and your son are both named Paul E. Fletcher, and the big, burly man standing at your doorstep is trying to serve suit papers on Paul E. Fletcher, and you are 100 percent certain the man is looking for a different Paul E. Fletcher, you know it’s going to take a good long time for your heart to stop thumping.

Just ask my mother.

If you ever Google yourself, you can find out who shares your name.

Paul Fletcher is a member of the House of Representatives in Australia.

Paul Fletcher is a psychiatry professor at the University of  Cambridge in England.

Paul Fletcher pitched in the major leagues for three seasons, for the Phillies and the A’s.

If you have a common surname such as Smith, Jones, Williams or Johnson, and you have a common given name, you’re probably used to this happening.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fletcher is the 352nd most common name in America. And Paul is one of those biblical names that show up with some regularity. So it’s no surprise there are men who share my name.

But when you have a name doppelganger out there, you find it can have a dark edge.

This isn’t a case of identity theft. It’s more identity confusion or mistaken identity. Either way, it can be a source of heartburn.

I grew up in South Florida. When I was about 20, I learned there was another Paul E. Fletcher on the loose in the area. Same name, same middle initial, no relation. I learned about him when the police called my mother, looking for him. No, no, she assured the officer, my son is away at college in Virginia.

I’m glad she realized they weren’t trying to find me.

That was merely the first time that Other Paul and I were confused. I learned in 1984 that he was a year older than I am: The organizers of Other Paul’s 10-year reunion at Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale were kind enough to invite me to the festivities.

After I got out of law school, I stayed in Virginia. Other Paul stayed in South Florida, and he stayed in trouble – and before too long, he became a bother to my dad, also named Paul E. Fletcher.

My mother said that over a 20-year time frame they would get phone calls seeking Other Paul. Usually the caller was angry and refused to believe that Other Paul wasn’t there. One started in by assuming my mom was Other Paul’s wife, calling her “Diane.” We were learning more about Other Paul’s life than we wanted to know.

Other Paul started two plumbing companies about 1990 and the Broward County authorities started getting complaints. One company was the target of an investigation of plumbers who went in to fix a small job, then tunneled under the house, looking for a nonexistent problem and racking up a big bill. An 80-year-old woman complained about a $52,000 tab that started with a leaky toilet. A subcontractor who worked for Other Paul was charged with fraud.

The newspaper interviewed Other Paul and he brushed off the complaints as “insinuations,” adding that he had “thousands” of satisfied customers in South Florida.

Maybe so, but the Broward County online court records are littered with lawsuits brought against Other Paul and his businesses, with a common theme that he had somehow taken advantage of someone else.

All these claims would explain the phone calls to my parents’ house. And that day when my mother opened her front door and there was the process server, seeking to hang paper on Other Paul. After a long explanation that he had the wrong house and the wrong guy, the man left, papers still in hand.

Other Paul later went into the concrete business, and there he got into real trouble. A story in the Fort Lauderdale paper said he was indicted for grand theft in 2004, after taking a big check for a job he never started. He failed to appear in court, and he was declared a fugitive. A reporter found him in a hospital bed. He had cancer.

The next mention of Other Paul in the paper was an obituary. He died in March 2005 at the age of 48.

I never met Other Paul; I don’t know what demons may have driven him to try to take advantage of other people the way he did. His misadventures never caused any real harm to me or my dad, but the knowledge that he had troubles, and that we sometimes were mistaken for him, was, to use my mom’s word, disconcerting. Who knew when one of his “thousands” of customers would turn vengeful and come to my parents’ house?

You’re never happy to read about a death. But please forgive me if I admit that some tiny part of me was relieved when I knew he would no longer besmirch our shared name.

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