As redemption stories go, “The Man Who Would Be You,” by David Haldane, is more complicated than most—which to me makes it a terrific piece of writing.
It’s about Robin Marc Smith, who for 14 years was one of Orange County’s most successful identity thieves. While pretending to be a local businessman, Smith spent more than a decade skulking around office buildings, stealing credit cards and drivers’ licenses, buying stuff with other people’s money and reselling it, and living large with his family while wreaking havoc on other families too numerous to count. He eventually got caught, went to prison, suffered some serious karmic payback, and upon his release decided to confess all to Orange Coast—hoping maybe there’d be a book contract in his future.
To me, Smith’s story gets especially interesting when he starts talking about the future. Turns out, while book money would be nice, Smith also hopes to reclaim some of the loot he stole. By his perverse accounting, he’s earned it. “Sure it’s ill-gotten gains,” he says, “but it’s my money. I’ve done the time.”
On one hand, I think: “OK, so he didn’t kill anybody. There certainly are worse things a man can do.”
On the other, I think about the last time I had to replace my driver’s license at the DMV, or cancel stolen credit cards, or convince a credit-rating agency that it was wrong. And I multiply that a few hundred times, once for each of Smith’s victims, and I think: “You know, maybe there’s a place for waterboarding after all.”
Like everything in life, Smith is complicated, a man who is at once sympathetic and irredeemable. And that’s what makes this story so good. It’s our privilege each month to bring you the work of Haldane and other writers who don’t settle for easy stories, predictable plotlines, and character cliches. Haldane introduces us to Smith in three dimensions—and lets us draw conclusions.
After giving Haldane’s profile a first read, Orange Coast Managing Editor Jim Walters, who appreciates a great story, said: “Wow, that Smith guy is kind of a jerk.”
But he was smiling when he said it, which tells me Haldane got it just about right.
Martin J. Smith
Illustration by John Ueland