In olden days I processed subscriptions for an academic publisher. Among our many publications, we handled three different political science journals. One day we received a routine renewal for an individual, a woman, living in Southern California. At the time we kept hard copies of all payments, usually photocopies of the check we received (but hey, we’d even photocopy cash if they sent that). If there was a minor problem with a subscription, we might go to their previous payment in our files to completely verify the past and present status of the subscription. I can’t remember the exact problem but it was probably a renewal duplication. We would send out a series of subscription renewal notices, like every six weeks or so. We had apparently already received a renewal from this woman. Duplicates are not that unusual either … somebody is clearing off their messy desk and they find either the duplicate or a copy from another mailing and they forget that they’ve already renewed and send another check. We would routinely extend their subscription.
… there was something odd about this latest payment. The earlier check had two different names, a man and a woman, say John Doe and Mary Smith. Again, not that unusual. But the second check had Mary Smith and James Q Public. The renewal was for Mary Smith’s subscription. I don’t know why my office mate decided to do one more check, but she cross referenced James Q. Public and found that HE had his own subscription, but at an address on the EAST COAST!
Now, we had some experience with Political Scientists and knew a couple of things. For one thing, they are pretty boring. For another thing, the field seemed to us to be somewhat tenuous. Every summer we experienced what we called the annual migration of the political scientists, meaning they seemed to change jobs a lot. We would get a ton of address changes every week during the summer for our three political science journals. This happened every year for the eight years I worked there.
But this was different. We were intrigued. For one thing, what had happened to John Doe? And wait, did James Q. Public need HIS address changed to the new California address as well? Inquiring minds HAD to know!
I decided to craft a very carefully worded letter. Yes, I was nosy, but we had some valid concerns here. I mean, was there murder involved? Or perhaps we had uncovered some secret guild of political scientist spouse swappers. So I wrote to James Q. Public (who had after all signed the check) at Mary Smith’s address.
He responded very promptly, most of all because I think he was impressed that we had uncovered their subterfuge.
He was also quite amused at the tone of my letter which might be succinctly paraphrased as “just what the ding dong dang is going on here?”
Alas, there was no murder and we had uncovered no den of political science impropriety or intrigue.
John Doe and Mary Smith had gone on an academic sabbatical.
Their friend, James Q. Public, had taken a visiting professor position in Southern California and was house sitting for them. Their sabbatical involved enough time to warrant adding James to their checking account for the duration, so he could pay any incidental items of theirs that might crop up, like this renewal, which she had rushed through herself just prior to leaving.
Shucks. Apparently Political Scientists ARE boring after all.