I like to think I’m unique, that there’s no one else like me. I enjoy thinking I’m like the gently falling snowflake, its crystalline structure so beautiful, so symmetrical, and yet so wholly different from the trillions of other snowflakes. Sure, I’m a little heavier, a little colder, a little whiter. But, inside, I really do feel like a snowflake.
Certainly a flake of some sort.
A big part of what makes me Davis is how I look. No one would mistake me for Brad Pitt or George Clooney or any other handsome movie star (the bastard child of William Pitt and Rosemary Clooney — maybe). I look about average for a fifty-something American male, perhaps a little more endowed with hair and body fat than most. I might be described by some as “professorial,” what with my glasses and my serious expressions and my penchant for functional, non-fashionable clothing. I’ve had a number of people approach me over the years and ask if I used to teach at their school.
I’ve also had people come up to me and say, “Hey, John, how you doing?” That’s because there was a man in my town by the name of John Frazier who some say I looked like. I’ve seen this John person, and there was some resemblance for a while, especially when we both sported beards. I got rid of my facial hair about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, we got rid of John entirely about five years ago, when he died of a heart attack. I try to be sensitive to those who think they’re approaching John and obviously haven’t heard the sad news.
“I’m not doing so good,” I’ll respond as John. “I think I feel a myocardial infarction coming on. Maybe I’ll stay home from work tomorrow.”
I’m very uncomfortable with people making observations, positive or otherwise, about my appearance. It indicates they’ve gone through an internal evaluation process and come up with an opinion on some feature of mine they feel is worthy of comment. Whether it’s good (“Gee, your monobrow doesn’t seem as bushy today”) or bad (“What in God’s name has happened to your face!?”), I don’t especially care to hear it. I’d rather not be noticed at all, and if it requires me wearing an executioner’s hood to go about my daily affairs in relative anonymity, I’ll do it.
So it was very much outside my character on Saturday when I stopped by a local coffee house to pick up a take-out order of soup for my wife, and struck up a brief conversation with the guy behind the counter. He had shortly cropped hair and a round, open face with a certain childlike quality. To me, he looked exactly like a little-known British TV star by the name of Karl Pilkington.
I asked the barista if anyone had ever told him that he looked exactly like Pilkington. He said he hadn’t heard of him.
I started to explain who Karl was. He’s the dim-witted foil of comedian Ricky Gervais who once agreed to be filmed taking an IQ test (and scoring an 83) and who is now starring in a limited-run series on the Science Channel called “An Idiot Abroad.” On this TV show, Karl fumbles through a world tour of famous monuments, making ill-informed, tactless comments about his foreign hosts. Then, I realized such an observation would probably not be viewed as an especially favorable comparison.
“But I’m certain you’re not an idiot,” I could’ve assured him, though I doubted I’d still be able to count on the spittle-free nature of my wife’s soup. Instead, I caught myself barely in time and said he should Google Karl’s image on the internet.
“It’s spelled ‘Pillington,'” I said, “and it’s ‘Carl’ with a ‘C,’ not a ‘K’.”
Later in the day I found myself on the treadmill at the YMCA, idly gazing around the room in search of some distraction from the boredom. There was CNN on the overhead TV, a couple of giggling teenagers talking too loudly in the corner and, over by the free weights, a fifty-something American male, perhaps a little more endowed with hair and body fat than most, who some might describe as “professorial,” what with his glasses and serious expression and penchant for functional, non-fashionable clothing.
It was a guy who looked exactly like me. He even had the slightly hunched posture, the prominent brow and the perpetual frown. He had just decided to step away from his reps for a moment when I first saw him, and it only took a second or two before he turned in my direction and looked directly at me. Our eyes met, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he had the same thought as I: “Oh, you poor soul.”
It’s definitely an awkward situation when you encounter a stranger who could be your identical twin. I know it happened all the time on TV sitcoms and science fiction programs of the sixties, but I’ve heard of no real protocol for dealing with it in real life. Do you acknowledge the similarity and hope that they don’t regard it as a slur? Do you play it coy, and say something funny about meeting at Mom’s for dinner tomorrow?
No, if you’re a couple of reserved-to-the-point-of-sedated, anti-social, borderline-neurotic middle-aged guys, you turn away. You ignore the other person with an intensity you’ve never ignored anybody else in your life.
We both returned to our business of pretending to care about our physiques, making a point of finding something else to look at. I still had another ten minutes to go on the treadmill while he was free to roam around the room and look at whatever and whoever he pleased. He moved to one piece of circuit equipment almost directly in front of me and bent over to adjust the weight setting. It was then that I saw his crack.
I’ve never seen my own backside cleavage before, so I don’t know if there was a resemblance or not. That, however, was beside the point. This man could now be judged as not just another slovenly individual who gave little thought to his personal appearance; he was officially a full-on slob.
I literally stopped in my tracks, or might have, if it wouldn’t have thrown me off the back of the treadmill. If I looked so much like this poor fellow, did I also act like him too? Were there times when parts of my anatomy had also become exposed to the light of day, and I hadn’t realized it? If I feared people evaluating my haircut or new shirt, how would I feel them sizing up my hinder?
Now severely winded, I wrapped up my exercise session and left the cardio room with the following resolution: I need to redouble my efforts to ignore those around me.