“You want the rich Steve Cohen,” I must say every few months. My name is a pretty common one, at least in New York. The most recent misdirected call came from a likely mayoral candidate, undoubtedly looking for a campaign contribution from the new owner of the New York Mets.
I’ve been mistaken not only for the hedge fund billionaire, but for the brilliant magician, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former chief of staff, and the Tennessee congressman, too. No invitations intended either for the Princeton University scholar or the late Joseph Papp’s righthand man. But so far, the invitations are entertaining and sometimes beneficial.
Soon after Barack Obama entered the White House, I was invited to an exclusive event at a downtown penthouse. The president wouldn’t attend, but a top aide would be there to greet me. I demurred, telling the hostess that I didn’t think that I was the guy she wanted. After all, I’d been a member of “Democrats for McCain.” “You live on 21st Street, don’t you?” she asked. I told her I did, and she repeated, “You’re the one we want.” Maybe Obama was already reaching across the aisle.
I showed up at the event, pinned on my name tag, and accepted a glass of champagne from the server. The hostess approached, took one look at me, and realized that I wasn’t the person whom she was expecting. “I told you I wasn’t the one you wanted,” I said. “But I’ll make you a deal: I’ll leave right now, very quietly, but you owe me.”
“What?” she asked.
“You’ll throw a fundraiser for a nonprofit literacy organization of my choosing.”
“You have a deal.” I was out the door, and several months later, she lived up to her word.
Fast-forward, an elected official recently called our office, saying that he was a potential whistleblower. That wasn’t surprising; it’s what we do at our firm. But when I asked him how he reached us, he said, “I looked you up on the Internet after seeing you on 60 Minutes.” I’ve never been on the newsmagazine show, though the Tennessee congressman had just appeared. And we look nothing alike.
I usually don’t mind these confusions of identity, but one misdirected email gave me pause. I got a message from a bold-faced name—whom I knew a bit—asking for an introduction to “Leo.” I was baffled by who Leo was, until my wife confirmed that the rich Steve Cohen was known to go on art-buying expeditions with Leonardo DiCaprio. I wrote to the bold-faced name, telling her that she had the wrong guy. She responded: “I’ll be sure to tell Preet not to indict the wrong person.” When I ran into the U.S. Attorney on the subway not long after, I made sure to reintroduce myself as his former legal intern.
Maybe it’s time for the Steve Cohens to do what many of the Kellys of New York have done: form a nonprofit charity called the Kelly Gang—named in honor of Michael Kelly, a journalist killed in Iraq—and make annual contributions to worthy individuals or organizations. The Cohen clan—sounds better than mishpucha—could arrange so that the worthy recipient gets selected by the Steve who received the most misdirected calls the previous year.
Until then, I’ll just putter along in my near-anonymity, occasionally offering favor-seekers the chance to play second base for the Mets. Though with my bald pate and dark mustache, I’m told that I’m a dead ringer for Dr. Phil. I wonder if I can master his Oklahoma drawl.