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Dear Abby: When should I change my photo?

By JIM BUSEK • Jul 16, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Hardly anything in this newspaper could be less important than the picture of me that runs with this column.

You don’t even see it any more, do you? You go right for the first couple of paragraphs and then either 1) turn up your nose and go find something else to read or 2) flatter me to death by reading the whole thing. But Jim’s picture? What picture?

To tell you the truth, I go for years at a time ignoring it myself.

But some months ago I started noticing the updated pictures our other Reflector columnists are using. Henry Timman looks great in his latest photo, smiling a handsome smile and looking historically accurate. Debbie Leffler seems to be updating her picture every several months, each one looking like a professional portrait. Joe Centers is right up to date with his head shot. And Don Hohler — whoa! — Don Hohler is now using a professional studio shot — and he’s wearing a suit! That is taking newspaper column portraits to an entirely new place.

I, of course, had left myself behind, smiling my 2012 smile and wearing my rimless glasses.

By now you have probably taken a second to look at my picture because, yes, I have changed it.

It’s not really that different in the print version of the paper. That’s partly because of the way it is cropped and partly because gray halftone reproductions are not very clear. The online version is in color and looks pretty different from the old picture.

Unlike Mr. I-Put-On-A-Suit-And-Went-To-A Professional-Photographer, I took my new photo myself. Went out in the back yard, held my phone at arm’s length, adjusted my smile a few times, and snapped away.

What you see is the best of the seven or eight shots I took. I know: it’s nothing special, but it at least looks like 2019 me.

All in all, this updated photo has given me a new appreciation for some people I used to make fun of.

Take Dear Abby, for instance. I remember her running the very same picture with her column for what seemed like decades.

For a couple of those decades, I thought she had found the fountain of youth, maintaining the exact same appearance year after year.

Then one day they started running a new photo, and we were all amazed: Abby was old!

Now, of course, the whole Abby thing is completely surreal. The picture that runs with the column is of the new Abby.

And, of course, her name is not Abby at all.

But then, neither was Abby’s.

I guess if Pauline Phillips could get away with calling herself Dear Abby for thirty or forty years and then allow her daughter Jeanne to start using the same name, I shouldn’t beat myself up for making you look at my same old photo for years at a time.

So why do we columnists go so long between photos?

Because we are just like you, that’s why: we hate having our picture taken. Oh, there are the usual problems of glasses glare and crooked smiles and good-side, bad-side and all that.

But when you are putting your face alongside a newspaper column like this—where one week you are making fun of something and the next reflecting on the passing of a friend—you have to get just the right expression.

Most of the time I suppose a picture with a mischievous little twinkle would be right. But then that’s no good for when I really want to raise hell with somebody.

At any rate, you see what I ended up with. It’s not quite perfect for all occasions, but I’ll just leave it there for so many years you will quit looking at it anyhow.

Then someday, you will run into me on the street and have a vague look of recognition.

I won’t look much like the photo any more, but eventually you will have a “Eureka!” moment when it will hit you and you’ll say:

“Excuse me, aren’t you Dear Abby?”

 

Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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