Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 18, 2011

Who Is This, Really?

Last week at work the phone rang (now I’m talking about my real office, not the fictional one I inhabit for the posts like my previous one), I picked up and a voice said, “Hi, Brad, this is Dan Johnson.” (That’s a fictional name I’m using here for a real-life former boss of mine.) It sounded just like “Dan’s” voice. “Hi, Dan,” I said, and I knew immediately that I had been had. Dan would never call me. He probably doesn’t remember that I exist, if he ever did. This was, instead, another former colleague of mine with a great gift for impersonation, who does a dead-on imitation of the voice of this former boss of ours. He got me.

What, though, if I were president? I’d be getting calls like, “Hi, Mr. President, this is Hu Jiantao. I was thinking of coming over for a visit next Tuesday. How’s your schedule?” How would I know for certain it was really Mr. Hu on the line and not one of my smart-aleck nephews showing off their command of Mandarin and their ability to impersonate Mr. Hu? Who checks these things? Of course, the answer is that people deep in the entrails of the two departments of state spend two years discussing various things that need to be resolved at a higher level. Then the next level of decision gets involved, then some under-secretaries of State, and then the Secretaries of State talk about it, and go to the respective leaders, who agree in principle. Then a couple more years pass while a series of joint committees work out the agenda for the meeting and what sort of car should pick up the visiting party and what they should eat at dinner. Then they announce to the world that Leader A will visit Leader B and send word to the factories that make t-shirts and coffee mugs to get ready with some really special gifts for the leaders to present each other.

Even more problematic, what if it were the president calling ME to get some advice on making his blog more interesting or funnier, or on what video camera to buy for his next family trip. I know the man’s voice, but, heck, it could be anybody. It would be embarrassing, you know? “No, Brad, honestly. It’s ME. Look, let me prove it. Here, I’ve got an FBI file that says you gave a speech at an anti-war rally in 1972.” Heck, anyone could’ve looked that up in the local paper.

The best and funniest take in this vein was, of course, Bill Cosby, many decades ago, in his famous sketch in which the voice of god speaks to Noah, commanding him to build the ark. After a lot of hemming around, Noah finally demands, “Who is this, really?”

I like to think that Mr. Hu has to identify himself the same way we do to all the foreign entities we deal with — our online accounts, banks,, and so forth — with a password. Somewhere, maybe in a back room in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong, some obscure operative in the world of political intrigue comes up with the day’s password for any world leaders who need to talk to one another. He sends a secret cable to all the heads of state around the globe that the password for the day is, oh, “swordfish.”

So Mr. Hu’s office calls the White House, says Mr. Hu wishes to speak with Mr. Obama. “Today’s password, please,” they request. “Swordfish!” “Very well, please hold for Mr. Obama.” And then they get down to business.

The one group that has it easy are celebrities. How do all the latest hot young actors call up the latest hot young actresses or American Idol winners and get dates? I couldn’t do it, nor could you. Easy. They have agents and publicists. Agent and publicist decide it would be great for both careers if Hot Young Actor A and Hot Young Actress B were seen together at the next premiere, and they set it up. Hmm… kind of like politics, in a way.

Now, if I could just remember my password for


  1. This one is really interesting and on the money to me. I wonder about those sort of things a lot. How does one celebrity meet another, how would you know it really was President Obama if he called on the phone?

    Both “Seinfeldian” and “Carlinian” in the thought process Mr. Brad.


  2. I am glad that the perfectly good word “actress” is getting an airing. In recent times I’ve wondered why frequently ladies in the acting profession refer to themselves using the masculine term. I can appreciate that female stars may not like the diminutive word “starlet”.


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