I have the face of an idiot. Let me explain.
About ten years ago I was temping in the offices of a large insurance firm. I'm not going to say it was the dullest job I've ever done... actually, I am going to say that. It was the dullest job I'd ever done. It was a bastion of boredom. I've had more exciting visits to the toilet.
However, it wasn't just the tedium that I remember. There was one incident that will forever remain attached to my hippocampus with the same ferocity as a face-hugger from 'Alien' clinging to the noggin of an unlucky astronaut.
I was working in the postroom with a man called Alex. One morning, with sadistic glee, he told me of a conversation he had overheard on the 3rd floor, where the exciting world of lorry insurance took place. Two of the female agents were talking about us, the lowly minions who sorted the mail. One of them apparently referred to me but they couldn't recall my name - I'm memorable like that. Instead of calling me 'Christopher', they'd just said, "You know, the idiot."
The other agent asked, "The idiot?"
"Yeah," came the reply. "The one who looks stupid."
I have no idea why Alex felt the need to tell me any of this. I mean, I've never told anyone that everyone there always said he looked like a homeless hobo ... maybe I shouldn't have said that... oh well ...
But tell me he did.
The thing is I wasn't particularly upset. Because I'd heard this before. I've also heard this more recently but we'll get to that in a bit.
I studied drama at university, and once gave a quite frankly barnstorming performance as Gus in Harold Pinter's 'The Dumb Waiter.' Truly, it was a work of unparalleled excellence. Well, apart from the fact that I regularly tripped over the set, didn't know my lines, and had to nip off-stage every few minutes to look at the script I'd secreted in the wings. But people loved it and that's all that counts.
One of those people was the course tutor who afterwards complimented me on my tour-de-force by saying that I was always good at playing idiots. And Gus was certainly one of those ; he made Wil-E-Coyote look like Stephen Hawkings.
And why did I excel at portraying dunderheads? It wasn't my innate comic timing or technical prowess. Oh. no.
In explanation, my esteemed educator said, "It's because of your face. You have the face of an idiot."
Err... thank you?
He was blatantly not the only person who thought so as, for three years, I essayed a succession of mentally challenged buffoons.
Even when I landed a lead role (which - to be fair - wasn't that often), they were stupid. It was one imbecile after another. I played idiot soldiers, idiot politicians, idiot lovers, even the Renaissance-man I was cast as was (once you stripped away all the books he'd read) essentially a slow-witted dunce. I had always hoped I might one day get a crack at Hamlet - turns out the only way I would ever have got near the Great Dane is if we'd done an alternative version in which he'd had a lobotomy.
In my final performance, I took the role of Estragon in 'Waiting For Godot.' It was a good production but somewhat spoiled by my realisation mid-show on opening night that - crap - I was playing another idiot.
Idiots - as far as the eye can see.
Not wishing to spend the rest of my life being a professional idiot, I'd said adieu to the stage. Fast forward to 2021, and I'm working in the field of mental health. And - funny story - people still have issues with my face.
A few weeks ago, I was working in a home whose residents were all recovering from brain trauma. They have all been in serious accidents and been left disfigured. One beautiful Tuesday morning, there was a knock at the door. I was the nearest member of staff so I took it upon myself to see which wonderful specimen of humanity had arrived at our doorstep.
Wearing my biggest, friendliest smile, I opened the door to see the distinctly uncheery face of an NHS nurse. Trust me, she was so miserable she made Darth Vader look whimsical. I politely greeted her and asked how I could assist her. Her puzzled expression should have told me this was all going to head south quite quickly.
"That's very kind of you to offer," she enunciated really - really - slowly. "But could you fetch me a member of staff?"
A member of staff? But I am a - oh, great. She thinks I'm a resident.
In a home where all the patients have experienced extreme brain trauma.
"But - " I'd stammered.
If I wanted to disavow her of her assumption I was doing an incredibly bad job.
"But - "
I loved the residents - they're easily the most inspiring group of people I'd ever met. However, they'd all been in some utterly horrific accidents. Did this means I looked like I had as well? I really didn't know what to do. What I definitely should NOT have done is what I did.
"Okay," I said. "I'll go and get you one."
I sought out a team leader and then hid in the office until she left.
My face does it again! Three cheers for the absurdly assembled jigsaw of skin, hair and sensory organs!
The bizarre thing is this last incident didn't phase me. Okay, it did a bit. But, in the long-term, it actually helped.
I've never quite known what to make of my face. Yeah - I know I'm ugly, but I've had forty-seven years to adjust to that fact. I might look stupid but I'm not. Not entirely, that is. Only one person has ever complimented me on my looks and she was my wife at the time. I know I'm not Daniel Craig. I'm not even Daniel DeVito (I've checked- he was christened Daniel). I know I'll never play 007 unless they deliberately want to make him look like someone who lives in a shopping cart. I'm cool with being a 2 out of 10.
And, to be honest, although it's not the greatest sensation to be told I have the face of an idiot, it did mean I always got cast at university - there's an idiot in every play, which, for me, resulted in a steady stream of parts. I enjoyed them all.
The women on the third floor? I'll remember them forever but their words don't upset me. There's an element of irony about them disparaging my looks but I can't go there without being mean. And I chose not to.
The nurse with the sunny disposition? That's different. But not in a bad way In fact, it was a bit of a life-changer.
The residents in that home truly are the greatest people I've ever met. I'm aware I've experienced trauma but what they've individually been through makes my travails look like an episode of 'Paw Patrol.' To be associated with them? I'm proud of that. I truly am.
I have a stupid face. I've always had a stupid face. But, finally, I'm fine with that. In fact, I like it.
A little bit, anyway. Even if it is an idiot.
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