When I first moved to Manhattan, a neighbor approached me in the corridor of my apartment building.
"Are you Peter Maass, the writer?"
Though I have heard this question many times over the years, I still don't know the correct response. Yes, I am; no, I am not. Both are accurate. Unfortunately, I offered my neighbor a reply that raised more questions than it answered.
"Yes, I am, but there are two of us."
He looked at me oddly and adopted one of those don't-mess-with-me expressions that New Yorkers are born with. If an opportunity for amity had existed between us, it seemed to have vanished. He slipped into the elevator, I slipped into my apartment, and I imagine he rolled his eyes to the ceiling and thought, "Great, another nut case in the building."
If only he knew the truth.
I am a writer--a very good writer, according to my mother. I worked for the Washington Post for nearly a decade, and I have written a book about my experiences covering the war in Bosnia. It was published last year and got positive reviews. It even won a couple of awards. So when people ask whether I am Peter Maass, the writer, I should feel good, I should feel triumphant, I should feel like a master of the literary universe receiving the adulation he so rightly deserves, and I should reply in a voice of elegant humility, "Yes, I am."
But I don't. I can't.
My problem is this: Although I am Peter Maass, the writer, I am not Peter Maas, the writer. Peter Maas--one "s," not two--has a career's worth of books under his belt, and he's famous. Serpico famous. Valachi Papers famous. This has created a great deal of confusion. I've received letters intended for him, phone calls intended for him, compliments intended for him, a publishing solicitation intended for him, even a job offer intended for him (which I turned down).
I have never met the guy.