It was said of Alfred Hitchcock that his self-image was so strong, he thought of himself as another Cary Grant. Every time he walked past a mirror, he was shocked to see his bald, overweight, weak-chinned countenance looking back at him. But as soon as he walked away, he forgot the toady fellow he’d just seen and re-embraced his inner hunk.
I’ve always taken the same approach to my physical appearance. Never mind the fact I haven’t bought clothing outside of a big and tall shop in years. Never mind the way the cashier at the last fast food restaurant I visited greeted me with the question, “And you’ll have a large what?” Being a big man in the John Candy mold never stopped me from thinking of myself as a very handsome fellow. Some heavy players look away when an attractive woman walks by. My M.O. is to throw back my shoulders, look her in the eyes and give her the same smile I give my triple cheeseburger. It’s either devastatingly charming or terrifying. I’m married, so I don’t stick around to find out the result. Who knows how many pining, potential paramours have been left hanging on park benches in my substantial wake?
Personal confidence is important in my job. I work for a state-based conservative think tank and frequently give interviews to radio stations and newspapers. My boss, the president of the organization, usually takes the television opportunities. He’s telegenic, slim, and can do a hilarious, dead-on impersonation of Jack Kemp if he runs out of things to say. Recently, he received a request on short notice to speak to an evening newscaster about gambling. Since gambling’s not his bailiwick, he asked me to do the interview. I accepted the assignment with enthusiasm. I’d been dreaming of doing the talking head thing since watching Buchanan and Kinsley tangle nightly on “Crossfire.”
That night, I found a hair stylist and had my floppy, Bobby Kennedy style bangs cut away from my forehead into what I fancied was a more serious short style. When I arrived at home I left my standard issue navy blue blazer on the hanger in favor of a professorial tweed sportscoat. Surveying my eyeglasses, I chose a pair with severe-looking plastic frames on the Barry Goldwater model. Along with my already present goatee (designed to disguise my double chin and improve my ethnicity quotient), the whole arrangement was aimed at avoiding the standard preppy white boy conservative image modeled ad infinitum by a succession of second tier GOP males on C-Span. As I reviewed my image in the mirror, my built-in rose-colored lenses and Hitchcockian ego assured me of my success in building the look of a radical to contrast with the conservative worldview I planned to espouse in the interview.
The interview went beautifully. It felt like taking a test and knowing all the answers. No matter how the newscaster challenged, I was able to answer and redirect to my carefully planned talking points. Upon finishing and shaking hands with my host, I happily anticipated viewing the tape which would arrive in my mailbox a few days later.
When I received the tape and played it, I discovered my child-on-Christmas-morning hopefulness had been inappropriate to the occasion. A more suitable emotion would have been the dread of showing up on Mr. Blackwell’s famous list of worst dressed persons. The earth-toned colors I wore washed out my complexion. Camera close-ups revealed my goatee to be as scraggly as Michael Moore’s facial hair on Oscar night. But the most notable feature of my new look was that my Barry Goldwater glasses combined with the goatee to make me resemble another infamous figure from America’s history, Malcolm X. Well, actually I looked about the way Malcolm X would have looked if the prophet of rage had repeatedly vented his righteous fury on the buffet table.
Despite my horror at resembling the original X-Man’s fat, white shadow, I forced myself to joylessly watch the rest of the interview. I removed the cassette. The next few minutes are blank in my memory. As an act of self-defense, my sub-conscious mind must have taken over and disposed of the tape in such a way as to make certain I would never see it again.
Like Hitchcock walking away from the mirror that betrayed him, I recovered quickly. But for at least a little while, I think I’ll stick with the navy blazer, red ties, and the theatre of the mind.
Hunter Baker is a public policy professional working in Atlanta, Georgia. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.