Monday, September 28, 2015

Not being John Malkovich

This is a little bit of a departure, but still within movie limits.

I don’t remember the first time someone said I looked like John Malkovich, nor that I looked like John Lithgow. Personally I prefer Malkovich as I’d put Malkovich’s great scene against Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire against Lithgow’s 3rd Rock From The Sun romp. My first Malkovich comment was from a friend of a friend and it seemed that mostly women who said I resembled him. 

To be honest, there is a slight resemblance, at least to me, and I am in the movie business as well having written a dozen or so TV movies and a few features. One of the early notices was at LAX while I waited for a friend at the gate. I noticed two men about twenty feet away were looking at me then talking, glancing back and forth until one approached and asked if I was John. I smiled and shook my head “No, sorry.” They had to leave but I think they didn’t believe me. 

Then there was the time I visited Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley and joined a group of four. After awhile I caught a woman glancing at me, turning away. She said something to her husband and he glanced back but didn’t want to be obvious. I wondered if something was wrong but they continued to sneak looks at me. As we toured I asked questions from the docent and this time they smiled at me like we three had a secret. Finally the tour was over and I was walking to my car when the woman approached first and said what Malkovich probably hears a lot, “Excuse me, are you…” I stopped her and said with a smile, “No, I’m sorry, I get that sometimes.” Husband came up and quickly caught his wife’s disappointment. I felt bad now. I almost wished that I did say yes.

This has happened at least twenty times with a group of mellennials  at the restaurant at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard last Sunday. Before that, about two months ago with a group of African-Americans having pizza on Van Nuys boulevard in Sherman Oaks. As I passed, one spoke loudly, “Hey, John.” I turned around to see who he was talking to. It was me. I said  I wasn’t “him” and my now usual “I’m sorry.” However, the best story happened in Paris, naturally. My brother Dave and I had traveled to France for two weeks and found a nice little hotel on Taylor Street near Republique. 

We stayed for several days and ended each evening at a small cafe on a corner, looking very much like a movie set. There was a tiny alley on one side and a busy street on the other. The alley had several small shops including a barber shop for Africans. I noticed that every time we went to the café we saw several men in the barber shop shouting and waving their arms at each other. Being a writer, I was curious about this situation and on our last evening in Paris, I told Dave that we should go over there to see what the fighting was about. Dave was a little apprehensive but I figured we’d be okay, the worst they would do is tell us to go away.

We began to walk towards the barber shop when a very large African stopped us with a raised hand, which lowered until he was pointing at us. Then he looked straight at me and said those words. “John Malkovich.” I shrugged and said I wasn’t John Malkovich; rather my name was Jim Makichuk. That was always my out whenever being stopped, both names are very similar if you say them fast and it often leaves the person confused long enough that I could leave. But he was not convinced, “You are John Malkovich.” And with that he introduced himself as Etionne and took me by the arm and led me into the shop, with Dave behind. 

Inside, Etionne began to introduce me to the group of six friends. Most smiled but some were suspicious as I made the rounds, shaking hands. Finally I asked why they argued every night here and the big African said “politics and sports.” So it was simple, happens everywhere in the world. He then introduced me to BobX, the African owner who gave haircuts and whenever an American rapper would be in town, BobX would be picked up and taken to whatever hotel the rapper was staying for a cut. Then Etionne said that we should all retire to the bar for wine. So he, Dave and I and BobX along with four more Africans crossed the alley right back to where we started earlier. 

It soon resulted in some deep, serious conversation about life. I learned that it was very hard for them to get work, most didn’t have much education and so they hung out at BobX’s shop while their wives and children were at home. BobX was talking to Dave about the problems of being African in Europe and that he was always afraid that his business would fail. At one point he looked Dave straight in the eye and said “Dave, all I would ever hope for in my life, is to be like you.”

It stunned Dave who answered by saying BobX’s life was way better. But BobX was not changing his opinion, “Dave, you have the good life.” Dave, who is a newspaper man had no answer. In hindsight BobX was right for both of us brothers as compared to the uncertain lives they lived. I smiled and agreed with BobX. We stayed for about two hours and finally it was getting late and we all got up, Dave and I were flying out the next morning so we shook hands, exchanged emails and Etionne looked at me and said quietly, “Thank-you John”. 

This time I simply nodded “Yes.”

I was thinking of putting two photos side by side for you to judge but then I thought that some of you might say I didn't look like John at all, and some would say a little and others a spitting image. So instead I go to the movies and take a great line out of John Ford's movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"

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