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MARCH 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 3



THAT'S LIFE

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WILLIS LOCKWOOD has served as a Presidential Management Fellow under Attorney General Janet Reno, and also worked for the U.S. government in Johannesburg, South Africa and Brazzaville, Congo. Lockwood, a resident of New York City, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine.


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The Scourge of Anonymity

WILLIS LOCKWOOD

I have suffered enough. I would like to inform the general public of the great offense I have taken at its ill-conceived observations. Four little words have gutted my self-esteem for too long. Get your pencils ready. These words are "You look just like" They are the most horrible four utterances in the English language (actually the four worst might be "Pat Buchanan for President"). Nonetheless, for an individual like myself who apparently displays no distinguishing characteristics, these words are particularly incisive. The range of unflattering possibilities is endless, usually tending toward the Ernest Borgnine side of the spectrum. Though at times I believe people do offer these observations with some degree of levity, appallingly enough it would appear that most individuals are genuinely trying to offer some sort of helpful information. The fact that these sentiments might be rooted in some truth is more than I, for one, can bear.

Before you take me for a hypersensitive, simpering weenie, let me offer you, the reader, several incidents that are a painfully accurate representation of life with these four words.

I spent some time in francophone Africa working for the United States government. I often heard the following yelled by African citizens as I innocently sidled down bustling streets among a sea of people:

"Bonjour, Monsieur President Beeeel Cleeenton!" "George Boosh, George Booosh!" "Jacques Chirac!" "Farrah Fawcett!"

To clarify, though I may have accrued a small, Manson-esque following in my lifetime, I have never been a leader of a large Western democracy, nor do I qualify for social security benefits. I am also not one of Charlie's original Angels.

I can accept these transgressions of decorum from West Africans, as I was one of few westerners at my post at the time. I have far less patience when it comes to my countrymen and women. Perhaps the worst experience I have had with these four words was when I undertook a brief and highly glamorous stint as a junior high school history teacher. (Think acne and flatulence jokes.) My students bestowed on me the following bon mots:

"He looks just like ..."

"... that nerd on that commercial." "your butt!" "Elizabeth Cady Stanton!" (and so went a long week on the women's suffrage movement) "Frederick Douglas!" (same idea) "Jeffrey Dahlmer!"

I am sad to report that adults have been no more kind. In the past 72 hours alone I have received the following choice bits of wisdom from my peers:

"You look just like ... Dagwood Bumstead, Woodrow Wilson, Olive Oyl, Ethan Frome, Dan Quayle, Suzy Chapstick, and 'that little kid who was really a puppet who killed all those people in that movie.' "

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, my tale does not end here. There is another disadvantage to sporting no distinguishing features. Due to my affliction as a slender, non-threatening, alabaster-skinned male, I am repeatedly accosted by individuals who seek directions. This attention is unwarranted for two reasons:

1. I can barely find my place of work without accidentally getting on a plane to Kazakhstan.

2. Though I appear non-threatening, I like to torture small rodents in my garage.

Worst of all, I can no longer venture within 300-feet of any metro, bus or airport. This greatly inhibits my travel opportunities and often makes me tardy. Employers have proven to be surprisingly unsympathetic to this struggle with adversity.

I have reached the point where I can discern the look of confusion two blocks away. An individual stares blankly at an unwieldy map. Said individual looks hopefully at passers by, seeking out easy prey. I approach cautiously, trying to grimace, to appear menacing. I vigorously attempt to emit ghastly body odors. Nothing works.

The enemy brandishes his weapons skillfully: devious knee-high tube socks, paisley polo shirt, and abrasively colorful "Jams" shorts, not sold since the mid-1980's, but somehow popular among the throngs of Midwestern visitors to major metropolitan areas. "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Broadway Street?" he asks, standing under a street sign that, of course, reads "86th and Broadway." An "I'm Keeping My Promise" button pinned to his lapel flops around menacingly in the wind.

I pause, hesitant, wanting to be rude, wanting to pull the bloody carcass of a field mouse out of my backpack. Instead, I submit. "Sure, it's right here, sir." For some reason unbeknownst to me, I give him perfect directions.

And I am far too friendly. "Thank you," he says, "I appreciate your help." I smile graciously, delighted to serve my fellow man. Perhaps this time will be different, I think. And then he strikes. "Say, I'm sure you get this all the time, but are you one of the Osmonds?"

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