THE INTERNET is, as far as I can tell, a nearly infinite universe of things I do not want to know. I can usually ignore the boasts, the shards of opinion, the superfluous stuff that swirls around on my laptop. But there’s one online fact that simply sticks in my craw: There are people out there who have been brazenly using my name.
I know I’m not alone in my agitation. A journalist named David F. Carr, for instance, shares his name with the well-known New York Times writer. It didn’t seem so bad, Carr recently said, until he realized the other Carr had years of well-chronicled drug abuse in his past. Confusion with him could be awkward.
As for me, I still recall the night when, shaking at my keyboard, I uncovered search results for an international army of so-called Peter Mandels. There was the Florida salesman of the Pulaski furniture line. The Alaska high school counselor for students with last names R through Z. And the New Jersey gynecologist who uses a “tension free tape procedure” to treat incontinence. Even Peter Mandelson, the British politician, refused to stop popping up when I typed in M-A-N-D-E-L.
On a good day, I came up third or fourth in the Google results. But a naturopath based in Germany was perpetually first, taunting me from the very pinnacle of Peter Mandel-dom. I despised clicking on his website, where he’s touted as “a genius phenomenon who, someday, is going to have a place in history” and which went on about things I didn’t understand, like a Mandel-invented therapy known as “Esogetic Colorpuncture.”
Was there a way, I wondered, for me to regain the pride I had lost: the joy of knowing I was unique? There was. I’d track down the other Peter Mandels and see whether we could hammer out some sort of compromise — say, dismantling their Web pages or, if they preferred, beginning the process of changing their name.
Sleuthing out the phone numbers of a half-dozen or so Peter Mandels was easy; getting my calls returned wasn’t. “He’s very busy,” the person answering the phone would say, or, somewhat more suspiciously, “He’s on a long vacation.” I got only this from the German naturopath’s assistant: “Just to let you know, Peter Mandel doesn’t speak any English.” I was reaching the limits of my patience.
After weeks of dialing, I finally got an actual Peter Mandel on the line, one who owns a California radon-mitigation company. “Hello,” I began, clearing my throat. “I am concerned about the dilution of the Peter Mandel name.” There was a sound that was either a cough or a snort.
Hadn’t he Googled himself? Wasn’t he aware of all the other Peter Mandels?
“I’m aware,” he said.
Didn’t we make him jealous? Angry?
Another snort-cough. “The way I come up on Google or you come up on Google is fine,” he explained. “My clients come to me, since I handle some very hazardous materials.” See, he had something different going for him.
I next reached the New Jersey gynecologist. An occasional auto-Googler, Dr. Mandel knew perfectly well that he was sharing search engine space with us and was fine with it. “How would you feel,” I asked, “if you disappeared from Google results? Maybe took a break from that?”
There was a moment of silence. “I would not be happy about it,” he replied.
This was the point where I should have offered Dr. Mandel a payment. Or made a tearful plea. But I realized I couldn’t do it and actually didn’t need to.
I mean, sure, there was the radon Peter Mandel, the gynecologist, the German guy — but I’m the only writer of children’s books. And what do you think those pretenders know about sneezing leopards? Burger-loving dogs? You can Google it, but I’d bet nothing. Maybe I’m special, after all.
Peter Mandel, of Providence, writes books for children, including the new Jackhammer Sam. Send comments to email@example.com.