is an author of books for children, including the new "Jackhammer Sam" (Macmillan/Roaring Brook)
The Internet is a nearly infinite universe of things I do not want to know. I can usually ignore the boasts, the shards of opinion, and the superfluous stuff. But one fact sticks in my craw: There are people who brazenly use my name.
I'm not alone in this. The journalist David F. Carr shares most of his name with the well-known New York Times columnist David M. Carr. It didn't seem so bad, F. Carr recently said, except that M. Carr chronicled his years of drug abuse in his memoir. Confusion with him could be awkward.
As for me, I still recall the night when I uncovered an international army of so-called Peter Mandels. There was a Florida salesman, an Alaska high school counselor, and a New Jersey gynecologist. Even Peter Mandelson, the British politician, refused to stop popping up when I typed in M-A-N-D-E-L.
On a good day, I came up third or fourth in the Google results. But a naturopath based in Germany taunted me by being perpetually first.
Was there a way to regain the joy of knowing I was unique? There was. I'd track down the other Peter Mandels and hammer out some sort of compromise. Perhaps dismantle their Web pages or help them change their name.
Finding phone numbers of a half-dozen Peter Mandels was easy; getting calls returned wasn't. "He's very busy," the person answering the phone would say, or, more suspiciously, "He's on a long vacation." I got this from the naturopath's assistant: "Peter Mandel doesn't speak any English."
After weeks of dialing, I finally got an actual Peter Mandel on the line, one who owns a California radon-mitigation company. "Hello," I began. "I am concerned about the dilution of the Peter Mandel name." There was a sound that was either a cough or a snort.
Hadn't he Googled himself? Wasn't he aware of the other Peter Mandels?
"I'm aware," he said.
Didn't we make him jealous? Angry?
Another snort-cough. "The way I come up on Google or you come up on Google is fine," he explained. "My clients come to me, since I handle some very hazardous materials."
I next reached the gynecologist, who was fine with sharing search-engine space with us. "How would you feel," I asked, "if you disappeared from Google results?"
There was a moment of silence. "I would not be happy about it," he replied.
This was the point where I should have offered Dr. Mandel a payment. Or made a tearful plea. But I couldn't, and suddenly realized I didn't need to.
I mean, sure, there was the radon Peter Mandel, the gynecologist, and the German guy. But I'm the only writer of children's books in the bunch. What do you think those pretenders know about sneezing leopards? Burger-loving dogs?
You can Google it, but I'd bet nothing. Maybe, just possibly, I am special, after all.