Eye of the Beholder

Almost five hundred years later, after everyone including Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and a plethora of Popes can’t quite figure it out, along comes an amateur who cracks the code. New York based, amateur artist Ron Piccirillo claims the enigmatic expression painted on the Mona Lisa’s face is “envy”. What’s more, he says, there’s a bonus: if you look at Mona “just right” you can see all kinds of mischief going on behind her back: animals, secret codes and such.

Recently, when I try Piccirillo’s experiment, I quickly find out that the officials and curators  at the local museum get touchy –and suspicious –about the way that Mona is looked at, whether she is upright or leans sideways (like that Tower over in Pisa, Italy). I even stand on my head, close my left eye, crane my neck “”just so’ and stare at Miss Mona through a piece of cheese cloth. But there’s nothing. Nada. No hidden animals, no secret codes, no winning lotto numbers. Nothing.

Yet Mr. Piccirillo implies, it’s all there—plain as day. Beats me.


A number of years  back, a woman in the Midwest is all over television claiming she can see the image of the Virgin Mary in a piece of lumber. A slab of cherry wood, I think it was.

Then, not too many years later, another guy says he can see Jesus in a slice of French toast.

Even my best friend-since-Third-Grade, Meriweather “Booger” Wadsworth once comes across a potato chip he swears looks just like Illinois. After he summons me over so that I can “ see for your self, Cantrell,” I hold the chip up towards the light and look, look and look again but I can’t see anything that looks even remotely like the Land of Lincoln. Booger tells me “…it’s plain as day.” He also says that my problem is that I’m not craning my neck, twisting my head and looking at the chip at just the right angle. Of course, even Booger didn’t notice any resemblance until he’d already eaten ‘Chicago’.

I figure the mischief behind Mona Lisa, the Virgin Mary in a chunk of cherry wood, Jesus on toast and even Booger’s potato chip comes down to one of those optical illusion-eye of the beholder things. People are always claiming to see ancient messages, top secret codes and hidden meanings in this, that and the other. They’ll tell you “it’s plain as day”; you just have to look at it in just the right way.

Of course, it STILL turns out that “the finding” is easier said than done. Of course, sometimes I even have a hard time finding me in the morning mirror, especially if the night before has been a long one.


All of this is “plain as day” stuff is intriguing because lately I’ve had a rash of folks to say that if you twist your head, crane your neck and look at me at just the right angle, you see… well, more than just me. A recent incident occurs after Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Vera’s, just after she’s turned on Brenda Lee and that infernal Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree song on the stereo. It’s then my that one of my seemingly countless aunts, Great Aunt Lois sidles up to me:

“Will, I was just lookin’ at you from ‘cross the room. Boy, do you know who you favor?”

“No, Aunt Lo. Who do I favor?”, I ask, all the while bracing myself.

“…look ‘jes like him.’ Specially when I look at you from the right side.”

“Who… what are you talking about Aunt Lo?”

“You know… that guy in Washington… uh… uh… uh… you know who I’m talking ’bout. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I jes’ can’t rightly remember right now.”


“No chile. You don’t look nuthin’ like no Obama. That Obama’s a good lookin’ man.”

“Aunt Lo!!!! What are you trying to say?”

“Boy, you know what I mean. It’s plain as day. You look like… that other black fella in Washington, D.C. You know, the one that wears a robe.”

“You mean Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court Judge.”

“Thas him!” That’s who I’m talking about chile. Him. That Clarence fella.”

This is not the first time that I hear the Clarence Thomas look-a-like stuff. By now, I’ve been accosted by enough people accusing me of being a doppelganger for Clarence Thomas’ methinks that maybe there’s something to it. And if someone can “see” the Virgin Mary in a slab of wood or see Jesus in a slice of toast, then maybe it’s entirely possible to see Clarence Thomas’ face in mine, especially if one cranes their neck just the right way… and in the right light. I guess anyway. It’s one of those “in the eye of the beholder” things.

Of course, this look-a-like business is disconcerting because when I was a young child, I looked like my father. I’d always figured that as I grew older my facial features would evolve so that I looked more like my mother. Instead, my DNA, chromosomes, apparently having a mind of their own, have all started behaving like they are members of the Thomas Family.


Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas
Will (the doppelganger?)
Will (the doppelganger?)

All of this makes me think about Clarence Thomas from time to time and whether there are other similarities. I’d bet ol’ Clarence is a regular guy when he’s not sitting on that Supreme Court bench. Guys that look like him usually are. They enjoy a good joke, a cold beer, a good book and maybe even like a good Western on the TCM channel. I’d even bet Clarence might play golf badly (too) and maybe has a life long best friend with a ridiculous nickname like “Snooker” or “Booler” or some such.

Sadly though, our politics are wildly different, me and Clarence’s. Wildly different! I don’t see that we’d hang out much and if we ever met we would likely agree to disagree on everything. Except that the other was one handsome devil.


The problem is that if people behold you to look like someone else, the people who are doing the beholding sometimes will subconsciously ascribe the twin’s baggage to you. A few days after Thanksgiving – and I swear this is true – a woman accosts me while I am pumping regular unleaded into my car at the local Quick Mart:

“HEY… YOU… Hey fella, do know you look just like that Clarence Thomas?” She’s a short, white lady who’s perhaps in her late seventies or early eighties and she speaks in a loud, scratchy Southern falsetto.

“Yes ma’am. I’ve been told that a few times,” I say. It’s rainy, the temperature is just above freezing and there are few snow flurries. And while I am polite, I am also pretty sure that I must’ve had an exasperated look on my face (or rather me and Clarence’s face.) I also hear Andy Williams is singing “It’sThe Most Wonderful Time of The Year” over Quick Mart’s sound system. I had been pondering why Andy was so damn gleeful. Me? I’m paying $3.50 a gallon for the privilege of listening to him right now.

“You look jes’ like him. Yes, you do… Hey, what about that court decision in Bush vs. Gore back in 2000?”, she yells at me from pump # 14 where she’s funneling premium unleaded into a blue Chrysler Lebaron.”I bet you thought Bush really won in Florida, didn’t you? Didn’t you, Clarence?”

“Ma’am, I don’t… uh… I didn’t… ”

“What about that Roe vs. Wade ?

“Just because I look a little like some guy who’s a Supreme Court judge doesn’t mean that I have to have a…”

“I bet you get that question a lot. Don’t cha?”

“Listen lady, I don’t really have an opin…”

At three fifty a gallon, it doesn’t take forever to pump twenty dollars worth into the car. I am thus rescued by the gas pump’s bell, signaling I’m done. “Whew!” I quickly replace the nozzle, get in the car and start the engine. But the old woman does not relent. As I drive past #14, I hear

“You look jes’ like him. You don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose either. Do ya? Jerk!” As I look in the rear view mirror, I am pretty sure that the old woman flips me the finger.


The Quick Mart incident is instructive. It illustrates why famous people don’t pump their own gas. It also shows why I have since begun to wear a hat.

Looking like someone else can be inconvenient. It is the can also be the nexus of perplexing scenes like the one at Quick Mart… and to be honest I already get blamed for enough stuff as it is… stuff that I really did screw up. I don’t need someone else’s water to carry.

Lastly, I must tell you that there are any number of folks – some other beholders – who see no resemblance between me and ol’ Clarence. I guess that in the end, people see what they want to see –in everything: the opposite sex, beauty, politics, religion, relationships, portraits of the Mona Lisa. Even toast. Maybe it’s “a mind of the beholder” thing too.

When all is said and done, what you see really just depends upon how you twist your head and crane your neck.

It’s as plain as day.



© 2011 Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.