If you're reading this column, you might have noticed the sketch of a rather unsightly gentlemen accompanying it.
Don't be alarmed. It is not an artist's rendering of a defendant in a major criminal trial.
At least, it's supposed to be. I'm in denial that I actually look like that.
Sharp-eyed readers know that sketches began adorning Times columns a couple of months ago. The idea was that you'd connect more easily with us if you saw what we look like. Ever since, I've been trying to imagine the reader who would see my sketch and have the slightest interest in connecting with me.
Coming up empty so far.
I may sound like an old grump, but don't kid yourself, I'm a barrel of laughs. I'm just of the opinion that people who aren't photogenic shouldn't have their pictures in the paper. If we were good-looking, we'd be on TV.
How he does go on. Is that what you're thinking?
Don't you recognize a cry for help when you hear it? In today's society, we have the sense that everyone wants their picture on TV or in the newspaper. You remember the old "15 minutes of fame" thing from yesteryear.
But what if you don't want your picture in the paper? What if you're haunted and hounded by seeing your mug staring at you when you pick up the paper? What if you want to be invisible? Do you understand that my life is a living hell?
In the mid-1990s, when we ran photos with columns, mine was updated. Not long after, I walked into my favorite IHOP and my regular waitress yelled out across the room, "Now I know who you are!"
The French toast didn't go down smoothly that morning.
What's exasperating is that I have three siblings, each of whom is photogenic. So is my mother, and so was my father. I have never been and have often wondered where the missing gene went. There are no photos of me before the age of 30 in which I am smiling. In most of them from childhood, I look like a bug was crawling up my pant leg. As I got older, most of them looked like I'd received devastating medical news in the moments before the shot was taken.
When the photo for the current sketch was taken, our photographer looked at her handiwork and said, "This doesn't even look like you." I reminded her she was standing only 10 feet away. "Let me take another one," she said.
When that result displayed before her, she said, "This is weird."
Not to me.
Too cute by half. Is that what you're thinking?
Easy for you to say, but how would you like to get a message like this, from a former colleague, after the sketch first appeared in the paper:
"Hi Dana, I'm sure you've already heard enough of this, but your mug cartoon does not do you justice. It looks nothing like you. You are way better looking than that. I could draw a better mug! OK, I got it out of my system."
Or this message from an editor in Los Angeles: "Why are they running Andy Rooney's photo with your column?"
Or the phone call from a longtime friend who was so troubled by the sketch that she examined it under a magnifying glass to assess what went wrong. She thought the areas under the left eye and the chin could have been improved.
Yeah, she's right -- if I were about 20 years younger.
A photo editor said I can have a re-shoot. I don't want to play the diva, but I asked, "Do you think the problem is the photo or the sketch?"
"The problem is you," he said.
And that is the sad truth. There's nothing wrong with the sketch, nor the photo. I'll probably forgo another shoot-and-sketch process.
I just wanted you to know the likeness is as off-putting to me as it is to you. Like you, I wish I were better looking, so we could better connect. Still, the last thing I want to do is scare you off.
I'm a nice guy. Really.
As if I needed any more reminders, this e-mail from a stranger came in at 5:06 p.m. Thursday as I was wrapping up the column. "Dana, Alice and I do not like your new picture in the Times. Have a great Christmas."
I'm sure I will.