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I’m in a Georgia Avenue Safeway on a Thursday afternoon when I hear a voice behind me, more telling than questioning. “Hi,” it says. “Do you know you look like Adrian Fenty?”
I feel the hair on the back of my scrotum curl up in distress. Before I even turn around, I know what I’ll see: a small black woman, about 80 and wrinkled by her years. One hand still holds a bottle of rubbing alcohol, snatched from the treacherous bottom shelf. She beams at me through thick glasses, waiting for me to answer that damnable question.
Do I know I look like Adrian Fenty? The question first came up almost four years ago, in the summer of 2000. Fenty, a young lawyer, was running for the D.C. Council in Ward 4—a tough campaign against 21-year incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis, who attacked her challenger for his inexperience. Fenty, smartly, took his campaign to the street.
To be exact, he took it to the little section of Kennedy Street NW that connects Georgia Avenue to Kansas and Missouri Avenues. That’s where I was driving when I ran into police tape, traffic cones, young women in tight white halter tops and booty shorts—all the signs of a D.C. block party. Black SUVs sported Fenty posters. I parked in front of the coin laundry and got out, curious to see the guy who wanted to lead my ward.
As I headed over to where the candidate was talking to a group of would-be constituents, I was stopped by a little old lady, standing at the foot of the steps leading to her yard. “Are you his kin?” she asked.
Was I whose kin? Seeing my confusion, she flicked her church fan toward Fenty. “No, ma’am,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “you look like you could be his brother. You’re both such handsome young men.”
I stayed at the party for a half-hour. And I met Fenty: a hurried hello on my part; some promises of economic and neighborhood development on his. I didn’t—and still don’t—see much resemblance. We share the same light-caramel skin color and the same clean-shaven head (so as to go bald without looking like Sherman Hemsley). That’s as far as it goes. Fenty is much taller than I, with broad shoulders and stylish clothes.
Yet three other little old ladies stopped me that day to ask if I was related to Fenty or was working on his campaign. It was kind of funny. Flattering even. I went home and thought no more about it.
Fenty got elected. Time went by. I was living in Crestwood, with a series of crappy roommates. My neighbors—call them Mr. and Mrs. K.—were an elderly couple, who had apparently been driven from their last home by carpet fumes. They liked to tell whoever was handy about their health problems and the risks of new carpeting.
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One night, as I was hurrying down the hall with the hope of avoiding conversation, I heard their door creak open. “I saw you on the news today,” Mrs. K. called out. Had Channel 7 done an exposé on strip-club patrons? I thought. “How was I on the news?” I asked.
She laughed. “No,” she said. “But I saw your twin, that Adrian Fenty—do you know how much you look like him?”
A few days later, I went to the exercise track at Carter Barron early in the morning. As I hurried through the geriatric walkers, heading for the pull-up bars, a woman who looked to be an octogenarian turned and studied me, still half-raising her blue 2-and-a-half-pound dumbbells. “Are you Adrian Fenty?” she asked.
Then it happened at the grocery store. Then at the C Street DMV office. Then at a church bazaar on 16th Street. “Fenty,” they said. “Fenty. You look like Fenty.”
Around this time, I started taking a new route to work. Up the street from me, I began noticing a parked white SUV with D.C. Council tags. One morning, I saw it on the road. As it passed, I looked inside: Fenty. We were neighbors. We exchanged quick waves.
I saw him several more times. But I saw even more of his people, Fenty people. They always seemed to be the same: black women from age 50 to so old I couldn’t gauge. I didn’t know if he inspired a motherly instinct or (my guess) he somehow awakened their long-shelved libidos. All I knew was that, within a 10-mile radius of Ward 4, they would be waiting, eyes aglow, to tell me I looked like their hero.
Last year, I moved out of Ward 4. As I stood in the Lamond-Riggs post office, filling out my change-of-address form, the vestibule door opened. A gentle breeze came in, carrying the all-too-familiar smell of Blue Star ointment and…was it Vapo-Rub? I heard papers shuffle, I heard feet shuffle, and there she was, next to me. Her voice was barely audible, but I knew what she was asking. This is no way to start a new, Fenty-free life, I thought.
I could not escape. In line at the Sun Trust Bank at P.G. Plaza, I caught the eye of a beautiful woman in the business-only line. I smiled. She smiled back. I was about to speak when a thin voice came from behind me: “Young man…” No!
By the time I turned back, the teller light had blinked on; the woman who was surely destined to be my wife moved to the window. No, no, no! I thought. Damn you, Fenty!
It would be great if my supposed resemblance ever did anything for me. If hot young women wanted to sleep with me because I looked like Fenty, for instance. Or if people gave me free stuff. Or if a red-light camera caught my image and the elderly woman writing the tickets said, “Gee, he looks like Adrian Fenty. Let’s forget about this little transaction.”
But all it does is ruin my ability to stay incognegro while doing my daily chores. And it gives a few old gals the satisfaction of telling their friends that they saw someone who looks vaguely like someone who’s only kinda-sorta well-known.
I look at the old lady, staring at me in the romantic setting of the Safeway personal hygiene aisle. “Yes, ma’am,” I say. “I know.” She walks away, pleased with the righteousness of her observation. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.