I'm going to start a new section of the blog called, “People I Have Been Confused For.” As most Americans have an incredibly hard time differentiating between Asians, I expect there will be a lot of amusing stories of mistaken identity amongst you readers. I want to hear them! And, I'm guessing the rest of the audience does too! I will start off with one of many such stories I have of mistaken identity.
Back in 1996, I was living in Florida. A fun thing to do in February and March was to go to spring training MLB games. A lot of teams hold spring training down in Florida. My favorite team used to be the Philadelphia Phillies, based in Clearwater, FL. I guess I'm torn now because I've come to love the Chicago Cubs as well for several reasons. Their spring training is in Arizona as are most of the other west coast teams. Until 2008, one west coast team still had their spring training in Florida. The LA Dodgers had their facilities in Vero Beach, FL. Vero Beach is the northern end of Municipal Bond row on the east coast of Florida. It's a small town noted for being the home of Piper Aircraft, Indian River citrus and, I believe, Frank Sinatra once had a bowl of chili there. Most importantly for this story, it also was where my ex-mother in law, Shirley, lived.
I know it's a rare thing, but I actually liked Shirley. Revisionist history means I liked Shirley more than I liked her daughter, whom I had the misfortune of being married to. My worst nightmare is the dream where I am living life like a regular Joe. The doorbell rings, I open up the door, and standing there is my ex-wife. I slam the door in terror and like a fucking moron, I open the door and she's still there. My current wife always violently shakes me awake and tells me I was screaming in my sleep. She'll ask me what I was dreaming about, and I will just mutter about my time in 'Nam. She will then remind me I have never served in the military and I could not have done any tours of duty in Vietnam, as I was born in 1974. OK, fine. The explanation might be false, but the shakes are very much real. I think I'll update my explanation to my horrors in the Grenada invasion. Anyway, short story long, I used to spend a lot of time in Vero Beach hanging out with Shirley.
There is not a lot to do in Vero Beach. I found myself desperately searching for activities that didn't involve seeing Shirley in a bathing suit. Hey, it's Florida and I don't know if you know this, but it gets hot there. I mean really hot. And it's called Vero BEACH. Do the math. Spring training baseball offered a chance to spend time with her and do something a little different. So we would go to baseball games. What is about to follow is absolutely true and has not been embellished whatsoever.
In 1994, a Korean pitcher by the name of Chan Ho Park made his professional debut for the LA Dodgers. He was primarily a four seam fastball pitcher and he was considered an up and comer with the Dodgers. He started to get more and more attention when in 1996, he was on the verge of becoming a fixture on the Dodgers pitching rotation. Now, as the Korean baseball player count before Chan Ho was: 0, having a Korean in the major leagues was kind of cool and exciting. So, I checked the schedule, looked for a game where he was scheduled to pitch, and Shirley and I went to Holman Stadium. Holman Stadium seats about 6,000, so it's not exactly a huge ballpark. On the day this happened, we got to the game about 20 minutes before the game started, which is super early for this stadium. We enter the park and start heading up for our seats. If memory serves me correctly, I was wearing khaki shorts, a linen shirt, and I was holding a bag of popcorn, a bag of peanuts, and possibly a beer.
As we are walking up to our pretty sweet behind the plate seats, I feel a tug on my arm. I look down and there is an elderly couple smiling very broadly. Great, it's another Amway sales team. Leave me alone, Amway! I don't have enough friends to rope into your scheme to get my deposit back! So, I guess I didn't have the most welcoming reaction on my face, as I'm being physically touched by a stranger. The man, who I would say is in his late 60s early 70s says, "May I have your autograph? We're really big fans of yours!" Now at that time, I was an international equity specialist for PaineWebber. I mean, I did crush it and had over 100 million under management and I was just starting to really incorporate WEBS into portfolios. Come to think of it, they should have been big fans of mine! I was pioneering index fund investing before it really took off! Remember when I told you all that you guys would learn shit here? Well strap in for a quick tangent on the concept of World Equity Benchmark Shares. A study by Brinson, Hood, and Beebower concluded that real returns had very little to do with individual stock selection. It had everything to do with proper asset allocation. Equities are where the sexy returns are, but holding individual positions can be a very difficult thing to do. The most popular index fund is the SPY, the S&P 500. As an international equity specialist, if my recommendation to my clients was to invest in the S&P 500, I'd promptly be fired and replaced with a dartboard, or even worse, a Merrill Lynch "professional". WEBS are simply ways to participate in the returns of a national index, like the FTSE, CAC-40, DAX, Nikkei, Han Seng, KOSPI, etc. OK, OK, I can see your own worst nightmare flashbacks to finance classes in college. I get the hint.
Where was I? Oh yeah! These old folks are big fans of mine! They must have seen me speak at a seminar. Then I remembered I don't do seminars. So, that must not be it. Then it hits me. Well, actually, I'm taking too much credit. The pen and baseball hit me. He's nudging my arm and asking me if I would sign his baseball. Holy fuckballs, this guy thinks I'm Chan Ho Park! CHP is 6'2" and 210 lbs. I'm 5'7 (YES I AM, CARIANNE) and back then I weighed 160. Let's just say if we were in a police lineup in Seoul, there is no way that we’d get confused. If CHP commits a crime in Texas, and I'm in the police lineup, I'm basically fucked and going to jail as an innocent man. Which is a very underrated Billy Joel song, by the way. Hold on, I need to take my Ritalin. So what would you guys do in this situation? I can't disappoint this guy, so I sign the baseball a scribbly illegible CHPish signature and then tell him he owes me $5. Ok, I didn't do that. But, the couple are clearly elated, thank me profusely and allow me to go up to my seat. Those feelings of good will lasted exactly 13 minutes.
Unbeknownst to them, but very much beknownst to me, guess who's pitching that day? Me! I mean Chan Ho Park! I'm really not focused on who I came to see. I'm focused directly on Mr. Avid Fan six rows down. The announcer speaks, "Today's starting pitcher.... CHAN...HO....PAAARRRRKKKK! To spattered applause, out trots Mr. Avid Fan's hero! Avid Fan looks at the field, then whips his head back to me, and then whips his head back at to the pitcher's mound. I am sure he is thinking how it's possible for one person to occupy two spaces at the same time. His neck is getting a terrific workout whipsawing back and forth, and then the frown starts appearing. Next, comes a venomous look hurled my direction. I swear if looks could kill, I'd be six feet under. Actually, if looks could kill I'd have been dead a long time ago, probably starting with my first grade teacher. He has now come to the accurate conclusion that some random Asian (kinda impressed he got the Korean right, though! Also, impressed he found the only other Korean in Indian River County on that day) dude just signed his baseball. He mutters something to his wife, and his wife probably told him that I was Chan Ho Park's brother, or publicist, so it was like getting an autograph from the real deal, because he sort of simmers down. I'm just smiling and enjoying the best game of baseball I have ever been to. About every 10 pitches, or so he can't help himself and he turns his head to shoot me a dirty look.
Shirley and I had a good laugh about that. I think it was her most exciting baseball game as well. A couple of years ago, my worst nightmare did sort of come true. I received an email from my ex wife. After a couple of scotches and some valium, I finally drummed up the courage to open up the email. The email was to tell me that Shirley had passed away. The ex-wife said she felt I deserved to know because Shirley and I had always been so close. So, my favorite memory is laughing about mistaken identity, on a sunny Florida day, enjoying the pioneering efforts of my ability to defy physics, and be at two places at the same time. RIP Shirley, you were an absolute joy to be around. Also, you did a really shitty job raising your daughter.