I am writing this while sitting on a flight home from LA where I spent exactly 21 hours on a hastily-assembled business trip. I am sitting across the aisle from a man who so closely resembles Dick Cheney that I keep sneaking furtive glances at him even though I know he is not the Vice President. I wonder if he is used to it by now. I wonder if he even knows, but if he doesn’t see the resemblance himself, I can’t imagine anyone will tell him. How do you tell someone, “I’m sure you’re a nice man, but you look like an overweight, belligerent bald dude and I can’t stop staring at you?”
It reminds me of my first day on the job at a major national nonprofit back in the late 90’s where one of my fellow newbies in the orientation session was a dead ringer for Monica Lewinsky. Like Mr. UnCheney, she was a dead ringer to the extent that I secretly wondered whether she was indeed Ms. Lewinsky, might have had trouble finding employment and so had assumed another name and a new vocation. In the back of my head I knew it was pure fantasy, but it was kind of fun to imagine anyway. Also like Mr. UnCheney, there was NO WAY to tell her about her lookalike. I mean, how do you say that to someone and not just completely ruin her day? "Hi. Nice to meet you. You look exactly like the woman dubbed 'The Portly Pepperpot' by the New York Post. But it looks great on you though!" Yeah..that ain't happenin'.
It’s a tricky business, comparing one person to another. I remember back when I was a chubby kid, my friend’s dad told me that I looked “just like Debbie Reynolds,” which he obviously had meant as a compliment. I didn’t take it as such. First of all I was appalled that I didn’t remind him of Mallory from Family Ties or the eldest daughter from Charles In Charge. Noooo, I had to look like some old lady whose only accomplishment to my knowledge was giving birth to Princess Leia. The good news is I looked like a movie star. The bad news is I looked like a movie star from the 1950s —- 30 years later. Oh the humanity! I was then told a couple of years ago I looked like Anne Heche (immediately post-Ellen, immediately pre-husband and baby), which bummed me out incredibly. I had short hair at the time, so I comforted myself with the thought that maybe it was the fair skin and short blond hair? Right? Right? Cause I don't really look like her, do I? DO I?!! Oh my lord, I look like Anne Heche! I can't go on!
Likewise, I have always told my friend L, who, btw, graciously entertained me last night after my meeting in LA (thanks for the burrito, yo!), that he was a cross between Joaquin Phoenix and Tobey Maguire. I thought, “Now THAT is a compliment, not the least of which is because it’s true.” His reaction? Total offense that I mentioned him and Joaquin Phoenix in the same sentence. Ooops. My bad. I'm thinking there's not a thing wrong and quite a few things right with Mr. Phoenix, but it seems that my understanding of what would be considered good looking was vastly different from his, just as the Anne Heche dude thought he was giving me a compliment.
As I thought about this, I realized that I do the “s/he looks like…” thing a lot. I don’t know why. But I probably should be more careful. I think it’s because, when I’m trying to tell a story about someone, I want to give the listener some sense or taste for the person I’m discussing. For instance, I always describe my father as either a) Mike Myers’ Scottish father in So I Married an Axe Murderer [which is truly a shockingly 100% accurate rendering of my dad in every way] or b) a cross between Buddy Hackett and a non-racist, Scottish Archie Bunker. Not that the description tells you anything concrete, but it gives you a flavor, an essence, a mental and emotional collage as a starting point for understanding the story you’re hearing. But sometimes I can be unintentionally off.
Like the time I described my English friend of Indian descent as "like George Michael, only Indian." Now this was back in the late 80's/early 90's before GM went off the rails and started wearing his Village People couture, back when he was still a teen heart throb. Regardless, my friend questioned me for days about what specific element of his body and face made me think, in his words: "Oh yes! George Michael indeed!" Ooops. *I* thought he was cute, and I was referring to his manner of speaking and his dancing style and oh never mind...
So I am now drafting a list of people whom I should never use as a comparison. Any suggestions? I have so far:
Robert Smith of The Cure