Putting good face on drawbacks of blind romance


On the telephone is my mother, with news that a strange man is running around with my face.

"Good," I say, "he can have it. What am I getting in exchange, his liver?"

Apparently, no such balance of body parts is involved. It seems some fellow is using my face as a reference point, a kind of cultural icon, to pursue romance through the personal columns.

These are the little classified ads where men and women seek relationships by declaring in print what spectacular individuals they are and leaving it unmentioned that they haven't had an actual living date since the Ford administration -- Henry's, not Gerald's.

"He's using your face to find women," my mother explains.

"I've been using my face for 45 years," I say. "It hasn't helped me. What makes him think it'll help him?"

"It doesn't say," my mother declares.

Not that I'm knocking my own looks, of course. (There are enough people doing that without my help. Just yesterday, The Sun's Mike Ollove noted that he found some insensitive remarks by a certain politician last week "the most objectionable thing you had in your whole column -- outside of your picture, of course." OK, let's admit it: Whatever its merits, you wouldn't put this face on horseback to rescue Scarlett O'Hara.)

Naturally, though, all of this raises an important cultural question, to wit:

Why is my mother reading the personal columns?

"I wasn't," she says. "I heard it from Sandie," who is my brother's wife and usually confines her reading to such intellectual pursuits as psychology textbooks or newspaper horoscopes, I forget which.

Apparently, she heard about the ad through a friend, who heard about it at the supermarket produce stand, where such gossip travels faster than fax machines.

In the ad, a 42-year-old man describes himself as a "tall, thin, Michael Oleskar look-alike, enjoys summer, volleyball, animals, travel, children."

The ad ran once, more than a month ago, in the Baltimore Jewish Times. At that point, I happened to bump into an old girlfriend at the Rotunda, who said:

"I saw the ad about you."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," she said. "This is the best he could do?"

Anyway, after a few Oleskarless weeks, I am told that the ad ran once or twice more. I am not certain if this is a good sign -- this fellow is doing so well that he's sticking with a good advertising gimmick -- or a bad sign -- nobody's responding to somebody with this face, so he's gotta keep trying.

At this point, a woman I'm now dating remarked: "Maybe I should write to him myself. He's got your looks, but maybe a normal personality."

While I find all of this amusing, it raises a few more questions:

A) Why is this guy misspelling my last name when it's in the newspaper three times a week? (Or is there, perhaps, an actual Michael Oleskar he's referring to, and I've leaped into the most embarrassing public confusion? As it happens, there are no Oleskars in the phone book.)

B) Why would anybody use my face as a selling point?

"Because you're famous," my mother says, extending the required motherly kindness and diplomacy.

"Not because I'm great looking?" I ask.

"Because you're famous," my mother says again. I decide not to pursue this line of questioning any further.

On one level, the ad is not surprising. Guys are always coming up to me and saying, "Are you Mike Olesker? People tell me I look like you."

Usually, they have a beard, they're losing their hair, and they have noses like '57 Buicks. Invariably, we stare at each other in mutual horror.

But now we have this stranger, hoping to score with women by saying he looks like me.

I think I should break the news to this guy: I've spent my entire life telling women I look like Michael Olesker -- without notable success. (Maybe they thought I was talking about Michael Oleskar.)

All of this, I guess, expresses just how desperate the dating scene has become. Many have turned personal ads into a kind of extended dialogue between the unattached, replete with all sorts of cultural overtones.

One local college ad, not too long ago, declared: "Necrophiliac, seeks person with low metabolism."

Read whatever cultural overtones you wish into that one.

But what's the alternative to personal ads? Blind dates? Blind dates are always the same. Somebody says:

"I have someone for you."

"What does this person look like?"

"Great sense of humor."

"What does this person look like?"

"So bright and funny."

"What does this person look like?"

In this case, it's a person who looks like Michael Olesker -- or, Oleskar, anyway.

And, if I find out this guy's getting a lot of response, maybe I'll find out who he is and take out my own ad -- saying I look a lot like him.

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