Jun 24, 2022

Avatars and Anonymity: The (Evil-)Twin Secrets of Success

Warning: Today’s column is riddled with spoilers—still better than being spoiled with riddlers

By Ed Goldman

Many of us wish we could send in stunt doubles or even evil twins to withstand the slings and arrows of cringeworthy fortune. 

Well, today’s column is a two-part confession. I have my own personal stand-ins. I call them my avatars because I’m not sure I could spell doppelgängers correctly more than once—and have no idea how I just managed to get those two dots over the “a.”

Double Jeopardy

So here it is:

1. The cartoonist who contributes drawings to most of The Goldman State columns, “Edgy,” draws an avatar of me for almost all of them.

2. This gets a bit surreal when readers discover that “Edgy” is himself an avatar of me.

I wouldn’t be revealing this wholly uninteresting fact had I not received 75+ inquiries during the past couple of years asking who draws the cartoons that accompany most of my thrice-weekly essays. I realize that 75+ inquiries may not sound like much of a groundswell to you; but in my world, it constitutes an absolute deluge of need-to-know requests. Two more and my website might have gone down.  

As I’m sure all of you who didn’t inquire have guessed, “Edgy” is just a silly play on my initials, Ed G.—just as The Goldman State is simply a spoof of California’s self-anointed nickname, The Golden State. 

Okay, I think I’m on the verge of insulting your intelligence, so I’ll move on.

I’m making this confession because I have a personal distaste for anonymity. Like the “they say” or “I’ve heard” lie that politicians of all stripes have always used but which former President Donald Trump brought down to a whole new level, deploying those expressions to create his own rumor mill. It reminds me of a joke attributed to the comedian Red Skelton, which went something like this: “I was in a crowd today and someone yelled, ‘Hey! It’s Red Skelton!’ and people started staring at me. I was so embarrassed I’d yelled it.”

I also despise it when advertisers run “testimonials” from “satisfied customers,” none of whom has a surname. Or, I suspect, exists. A friend of mine, Rick Weidner, once gave the definitive example of this guy, calling him “Joel H. from Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

Some advertisers who use this scheme put a very tiny notice in their print ads promising that if you write to them they’ll provide you with the full testimonials. This is where companies are at their  most cynical. They rely on our innate inertia or well-earned indifference and figure none of us will bother to double-check to see what “Joel H. from Ann Arbor” really said, or if Joel H. is an actual person.

Intrepid journalist that I’m not, I nonetheless wrote to a few of these advertisers about two years ago. Exactly one out of six responded—about nine weeks after I emailed my request for more info about the identity and complete testimonial of the rave reviewer. The company sent me the exact seven-word blurb it had quoted in the ad, now with the disclaimer that “privacy laws prohibit our releasing the names of individuals without their written permission.” I could have added that the laws of biology and physics also prevent companies from producing from scratch sensate humans on demand.

I hope my “reveal” today about Edgy won’t affect our relationship. After all, isn’t it empowering, if not quite all the way to ennobling, to learn that the same guy you don’t regard as being a brilliant writer is also not an especially gifted cartoonist?    

About that last bit: My OSSO (oh-so-significant-other—alas, another anonymous reference) gets a bit miffed with Edgy (me) when he (I) draws me (me) as being considerably plumper than I (I) am. I do this for the same reason I don’t throw out elements of my morbidly-obese apparel every time I shed a few groceries. I may grow back into them sometime. And if that happens, I’d like both my ensemble and avatar to be fashion-forward.

By the way, it takes more ink and colored pencils and acrylic pens to draw myself pudgy, so don’t think I’m trying to cut corners with you by depicting myself as chunky. And I promise if I ever start drawing myself as trim, and require fewer art supplies, I’ll be sure to pass along the savings to you. Or my stunt double will.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).