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Will the real Jane please stand up? Why it doesn't pay to have a common name

BRIAN TAYLOR/The Globe and Mail

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at .

One day I picked up the phone and a rather surly male voice asked me if I enjoyed my Maytag washer. At first I thought it was a telemarketer, but those callers usually exude the sly tones of the snake-oil salesman. Intrigued, I answered, "I like it just fine."

"Well, any chance you are going to make a payment on it, Jane?" he retorted. That was how I came to know the "other" Jane Webb.

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I told the man that I loved my Maytag washer, which was 19 years old; I had received it as a wedding present and it had endured while the marriage had not. But the caller, who turned out to be a collection agent, was not about to be put off. His snort of derision said that he had heard that one before. He asked me why, then, had I purchased a brand new high-efficiency washer and dryer the previous year?

I said I had never been to the store in question, and started asking some questions of my own. Why did he think I had bought them, and how did he get my number?

As it turns out, the go-to technique for tracking down deadbeats is to log onto Canada 411. I know this because over the next few days I spoke to many collection agents, and a representative of the lending bank. They all called the first Jane Webb they could find.

With visions of identity theft swimming in my head, I made several calls to ensure they knew that the other Jane and I were not the same person. The bank reassured me that I would not be bothered again. They said they had noted on the file that I was not the "real" Jane Webb.

Frankly, I was miffed. I think the Jane Webb who pays her bills on time is the "real" Jane Webb. The "other" one is a hapless soul who seems to have done a runner from one of those "don't pay for 10 years or the birth of your first male child" type of deals.

About this time, I received an e-mail thanking me for my presence at the latest meeting of a horticultural society in a major Canadian city with a stalwart WASP community.

The event sounded lovely, attended by ladies with names like Bitsy and Popsy and Forsythia. But I don't live in that city, and I politely informed the sender that I was not that Jane Webb and that she should resend the message to another Jane Webb. Over the next year, I would occasionally receive more e-mails for this third Jane Webb, and I have to say she has got an enviable lifestyle: invitations from tennis groups, book clubs (I didn't really care for the reading lists), golf and social events.

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Each time I would reply that the events sounded like great fun, and I was sure the other Jane would want to know about them.

I have to admit that I got a bit annoyed last Thanksgiving, when I received an e-mail from an upscale bakery confirming an order for "Amish" cinnamon bread and a variety of pies. Sweating over the stove with my own dinner preparations, I was tempted to reply that I had decided to do my own baking this year and cancel the order.

But then I thought this possibly illegal act would force the rich Jane Webb to greet her guests with no dessert. She might have to go to the grocery store like the rest of us rabble!

A few months later, I got a call from yet another collection agent. This one wanted to know if I had ever lived at a certain address. It seems that the poor Jane had failed to pay her utility bills.

It made me sad thinking of her possibly doing a midnight run, behind on the bills and the rent. Did she have to leave the Maytag behind?

Then, in a strange coincidence, I received an e-mail confirming rich Jane's Christmas Eve dinner reservations at a chi-chi golf resort in a southern locale. The menu looked fabulous, the table well situated.

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Well my first thought was to grab my grandmother's pearls and a black dress, hop on a plane and spend Christmas Eve looking across a moonlit lagoon eating Jane's tournedos de boeuf. But that could turn out like an episode of To Tell the Truth with the concierge asking: "Will the real Jane Webb please stand up? And will the other one please get out!" So embarrassing. And yet again I thought about cancelling and imagined with malicious pleasure the rich Jane having to pull up to the drive-thru window at the local IHOP. But of course I did neither.

It's odd to be in the middle of two very different realities. The first Jane is always one step ahead of the bailiff. The other Jane doesn't seem to want for anything. I think about how the cost of rich Jane's holiday dinner could probably get poor Jane's hydro turned back on.

Does rich Jane ever think about that? And maybe poor Jane doesn't care. Maybe neither of them is particularly concerned about where the money comes from. They just like spending it.

And I am somewhere in the middle, schlepping to work, paying my own bills, doing my own baking, making do with what I have.

Sometimes, while I'm shovelling the driveway or juggling bills, I am jealous of rich Jane. And I know I could never be cavalier with credit like poor Jane seems to be. But I'm grateful to them both. The other Janes have reminded me of the value of hard work and saving as opposed to covetousness and indulgence.

They have shown me what it is to be safely in the Canadian middle class, and you know what? It's a pretty great place to be.

The real Jane Webb lives in Barrie, Ont.

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