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Mary Schmidt: Email opens the world of doppelgangers

Rachel Marsden

I, mschmich, am a 27-year-old Brazilian.

That may not be the me you know, but hang on. There's more.

Now that I've given up my job in information technology, I'm doing what I've always dreamed of doing, working with horses. I love cats too, and keep six at my home, which, it also may surprise you to learn, is in Sao Paulo.

OK, so I am not that person at all, but even some of my best friends don't seem to know it.

For a couple of years, I've recently learned, people have been sending emails meant for me to the person described above. Her name is Monika Schmich.

Five thousand miles from Chicago, poor Monika has received condolences on my brother's death, assorted journalism news and notifications of rehearsal times for a holiday singalong at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music.

After searching on the Internet for who and where I might be, she wrote recently to tell me of our twin life.

"I'm just afraid you might miss something because of this misunderstanding," she wrote with a graciousness that makes me proud to share "mschmich" with her.

Many people have email doppelgangers, and some of the unintended recipients are as courteous as Monika.

Dragana Djordjevic-Laky, of Highland Park, Ill., recounts how once, with one missed letter in an email address, she mistakenly invited an elderly gentleman from California to her daughter's birthday party. He RSVP'd by phone. He said he often got emails for the intended recipient. He declined the party invitation.

On the other hand, not all unintended recipients are so accommodating.

"A Polly Bruno (in another state) informed me, rather testily, that she was getting email meant for me and that I should inform everyone I knew so it didn't happen again," reports Polly Bruno, of Chicago.

The wayward email is the modern equivalent of the wrong number. Sometimes it's caused by a slip of the fingers, other times by a misplaced assumption.

I understand why in a world short on Schmichs people might assume that my personal email name would be mschmich. That is the name I use for my work email but it's not my personal email name -- it's Monika's.

Maria Brown Gray, also of Chicago, uses her last name first in her address, a fact her sister had trouble remembering.

"Some poor Maria Gray somewhere in the U.K.," says Chicago's Maria Gray, "has been included in very long exchanges with our sisters and cousins of details of our late mother's health problems and another family member's severe alcohol problems. She finally wrote my sister and said that she had her own family problems and really didn't need to hear about ours."

But good luck getting rid of misdirected emails. They're as hard to eliminate as cockroaches.

"Someone accidentally put me on their family's email list," says Chicagoan Heather Lalley, "so I kept getting forwarded lame jokes and birthday reminders meant for another Heather Lalley."

Chicago's Heather Lalley has repeatedly notified the sender of the error. He has apologized. The jokes and reminders still come.

My nephew's wife, Kristen Stedenfeld, took a different approach with one misguided emailer.

"For a while," Kristen says, "a middle-aged man from Seattle was emailing me, thinking (I think) that I was a distant cousin of my dad's. I thought his forwarded jokes were kind of funny, so I never bothered to correct him."

Occasionally, the identity confusions wrought by email lead to new relationships, like the one between Chicagoan Kristi Peterson and her email doppelganger.

"Over the years," Peterson says, "she has discovered a lot about me -- from my sorority affiliation to the death of a friend to my breast cancer diagnosis 10 years ago -- by intercepting and forwarding these emails. I finally met her last April while I was in California. It has been an oddly intimate, and often hilarious, relationship with a stranger."

Chicago singer-songwriter Sue Fink too has enjoyed the serendipity of a shared email identity, in this case with another singer-songwriter named Sue Fink.

"I always forward the other Sue Fink's fan mail," this Sue Fink says, "and she got one for me once (yay!) and did the same."

It's nice to like your email doppelganger, and I like mine. Monika is gracious. She has a sense of humor. And she gives me a reason during this especially frigid winter to imagine that I'm somewhere in the sunshine doing the samba.

Mary Schmich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Contact her at mschmich@tribune.com. You can follow her on twitter.com/maryschmich or contact her at facebook.com/maryschmich.


Rachel Marsden
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