The other one, the one called Jeff Barnosky, is the one who buys things. Expensive things and confusing things. Seven bottles of Vaseline. A salt shaker. A Ford Escape. I walk through the streets of Dallas—even though I’ve never been there—and shop at every store. Last Tuesday, I apparently put a down payment on a condo in Orlando. I know of Jeff Barnosky through his charges. He likes waffles, strip clubs, and miniature golf. The other Barnosky rides the highways of America, filling up his 30 gallons with the good stuff, making sure that his engine hums as he takes in the heart of America, staying at the best hotels, ordering room service (more waffles!), and stopping at retail outlets to buy thousands of dollars in leotards.
I applaud the other Barnosky for pursuing his advanced degrees; at least I assume that’s what he’s doing with $40,000 in private student loans. At night, I try to watch television as the phone rings, asking me to pay my outstanding bills. I simply tell them that they must call the other Jeff Barnosky, the one who has digital cable at his winter house in Aspen and broadband at the place he summers in Montauk.
One night, after hearing my name praised on the local public radio station for taking care of their pledge drive in a single phone call (and breaking their heart in a follow-up call), I come home to find my girlfriend packing her bags. She looks up at me, on the verge of tears.
“I’m leaving you,” she says.
“I’m Jeff Barnosky.”
“Well, the other Jeff Barnosky.”
“It seems like a lateral move.”
“He makes me orgasmic just by combing my hair and painting my toenails.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. It’s something only Jeff Barnosky can do for me.”
“Maybe I should ask him out myself.”
“That would be weird,” she says.
I watch her walk out the door and into a huge SUV waiting for her on the street. He has upgraded to an Explorer. Somehow the other Jeff Barnosky has almost infinite credit, an unlimited source of funds on my bill. I squint, trying to make out the figure behind the wheel, but all I can see is the rear-view mirror, and the way it’s angled shows me nothing but the driver-side mirror. Two mirrors looking at each other. They are both fog-resistant and have built in heaters—part of the $4,000 optional Winter Wonderland package. That is the other Jeff Barnosky. I drive a Hyundai Accent. Stick. No power steering. No power windows. No power of any kind. The other Jeff Barnosky has all the power.
I sit at home nights in my empty apartment. Everything has been repossessed. All I have left is my uncomfortable chair, a bare hanging light-bulb, and my books. The Secret Sharer. Bartleby, the Scrivener. Operation Shylock. Dreamtigers. The Double. From what I’ve been told, the other Jeff Barnosky has first editions. My copies, on the other hand, are tattered, beaten up, barely able to keep the words on the page.
“Jeff Barnosky buys the Bellagio. Jeff Barnosky donates $3 million to disaster victims.”My parents drop by my apartment, seemingly oblivious to the sparse squalor.
“We’re so proud of you!” they say in unison, holding up the paper.
“It’s not me,” I say.
“Sure it is. You’re in every section,” my mom says.
“Look,” my dad says pointing to the headlines. “Jeff Barnosky buys the Bellagio. Jeff Barnosky donates $3 million to disaster victims. Jeff Barnosky seen on a date with Mariah Carey.”
For a second, I forget. My cheeks get rosy.
“It’s nothing. All in a day’s work.”
We laugh. My mom wipes tears from her eyes. My dad slaps me on the back.
“We’re so proud.”
As we stand in the middle of my empty apartment, celebrating the achievements of the other Jeff Barnosky, a switch is flipped at the electric company and my bare light bulb goes out. I hear my landlord outside my door, hammering up the eviction notice he’d been promising me.
In my cardboard box in the alley behind my former apartment building, I receive detailed credit card statements from the other Jeff Barnosky. He has been touring Europe (“passage for two”), spending plenty of time at museums, studying the great masterworks of the Western Tradition. And apparently buying some of them. He has been awarded the Prix De Goncourt for his first novel, Je Suis Jeff Barnosky. Outside my hometown of Philadelphia, he has opened the Jeff Barnosky Museum. It is a shrine to everything Jeff Barnosky. I scrounge up enough money to take the train to see it. It is a free museum, but when I try to enter the security guards take one look at my tattered clothes and haggard face, and they stop me.
“Look, buddy, it’s not a homeless shelter.”
“But I am Jeff Barnosky.”
“No, I really am Jeff Barnosky.”
“Great story. We’re all Jeff Barnosky.”
After the guards deposit me into the gutter on the street, I see a man dressed in a form-fitting Italian suit step out of a stretch limo. He is Jeff Barnosky. He is handsome and trim and he sparkles with an almost sublime charisma. He looks at me, shakes his head, and hands me a piece of paper. I hope it is a check to repay all that he owes, but instead I see, in my own handwriting,