April 26, 2001
How did I find myself at the Beverly Hills Police Department, eating an apple and crying?
It's a long story. One I'm placing for now in my "Only in Los Angeles" file. Or perhaps it belongs in my "pending criminal cases" file.
It began, as few good crime stories do, at Kinko's, where I left my driver's license as collateral to do some color copying. Weeks later, I realized I had never retrieved it. Kinko's no longer had it. I replaced the thing and thought nothing of it until a store I had never heard of accused me of using a bogus credit card to charge $3,000 worth of clothing.
A handwritten letter from the Melrose boutique threatened to report me and "take my kids away." I was confused. I have no children and had never been to the store. When I called, I found out that a woman came in with some kids, my driver's license, a bogus story about using her dad's credit-card number and a penchant for shopping. She stiffed the store for $3,000.
I called the cops, reported the identity theft, alerted the major credit-checking companies and assumed this was a one-time thing. I went along my merry way, committing a little crime I like to call voluntary denial.
Months later, I was bathing, listening to NPR and staring out at the moon through my bathroom window. A man came banging at my door. He screamed my name -- or some version of my name known as Teri Susan Strasser -- and demanded I open the door.
"You know who you are. Open the door, Teri!" he screamed. No one calls me Teri. Stalking and threatening me at my door late at night is one thing, but felony use of an irritating nickname is really a crime. Grand theft, dignity.
"Consider yourself served," he stage-whispered, flinging a subpoena through my mail slot and running through my front yard, flashlight in hand.
According to the document, I was being sued for nonpayment by a Beverly Hills doctor I had never met. I looked up the doctor on the Internet, paged him, and found out my identity-stealer had gotten cosmetic surgery as yours truly. So interesting was the case, the doctor had been approached by the show "Power of Attorney" to try the case on television.
I had to appear at the doctor's office, display my face to prove he had never seen me and convince him to drop the case. He did so, and showed me a copy of my old driver's license and the paperwork "I" had filled out, signed Teri Susan Strasser. It was creepy. She had used my address, a phony Social Security number and some credit card from Texas.
Then, it was off to the Beverly Hills cops to report the incident. I don't even want to be me, I thought, quietly crying and eating an apple. Why would someone steal my identity?
They sent me to the Hollywood precinct, where a shoeless blond woman clutching a half-empty bottle of water squinted at me and asked, "Do you feel like you're in a movie?"
I did, I suppose. A harried woman next to me was getting her zillionth restraining order and adding it to a thick file. I strained to overhear her story, which seemed far more interesting than mine.
As I explained the plastic-surgery incident to the desk cop -- an officer with the eerie, unpleasant habit of smiling nonstop despite the lack of anything particularly funny -- the shoeless woman shouted, "I'd give anything for a toothbrush!"
The officer said there was nothing more I could do.
It strikes me now that I'm jealous of my identity; my identity is living a better life than I am. My identity is out there living "La Vida Loca," shopping, nipping, tucking, getting a peel. She gets to be me without all the baggage or bills. She gets to be two-dimensional me, a piece of plastic with trouble and neuroses you could never detect from a photo. She's just a toothy smile with decent credit.
I don't know when she'll strike next. I half expect a postcard from the Bahamas.
Teri, the weather's great, wish you were here. Well, in a way, you are!
All the best,
Being me has always had its ups and downs, and I've never thought there was anything so great about it. At this point, however, I just wish no one else was doing it.
Teri, you may not know it, but you are having a great time in Paris! Someone else's driver's license: it's everywhere you want to be.