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Check Mate

Claim:   Woman without driver's license tries to cash check by offering magazine featuring nude photos of herself as identification.

UNDETERMINED

Example:   [Los Angeles Times, 1993]

The other day we mentioned that a man with a fake L.A. Times ID had posed as a food critic, trying to wangle free meals from two eateries with no success.

The case brought to mind a story involving a young woman who wrote out a check at a clothes store in Marina del Rey several years ago. When the clerk asked to see her driver's license, she explained apologetically that her wallet had been stolen. But, she added, she did have one form of ID.

"I was the May centerfold in Playboy magazine," she told the clerk. "I have the centerfold here in my purse if you want to see it." She took it out. The smiles matched. Restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?1
 

Origins:   Sometimes even we don't recognize the latent urban legend potential of an anecdote at first glance. Such a case occurred recently — I'd seen the article quoted above before and hadn't thought twice about it, a charming little tale with nothing inherently implausible about it.

Then I picked up a copy of a little book called True Remarkable Occurrences, a slender volume of supposedly "true" anecdotes that turned out to be chock full of apocryphal urban legend-like tales. (The author's primary criterion in offering the entries as "true stories" was apparently that they had been published in books, magazines, or newspapers.) There I found a familiar-sounding article cited as having come from the London Sunday Telegraph magazine:
NEW YORK — Sharon Mitchell, heroine of the X-rated Captain Lust, was having trouble cashing a check at a New York bank because she was not carrying a driver's license or any other identification.

She was carrying a magazine in which she appeared in the nude. She handed over the magazine, hitched her sweater up to her chin, and arranged herself in the same pose.2

They cashed her check.
And then I came across this item in a collection of police humor:
London, England — Vicky Lee, a 26-year-old actress and model, was pulled over for DUI. When she had no means of identification, she suggested the officers should check out the latest issue of Penthouse, which revealed more than just her identity. An officer was dispatched to buy a copy. Lee, who pleaded guilty to drunk driving, was fined £550 and banned from driving for 18 months.3
The first example I could buy, but not the other two. A store can opt to accept a customer's check based on whatever identification they choose to consider sufficient. Bank personnel, however, have to follow all sorts of rigid rules and procedures when handling checks. What would a teller do in this situation,
scribble "Saw nude picture of bearer in magazine" on the back of the check? He'd be lucky if he only drew a reprimand instead of being fired. I also find it rather remarkable that police (even British ones!) would consider a picture in Penthouse a form of identification, especially as it's de rigueur for porn stars to adopt one or more stage names.

But then, the latter two examples include detail generally lacking in urban legend-like anecdotes. Sharon Mitchell is the name of a real porn actress, and she did appear in a film called Captain Lust at the time the article about her check-cashing incident ran. And a UK model named Vicki Lee has been featured in numerous men's magazines, including Penthouse. So, maybe these anecdotes really are true. We have to wonder just how many models are wandering around out there without any identification but carrying magazines displaying nude photos of themselves.

Last updated:   15 April 2011

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Sources:

    3.   Gaspirtz, Oliver.   A Treasury of Police Humor.
    Springfield, IL: Lincoln-Herndon, 1997.   ISBN 0-942936-31-0   (p. 129).

    1.   Harvey, Steve.   "Only in L. A."
    Los Angeles Times.   12 May 1993   (p. B2).

    2.   Train, John.   True Remarkable Occurrences.
    New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1978.   ISBN 0-517-53505-X   (p. 56).