It was probably inevitable, I surmised while waiting for my family at the restaurant. We were having lunch for the twenty-first birthday of my grandson, Dave. There are a lot of people on the planet. What do we have now? Seven billion, eight, nine? However you count it, it’s a lot. Earth didn’t reach a population of one billion people until about 1800. How many years of human-like creatures were there before we finally reached one billion? Then, there were two billion by about 1920. That was a fast double. And then it doubled again in another fifty years, and people started to get concerned about overpopulation, but no one did anything about it. So here we are, with seven or eight or nine billion, crashing into unsustainable numbers. But, I digress; I’m getting older and my mind wanders a bit.
My point is that it was inevitable that, with so many people and finite DNA diversity, people were eventually bound to look like someone else who already existed.
Dave, who’s the eldest son of my daughter Nikki, reminded me of someone. But at that moment, I couldn’t remember who. I was sure it would come to me when he showed up.
With nothing else to do, I looked at the other patrons. There were two men at the bar, one who looked like Lyle Lovett, the other like Sadaharu Oh. My server looked like Dorothy Parker, the bartender like Martin Luther King Jr., the busboy like Eustache Bernier. The young couple at the table next to me looked like Richard Pryor and Ava Gardner (I bet young Richie was very appreciative of that). Standing at the front door waiting to be seated were two bald, chunky men who both looked like Mussolini—but then, I guess all bald, chunky men do. There was also a young woman who looked like Mila Kunis—unfortunately, not what she actually looks like, but the character she plays in that cartoon.
I have to admit that this observation hit me like it did because I don’t see many young people in my day-to-day. I live in an apartment building, and all of my neighbors on my floor are over sixty. There’s a twenty-four-hour grocery store on the ground floor of my building, and I tend to shop at three o’clock in the morning so I don’t have to line up to check out. The only young people in there at that time of morning are those on the hunt for munchies, and wasted kids all look alike anyway. I order my books online, and Nikki buys my clothes for me: black socks, 3-packs of boxers, jeans, and the occasional shirt. But, I digress.
I go to the park to sit on nice days, and that’s pretty well the extent of my going outside. But I don’t tend to look at people in the park, let alone notice how old they are or who they look like. Instead, I enjoy the trees,flowers, and watching the dogs romp.
So, I had never noticed when all the young people started to look like someone else. I couldn’t even recall anyone ever mentioning this phenomenon. Maybe it was happening so gradually that no one noticed. I concentrated on the other customers, and thought I saw Jayne Kennedy, April Lee Hernández, and Rose Byrne, but that may have just been wishful thinking.
A corollary occurred to me when my server, the Dorothy Parker doppelgänger, came to get my drink order and introduced herself as Jane. I asked her what her last name was, and she said, “Adams.” Or maybe she said, “Addams.” Regardless, she was the third of that name I now knew. Perhaps the increased population of the planet also now meant that we were running out of original names, and we had to recycle old ones.
After I ordered a beer, I remembered I personally knew three young men named Mike Wilbon, two Susan Haywards, and even a Horatio Hornblower. Was it just a matter of time before I knew a Clark Gable, a Rosa Luxemburg, a Dorothea Dix? The only way people got around this repetition was to name their children Cravartinus or Twoff.
My family arrived at the restaurant in dribs and drabs: my two daughters, their husbands, and their children. Hugs and kisses were exchanged.
I gave Dave a check for his birthday. I have no idea what twenty-one-year-olds want, so I think money is always the reasonable choice. Of course, I have no idea if young people, who seem to use their phones for everything, even know what to do with a check. Nor do I know if $1,000 is a reasonable gift.
As my daughters caught up on their lives, their husbands prattled on ignorantly about baseball, and my grandchildren returned to their phones, I studied the youngsters to see if they fit into the look-alike paradigm. Gradually, their faces came into focus, and I realized that all of them looked like someone else.
This was probably a good thing because, if I became old and senile and couldn’t remember their names, I could call them by who they looked like. And I speculated that, if I started calling them that now as a joke, perhaps they wouldn’t notice when I called them that in the future, and they wouldn’t put me away somewhere. But, I digress.
When I studied Dave’s face more closely, it hit me that he looked just like my grandfather, which wasn’t a good thing for him. His sister looked like a young Queen Victoria, which was OK, but I hoped she didn’t look like the Queen when she got old. My granddaughter’s name was Victoria, so that helped in the event of my possible future senility. My other daughter, Maggie, had children who looked like, respectively, Rocket Richard, James Tiptree Jr., and Lassie.
I suppose it’s important to mention here, in regard to the paucity of original first names, that Beckham is the married name of Nikki. Maggie’s married name is Barrymore, and she’s the mother of John, Lionel, and Twoff. Thank goodness for Twoff.
After I finished my lunch (pad thai), I had another beer and a large scotch, and pondered the rest of my family. Nikki and Maggie had always looked similar but now, as they lurched into middle age, they had become even more like each other, right down to the hair coming out of their facial moles. Perhaps that was the alcohol weaving its way through my brain and its newfound theory. In any case, their husbands, who had always looked to me like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, now seemed to look more like Zach Galifianakis and that horrible Canadian pop music star, whose name I cannot mention for fear of bursting into flame.
When everyone was ready to leave and we ordered the check, Fred and Barney attempted to split it, but failed miserably several times. So, I decided to pay the whole thing, giving Jane Addams/Dorothy Parker a nice tip.
Nikki and Maggie offered to walk me home but, as it was a beautiful sunny day and I’d gotten a good glow on, I decided to take my drinks to the patio, watch the world go by, and work on my new realization.
Sitting near me was a young couple who looked like Marie Curie and Wolfgang Borchert. They had a baby with them who looked like Winston Churchill, but then again, all babies tend to look like Churchill.
My attention was caught by a teenager waving at me from the patio gate. I didn’t know who he was but I waved back anyway, then looked around to see if he was actually waving at someone else. When he came over to my table, I realized he wasn’t.
He hugged me, then sat down. “How are you?” he said.
“I’m very well,” I replied.
Who the heck was he? Was he another of my grandsons who I couldn’t at the moment remember, possibly because of my advancing age, possibly due to the excellent scotch? Was he just late for lunch? Perhaps he hadn’t been invited. Was there some ostracism in the family of which I wasn’t aware?
I looked at his face carefully. He looked something like Dave. Was he Dave’s brother? He looked something like Twoff. Was he from that branch of the family? Most of all, he looked a lot like Ja Morant. I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually Ja Morant.
“Are you going to order some food?” he asked.
Uh oh. I had to tread carefully here. I didn’t want to mess up the family dynamics any more than they apparently already were. “Um, no, I’ve already eaten.”
“By yourself? Where’s everyone else?”
“They’ve come and gone.”
“Did they change the time on me and forget to tell me? Typical family,” he spat.
I didn’t remember the reservation time having been changed. Had we just moved the clocks forward and the young man hadn’t noticed? I couldn’t remember that either, and took another sip of scotch, which I knew wouldn’t help. I said, “I’d be happy to sit with you while you have something to eat.”
“No, that’s OK, Grandpa,” he said.
I knew it wasn’t, so I decided to change the subject. “Has anyone ever said you look like Ja Morant?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” he said. “As a matter of fact—” He broke off, and I noticed he was looking over my head.
From behind me, I heard, “What are you doing sitting there? Who’s that?”
I turned and looked up. Standing there on the sidewalk behind the patio fence was an elderly man. Gray haired. Paunchy. A lined face that seemed to me to be very distinguished. And very familiar. It was my face.
The teenager looked at me and laughed. The elderly gentleman laughed. I laughed.
My theory of lack of genetic diversity had been proven. I hadn’t realized how widespread it actually was.
The man joined us at the table, and we introduced ourselves. His name was Bill and his grandson was Jack. Bill and I confirmed that we weren’t brothers, had never had a brother given up for adoption and, in fact, had never had brothers at all.
The rest of their family showed up, expressed surprise at my face, and invited me to spend the rest of the afternoon with them, which I was happy to do.
I told them my theory, which seemed to intrigue them. A very polite young woman, a dead ringer for Lana Turner, said that we two old gentlemen looked like George Clooney, and we talked about that for quite some time because that pleased me. What a sweetheart she was.
There were a lot of people in Bill and Jack’s family, and I was able to recognize in all of them someone I’d seen before. Unfortunately, none of them looked like Diane Lane. I guess perfection is difficult to imitate.
Jack had eleven siblings: Jane, Theresa, Ken, Kurt, Keri, Leon, Rosalind, Lillian, Cazzie, Nipsey, and Bertrand. Their family name was Russell. I think I mentioned overpopulation before. Is there a correlation between last names and fertility? But, I digress.
Bill Kitcher’s stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published and/or produced in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.S. Recent stories were published in The Prague Review, The Metaworker, October Hill Magazine, Fewer Than 500, Eunoia Review, Once Upon A Crocodile, New Contrast, The Bookends Review, Spank The Carp, Little Old Lady Comedy, Black Petals, and Slippage Lit.