(This column first appeared in the Good Times Weekly on August 18th, and can be found on their website here)
A few weeks ago, during a typically foggy, chilly Santa Cruz morning, I decided to take a brisk walk to get the blood moving, revitalize the senses and energize my mental state. It was early in the day and as such I chose to simply hide my comfortable almost-pajamas and disheveled almost-awake self with a black trench coat cinched dramatically at the waist, a pair of extra large sunglasses, and a neatly tied black scarf atop the leftovers of the previous night’s fantastic hairdo. As I headed for the front door, a brief glance in the mirror told me I looked a lot like a movie star in a clichéd disguise, more specifically (and fantastically, in the true sense of the word – the derivative of “fantasy”) I imagined I looked a lot like 1970’s era Elizabeth Taylor dodging the public eye. (Need I remind you that it was very early, and I probably had not yet had my reality-inducing first cup of coffee, so humor me.)
Basking in my newfound, if wholly undeserved confidence, I adopted a slight swagger in my step, thinking, “How would La Liz exercise?” I committed to my own inner monologue and avoided direct eye contact with strangers, as if I were Someone Important who did not want to be bothered. I reminisced about my marriages to Richard Burton and my perfume empire. My journey led me toward the Boardwalk, and through small groups of early arrivals at the beach: groups of families, friends and a church group or two. My intent to breeze through on the wings of the starlet express was halted mid-step as a teenager muttered, “Is that Rosie O’Donnell?”
My personal Mancini soundtrack skipped a few grooves, my stride de-glamorized as I tripped over the offending comment, and my mouth fell open in shock. Rosie O’Donnell? The reality of my true demeanor fell over me like a breaking wave. Not the kind of wave that lifts you up and carries you like a graceful water goddess to the edge of the sand, but a wave that knocks you over unexpectedly, rolls you on the sea floor and tosses you out with sand in all the wrong places. How could I have been so delusional? Nothing against Ms. O’Donnell, but when one is trying to feign paparazzi dodging, one usually does not adopt a personage that requires dialogue along the lines of, “Yo! Exercising here! A little privacy?!!"
The remainder of my stroll lacked zing. I trudged home to resume life as plain old me. I thought about the mistaken identity perpetrated by the teen (whom I pegged immediately as a Taylor Lautner look-alike), and the doppelganger tribes among us. I admit to being one of those people who regularly says things like, “He’s a Robert de Niro guy,” or “She’s one of the Jessica Tandys” when describing someone. Apparently what I hadn’t considered was that I might be “a Rosie O’Donnell.” Doctor heal thyself? How about “judge pigeonhole thyself.”
I’ve had the good fortune to live in a handful of different cities, and thanks to unerring research (“people watching”), I can attest to the scientific fact that there are regional doppelganger tribes, just as there are regional cuisine and fashion. Santa Cruz is rife with Billy Bob Thorntons and Gary Buseys. There's an abundance of Vanessa Redgraves and one or two middle-aged Gwen Stefanis clinging to youth (but usually on the arm of a Drew Carey instead of a Gavin Rossdale). There are too many Tom Greenes and not enough George Clooneys: oodles of Sheryl Crows and a marked upswing in Vincent Gallos, yet still only one Seal. We’re short on Ben Stillers (no pun intended) and could benefit greatly by trading some of our Michael Grosses for one good Jon Hamm.
(A side note to those of you unfamiliar with the pop culture references herein, by overlaying your specific genre of choice, you’ll understand my point. Translate to your dialect of choice, for instance sports fans might note Santa Cruz suffers a glut of Johnny Damons and too few Venus Williamses; Sadly, I haven’t seen a Michael Schumacher in years. Political junkies see the bumper crop of Cathy Ashtons, two and a half Vladimir Putins, and a James Carville on every corner; Barbara Mikulskis are usually seasonal. Keep in mind this is purely skin deep, so jump right in – the water’s non-committal.)
My other adoptive homes over the years are not safe from the broad (though accurate) brushstrokes of my keen observation. Chicago specializes in Lainie Kazans, Bernie Macs, Kevin Jameses and Katherine Heigls. It suffers from a dearth of Paul Newmans.
The hometown of my youth (remaining nameless to protect the innocent) is chock full of Paula Deans, George Lopezes, Molly Ringwalds and Bob Villas. Not one single Adam Sandler.
My decade in Los Angeles is an anomaly in doppelganger tribe labeling, considering it is both the lair of the copyrighted brand names, as well as the home of cosmetic surgery, by design an exercise in tribe-hopping. Where’s the fun in, “She’s a Sharon Stone. Oh, wait, she is Sharon Stone.” Boring.
Where am I going with this? Nowhere important, just a self-image query: Who do you believe to be your doppleganger tribe? Take a look in the mirror. Try to be realistic. Imagine stealing someone’s purse and what their police report description of you might be. Be prepared to take it down a notch: if you think it’s Matthew McConaughey it may actually be closer to Nick Nolte.
We’re all special individuals, single snowflakes with unique formations of body, mind, soul and add-ons. And yet, at some point in your life you will be shocked by an offhand comment by a teenager or other casual observer, and all you can do is prepare for that inevitable moment and plan an exit strategy. I, personally, am going to enjoy the company of my mother (a Shirley Jones), my sister (Hillary Clinton) and my best friend (Julia Roberts). Yo, get over it!