Robert L. Kaner and Robert M. Kaner had a lot in common. Both men were Minnesota lawyers in their 60s, and both studied at the University of Minnesota Law School. They were bachelors, and they went to synagogues with the same name.
There's only one rather large difference between the two men. Robert L. Kaner, a Minneapolis lawyer, died recently, and Robert M. Kaner -- a distant relative of his deceased namesake -- is alive, well, and still trying to practice law.
Robert M. Kaner, or "Bob," of Duluth, woke up to a phone call at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. A friend had read an obituary in the Duluth News Tribune, and was calling to find out if Kaner was really dead. He's not, and he took out an ad in the Tribune to prove it.
"I'm getting these calls all day long asking me if I'm dead," Kaner told City Pages. "It occurs to me that if the word gets out on the street that I'm dead, then my law office is dead.
"'Cuz who's going to hire a dead guy?"
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Bob Kaner's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Kaner and his relative crossed paths a couple times, having gone to the University of Minnesota Law School around the same time, and once working together for the public defender's office in Duluth more than 30 years ago. But they'd lost touch through the years.
When phone calls and e-mails made it clear he was being mistaken for his deceased relative, Kaner sprung into action. He drove to the Duluth News Tribune, where he's had an account with the classified section for years. Kaner asked the woman behind the desk if he could take out an ad announcing that he was still alive.
"Her reaction," Kaner says, "was the same as anybody else's: That this is quite an unusual incident."
The two men were sometimes, but rarely confused for each other in life, with Kaner sometimes getting mail in Duluth that was meant for the one in Minneapolis.
Kaner said he's fielded dozens of phone calls since his apparent death, and finds people on the other end of the line are relieved when they heard his voice. Though he's saddened by the death of his relative -- he attended the funeral in Minneapolis this week -- Kaner said the bizarre experience has been "enlightening."
"I think that you go through the mundane things of life, and maybe you feel that things aren't going that good," Kaner said. "Or that you're -- that maybe your life doesn't mean anything, that type of thing. And you have this happen, and you see that people do care that you're alive or dead."
Kaner practices as a personal injury lawyer, representing plaintiffs who've been hurt. With a laugh, he acknowledged that the strange circumstances that threatened to cut into his legal practice might end up helping it: It's hard to imagine a more attention-getting classified ad than one that announces you are still among the living.
Kaner said: "Well, it can't hurt."
Here's Kaner's ad, via the Duluth News Tribune: