An old and familiar conundrum to impress the uninitiate at parties is to ask, "In a room with twenty-three people in it, what are the odds that two of them have the same birthday?" Everyone is always surprised that the answer is "better than fifty-fifty." In a country of three hundred million people, what are the odds that someone has your name? The answer is obviously pretty near 100%. My younger son, whose full name is Tobias Barrington Wolff [Barrington Moore, Jr. was his godfather], has an extremely uncommon name. Unfortunately for him, the only other person in American, so far as we can tell, whose name is Tobias Wolff is of course a famous writer, which produced some contretemps until my Tobias became rather famous as well, although in a different line of work. Tobias, who is a law professor, visited at Stanford Law School a while back, and who was running the Writing Program there? Yup. The other Tobias Wolff. I mean, what are the odds?
I used to think that my full name, "Robert Paul Wolff," was unique in America until idly Googling myself one day [yes, I do Google myself -- make of it what you will], I came upon this entry:
"Robert Paul Wolff, of the 23000 block of Walton Avenue, Port Charlotte, was charged Wednesday with resisting an officer and driving with a suspended license."
I guess I had better steer clear of Port Charlotte. [For those of you who, like me, have never heard of Port Charlotte, it is on the western side of lower Florida about twenty-five miles north of Fort Myers.]
Anyone doing a fullscale search of criminal records for the name "Robert Paul Wolff" would come up with an arrest for disorderly conduct in 1986 [anti-apartheid protest at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum] and "resisting an officer and driving with a suspended license" a quarter century later. One could fabricate an interesting story from these data points about an aging leftie reduced in his golden years to petty crimes.