In 2014 I was mistaken for someone on Linked In with the same name as me (“Mike Crowe, Creative Partner at AMV BBDO”) and before you could say “Imposter Syndrome” I’d earned £30,000 in two months working as a copywriter in Switzerland.
When the email offering me this job came through, I had no clue how much money was involved. I was used to living in my overdraft, earning minimum wage or thereabouts. Bailiffs threatened to arrive at my home from time to time; I sometimes imagined wrapping my belongings up as gifts for them. The email asked me to send my portfolio and copywriter CV over if I was interested in the job. A few days later I wrote back dismissively saying I don’t have either, but that:
“Eye kan rite.”
This stupid reply secured me the job: only someone who really knows what they’re doing would be so flippant. You could say I was borderline aggressive, like I was insulted by the job offer. Not only was I literally the wrong person for the job, I’d also somehow positioned myself as the authority on what was and wasn’t required by them for employment. Lesser writers cobble together tedious portfolios (which nobody with any sense would read) I simply appear in front of you.
In a couple of days I’d gone from dealing with screaming tourists at a London box office to residing in a beautiful Swiss hotel with my own chauffeur parked outside. Alex, a comedian/driver from Sri Lanka who pulled me through the London/Switzerland portal with a vigorous handshake was a lovely man prone to occasional explosions of hammed up road rage. The first time we drove to work, he crashed the car (minor incident, but still, a perfect start).
A few Alex moments: (they slowly fade out)
With Alex, detours were so frequent that the word detour found itself lost. A quick example: After arriving thirty minutes late in the morning and diagonally parking in front of my replacement car he took me directly to his home so he could get my verdict on his newly printed business cards (loved them). Should we get 200 more printed now? Quick look at my empty wrist: Maybe later.
For a long time I wondered what was in the little leather envelope dangling from Alex’s dashboard. I imagined seeds from an alien world, a 2000 sided dice, Jah Rule’s arsehole, my milk teeth, etc. etc. Eventually I asked what was inside. Lightning fast he said, “Bible.” Two minutes of silence later he said, “Quran.”
September 25th: Michael Bolton is singing “Merry Christmas” as if covered in blood at gunpoint. Alex turns up the volume on the radio and we sing along together, sharing mutual giggly wtf confusion. The next song is also by Michael Bolton…It turns out Alex is just playing me his favourite CD.
On occasion Alex wouldn’t turn up to drive me to work or take me back to the hotel. I assumed he was just crazily busy juggling other jobs, and he knew I wouldn’t be too bothered. The no-shows disappointed me not because of the missed meetings or the long walk home, but because his lively, generous personality was fun to be around. The office environment was a humourless zone of bone dry professionalism. At work, for anyone to say even one remotely odd or juicy sentence, they’d need to build up a supply of 1000 normal/sane sentences first. In the evenings, I’d glance down to the carpark to see if Alex had arrived, or if I should worry that he was in his next car crash. After a string of no shows, he’d arrive early and open up the boot and all four doors in a flamboyant display of punctuality, the car resembling a giant metallic beetle about to take off. I’d get in and he’d have covered four different startling topics before I could get my seatbelt and helmet on.
Due to Alex’s increasing no-shows, the CEO eventually said he wanted to hire me the best possible high performance bicycle. This meant I wasn’t 100% reliant on Alex and I could also explore the area (stumbling upon a staggeringly gorgeous misty lake after Alex didn’t show up once was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience). The bike was arranged with a few waves of the millionaire’s hand and riding it felt like being on some sort of champagne cloud. To make a short story long:
-£4 Lock. £8000 Bike.
-Within 8 hours the bike was stolen. (Lock remained)
-Potentially the only crime in the area for 500 years.
-Reported to the sleepy police.
-Long relaxing soak in the hotel bath to cope with the stress during which I scraped the skin off my face with the weird hotel sponge.
The next morning the CEO made a beeline over to me and asked with pride and excitement how my new bike was. With my face in ribbons I had to say it had already been stolen. I had absolutely no idea what he might say.
“We’ll get you another one.”
A little flabbergasted, I thanked him but said I’d just stick with my buddy Alex, who was thrilled that my bike had already disappeared. We drove around for hours looking for it (Alex insisted we do this, off the clock) and ended up exploring what he said was a very dodgy area, one he never goes to, which was confusing because that was where we’d picked up his new business cards weeks earlier, where he lived…
While doing the job I shooed away the occasional pang of imposter syndrome as nonsense while being oblivious that I was a genuine imposter. At the end of my time with the company the person who hired me confessed about the mix up over drinks (we both found it hysterical) and she asked if I could stay with the company long term.
The moment it dawned on my employer that I was not me, must’ve been quite alarming. I was told that a web designer friend of mine was flying in from England to work on the project with us:
“I don’t know him.”
“Yes you do Michael, it says on your Linked In.”
“I don’t have a Linked In.”
She often spoke about loving “disruption” after reading some inspirational books on Steve Jobs, but this fiasco wasn’t necessarily the kind she wanted. To defend my/his good name, I now pitifully maintain that I did the job far better than my doppelgänger would’ve done. My surprise at landing such a highly paid, unusual job, meant that I put a lot of effort in, whereas my namesake would’ve just seen it as yet another tedious chore to slog through. I think if I’d been terrible at the job, I never would’ve found out about the mix up, as she would’ve covered up her error (terrifying) instead.
LARPing as Alan Partridge in a hotel is fun, but after a while I got a bit of cabin fever. Other than a Dieter Roth exhibition in Zug which I’d been to twice, there wasn’t much else happening outside of astonishing natural beauty, £40 hotel steaks and Alex’s CD collection. I declined the offer of a full-time job, but before heading home to Brewster’s Millions all of my money, I booked myself a trip to see a Tim Hecker gig in Zurich.
On the day of the show I went hog-wild on the new coffee pod machine at work. I was slightly stressed, writing a script for an advert with an Olympic skier which we were going to film up the Matterhorn (When we got up there she refused to read any of my lines about trying to ski faster, insisting that when she trained she wasn’t trying to get better…) I cluelessly couldn’t read the labels on the Clooney pods, and I think ultimately that was my downfall. I don’t know how many coffees I had, but before leaving that night I had to take some mysterious “super strong” headache pills given to me by a colleague.
I got to Zurich by train, had a schnitzel washed down with a beer and wandered to the venue. Bursting for the toilet, I cut into a park and used the typically luxurious public toilet. As I was coming to the end of my pee, I felt something was happening, as if I was woozily coming up on ecstasy. Suddenly, I was gone, like I’d been shot in the back of the head with a blunderbuss. Instant death. I don’t know how much time had passed, two minutes, twenty minutes, but when I came to, I looked up and saw half of the cubicle, and half of the night sky. I was flat on my back. My mind was blank, I couldn’t make out where I was, who I was (Mike Crowe?) or what I was looking at. I had that feeling when you wake up somewhere unfamiliar, and it slowly dawns on you where you are. But that dawning realisation didn’t happen at the usual speed. I was thinking, it’ll come to you in a minute, it’ll come to you, but it didn’t, I was just staring at the night stars and half of a toilet like I was trapped in a broken Oscar Wilde gutter quote… Where am I? Who am I? I don’t know… I looked down and saw my dick was out (hi) and things sped up significantly. I zipped up and stood quickly, looked around and felt the back of my head for blood. I thought I must’ve been hit with a bat or something. My laptop was still in my backpack, so I hadn’t been robbed – It seemed like nobody had seen this happen, thank god. Remembering who I was (still the wrong person/George Clooney) I picked up my bag and headed to the venue.