Tuesday, September 16, 2008


by Jim Heffernan

So, a Duluth man has been accused of impersonating a lawyer. A lawyer! Oh, the horror!

Can anyone imagine how this upsets the legal/judicial system? How dare he. And right here in squeaky-clean Duluth. It’s like a whole bunch of Wall Street investment banks going bankrupt, upsetting the financial system as we have known it.

Still, it did remind me of my life as an impersonator, and, frankly, I’m not proud of it. But if confession is good for the soul, I might as well fess up right now during this local impersonation crisis in the legal community.

I started my career as an impersonator early when, as a teenager, I took a job in a drug store (pharmacy) as a clerk. I was given a gray smock on the first day and sent out into the store to wait on customers. I didn’t know a thing about drug stores or drugs or Desert Flower cosmetics for women, but I bluffed my way through it. I did get tripped up when I couldn’t remember where the store kept the Alka Seltzer, but all in all I carried it off pretty well.

Later, during that same period of my life, I took a similar position in a music store, impersonating someone who knew something about recordings and also record players. I just plunked myself down behind the counter and took on all comers, ringing up sales of Elvis albums. I even sold a portable stereo once to a guy who was so drunk he couldn’t tell I was impersonating a hi-fi expert. (“Sir, the sound comes out of both sides at once, you see.”)

Throughout all this, I impersonated a college student. Oh, I was enrolled, but I didn’t know the first thing about what a college student was actually supposed to do, particularly study. I walked around the campus in cardigan sweaters carrying books and smoking cigarettes looking like a college student, but little did anyone suspect that my head was in the clouds, not in the classroom. Later on they gave me a bachelor’s degree but I got married anyway.

My other impersonations, in chronological order, were as a clerk on a railroad, a soldier and finally a journalist. My main occupation – “lifetime occupation” – was “newspaperman” which became known as “journalist” after the press finally got rid of President Nixon.

I suppose I became a “journeyman” journalist after a while, but early on I spent months impersonating a journalist, calling people up late at night and asking them if a house on their block was on fire. That’s how we journalists used to cover fires. I’m sure the people we called thought they were talking to a real journalist but at the time I was an impersonator. There were several of us and we wore neckties to disguise our total ignorance of serious journalistic practice (it used to be serious, honest). Never underestimate the power of a necktie.

I impersonated a soldier (“American fighting man”) for six years, most of it on the home front as a “weekend warrior.” Some weekend warrior. Oh, I wore the uniform and looked like a soldier, but I wasn’t really into it because at the same time I was busy impersonating a licensed journalist. (Being a licensed journalist meant you had a driver’s license.)

Lately I’ve been impersonating a senior citizen. Hey, big discounts for McDonald’s coffee. Never underestimate the power of thinning gray hair.

Oh, the horror.

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