(A version of this item appeared in The Sault Star)
I’m not myself these days.
So I was informed by a few of the people who stopped to chat at our local authors booth at a Christmas market.
“You’re not the Tom Mills who writes columns in the newspaper,” they said. Or words to that effect.
I’m accustomed to hearing that sentence with a question mark at the end.
I’m one of those people, like a community theatre actor or a lawyer who shills on TV, that people get to know through our personas and then are surprised and probably disappointed when they encounter the real thing in their dentist’s waiting room.
When asked, I confirm I am said columnist, despite many devils urging me to deny it.
Then they tell me how much they like my columns. (With varying degrees of sincerity.)
I express my thanks. (With a degree of sincerity matching my perception of their sincerity in claiming to like my columns.) And we go our merry ways.
The problem that day was that people weren’t asking if I was the guy who writes columns in the newspaper.
They were telling me I wasn’t him. Using declarative sentences and scoffing at my insistences.
A part of me was delighted, because my avatar that appears in the paper sometimes seems like a bit of a whack job.
I’m only as much like him as the Alec Baldwin who allegedly punches people in disputes over parking spaces is like the Alec Baldwin people watch on Saturday Night Live.
That other Tom Mills might well be my fraternal twin, but with a different father.
Still, I don’t think my accusers were drawing that same fine distinction between my column persona and myself that I use as a flimsy defence against lawsuits.
What they were saying is that I no longer look very much like the picture displayed with my column.
And since they were women, I believe them. It takes a woman to make a man aware that he has failed to notice what should be as plain as the nose on his face. (If indeed that is my real nose any more.)
Older men tend to be less alert to changes than women are, which might explain why so many vote Conservative.
Their hair is a dead giveaway.
Women like to try “something different” when they visit the salon.
It may be a subtle something different, blond highlights or lowlights, a quarter-inch change in length, an alteration of the angle of curl — just enough to justify paying quadruple the rate of a man’s haircut.
Occasionally it’s something more drastic, like blond high-beams instead of highlights, or going grey (which involves an intricate dye job because female hair obviously doesn’t go grey in nature).
Be sure you notice, partners of such women. But don’t go overboard in your praise, because she probably has niggling regrets and you don’t want to imply that you didn’t like the way she looked before her act of bouffant boldness.
When an older man goes to the barber shop or salon and his stylist asks, “the usual?” or “just a trim?” he always says “yes,” just as he has for the majority of his adult life.
(A few days after this column appeared I went for a haircut. The first words out of Lisa’s mouth: “The usual, Tom?”)
Never mind that he has about one-tenth the hair he once possessed, or that it has changed from horse-poop brown to winter-sky grey; he still believes the cutter is about to make him look like the sixth Beatle. Again.
And when, or more likely if, a man looks in the mirror, what appears to his bleary eyes is whatever he imagines himself to be. The ravages that time has inflicted on his venerable visage go unseen.
When those women accused me of identity fraud, I had some fun with it.
“That guy in the newspaper has had more work done than Joan Rivers,” I told one.
I informed another that the newspaper kept using my high school yearbook headshot by accident.
One woman was incredulous that a photo on the back cover of my book, a mugshot of me wearing an antique goalie mask, was really me. I told her the mask was court-ordered to reduce the likelihood that my face would terrify small children.
But when I got home and checked the best-before date of my newspaper mugshot, I found it was taken a scant three years ago, a split second in old-fogey time.
Has the magic mirror on my bathroom wall been lying to me, telling me what it thinks I want to hear like a Doug Ford cabinet minister?
Has my hairstylist subversively been stretching the boundaries of “the usual?”
Regardless, a new column mugshot is in the offing, because I guess, as my fellow Beatles used to sing, I’m not what I appear to be.