Gimme Shelter: A double life

Ambrose Clancy

Ambrose Clancy

Since Mary and I moved to the Island more than a year go, many things, all good, have happened.

But one thing ended after we arrived. I no longer receive the reminder, coming at least twice a month in the form of certain pieces of junk mail, of a time when I was once in some small way a different person. Well, that might be too dramatic. It’s better to say I was just going under a different name.

Why the mail addressed to my double stopped could be the vagaries of our post offices here, or the fact that even junk mail, like those sea turtles that live for a century, has a finite life.

So begins a tale, a cautionary one for sure, that might be titled, “Oh, the webs we weave …”

Once upon a time, before the world was digitized, we were living in the city and a video store, renting and selling cassettes, opened in our neighborhood. Mary went around and returned saying it was an amazing place, with racks of cool videos and a bright, young, energetic staff. She showed me her membership card in the name “M. Lydon,” which we both could use.

When I first went to the store, the owner, a Russian immigrant named Dmitry, introduced himself. After I selected a Japanese detective movie made in 1953, he took my card, looked at it and said, “Thank you, Mr. Lydon.”

Was there a trace of condescension in his voice? How could he know that wasn’t my name? Dmitry was Rasputin without the weird clothes and the thicket of beard. But he did have the Mad Monk’s eyes, focused on me like laser pointers.

The bright, young, energetic staff Mr. Lydon-ed me to death whenever I entered the store. “Oh, Mr. Lydon, we have that Nigerian musical you asked for.” “Mr. Lydon, we have a new print of ‘Nights in Skopje’ if you’re interested.”

Then came the day when Dmitry, staring at me slyly, said there was a new policy — everyone had to have their own card. He pulled one from a drawer, telling me he would set me up on the spot. “And your first name, Mr. Lydon?”

I paused. He looked up and said, “First name?”

I stammered, “I think I’ll just stick with M.”

“I’m sorry, we must have your first name,” Dmitry persisted. Was he enjoying this?

“Martin,” I said. He filled out the card and I signed it. Walking home with a documentary about Taiwanese shrimpers, I thought: Martin? Where in the name of God did that come from?

Friends and family thought this was funny. My niece signed up Martin Lydon for a record club. A friend got Martin a free, trial subscription to “Guns & Ammo.” The junk mail monster spawned as a joke birthed 20 years of free offers and never-ending, no obligations necessary for Martin.

I was in Dmitry’s store when I heard Mary calling out, “Oh, Maaarty,” and looked around to see who she knew named Marty. She was smiling wickedly at me in front of the rack of Mexican bullfight films. A friend made dinner reservations and as we waited in the bar for our table, the hostess came in calling “Table for two for Mr. Martin Lydon.”

Then the charade became tragic in a hurry. One day, when Dmitry went to get my reserved copy of “Spade Cooley: King of Western Swing,” I noticed a machine that rewound tapes to ease wear and tear on your VCR. “I’ll take one of these,” I said.

“Certainly, Mr. Lydon,” the Russian said.

I gave my credit card and was reading the instructions for the machine when I heard, “Mr. Lydon, there must be something wrong, this card is for someone named Ambrose Clancy.”

I stared at him. Felt sweat trickling down my spine. “Well, you see, I …”

Dmitry’s eyes drilled me, and a sort of smile came to his lips. Was he relishing playing spider to the fly?

“That’s my pen name,” I managed to get out, and added, even weaker, as if apologizing, “I’m a writer.”

One of the young clerks had come over. “Wow, what a cool pen name,” she cooed.

“So you use your real name for the membership but your pen name on your credit card?” Dmitry said with the force and contempt of a hotshot D.A. cross-examining a miscreant.

Mary thought this was hilarious when I told her. I said it wasn’t funny. Just tell him, she advised. “Are you kidding?” I said, my voice rising. “I’m in too deep!”

The nightmare continued. I was returning “Inside Biloxi,” when one of the clerks asked when I would return the other movies I’d rented.  I told her I only took one.

“No,” she said. “It says right here, Martin Lydon, and you rented ‘Naughty Nurses’ and ‘Gidget Gets Married.’”

I said there must be some mistake, when Dmitry came over and said, “Oh, that’s the other Martin Lydon. I always wanted to ask you if you were related.”

At home, I told Mary and then, in true wonderment, said, “Amazing, what are the odds of having two Martin Lydons in the same video store?”

She said, quietly, as if talking to someone perched on a bridge railing, “There’s only one Martin Lydon, you damn fool, and it’s not you.”

Dmitry couldn’t make a living and announced he was selling out. I went around to see him on the last day. “It was always a pleasure, Mr. Lydon,” he said. “Or should I call you —”

I met his smile with one of my own, shook his hand and left.