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    Mistaken identities of the only-in-Washington variety

    Some people say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. That’s not very nice. But we’re not here to parse the pulchritude of particular political people. We’re here to explore cases of mistaken identity of the only-in-Washington variety.

    Take George Reilly, for example. One day in 2015 George was standing in line in his workout clothes at a Northern Virginia post office when a man came up and asked if he was Jeb Bush.

    “It was in the midst of the Republican presidential debates that year, so he was in the news a lot,” wrote George, who lives in Fairfax. “I laughed and said I wasn’t and thought to myself afterward why would Jeb Bush be in gym clothes at a Virginia post office?”

    George didn’t give it another thought until that New Year’s Eve, which he spent in Barcelona at an Irish pub.

    Wrote George: “A seemingly sober man in the pub was convinced I was Jeb Bush, even pulling up a photo on his phone to show me. I asked why he thought Gov. Bush would be in an Irish pub in Barcelona and his classic answer was ‘Why not?’”

    Why not indeed. And why shouldn’t Randall McFarlane have his choice of primo tables at Maison Blanche, a fancy French restaurant that used to be near the White House?

    “Years ago, when I got a job with a trade group, I was told my duties required me to make diligent use of my shiny new expense account and take people to lunch and dinner,” wrote Randall, who lives in Falls Church, Va.

    Maison Blanche was near his office, so he started with it.

    “I was startled by the ease with which I got great tables there,” Randall wrote. “Eventually, I discovered that the restaurant thought that the McFarlane seeking a last-minute table was Robert McFarlane, an important Reagan administration figure!”

    Mary Lou Fahey said her late husband, George Ziener, bore a striking resemblance to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

    “When we were out to dinner at a D.C. restaurant, someone would often walk by and say, ‘How are you doing, Senator?’” wrote Mary Lou, of Chevy Chase, Md. “George would smile graciously and answer, ‘I’m fine, thank you.’

    “It was easier than trying to explain they had the wrong person.”

    And at least Sen. Leahy seems to be universally beloved. Imagine being mistaken for one of those senators people detest.

    Back in the early 1980s, John Swieca was a government attorney at the IRS, working in an office across from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Interior at the time was James Watt, controversial for his efforts to open federal lands to oil and gas extraction.

    Wrote John, of Westminster, Md.: “I apparently had a very strong resemblance to him, including similar glasses and male-pattern baldness.”

    John often went for lunchtime walks with colleagues. One spring day, as he walked on the National Mall near the National Museum of Natural History, a tourist said in a loud voice, “There is James Watt.”

    People started to point at John. One of his friends leaned in close and said, “Let’s have some fun. Follow my lead.”

    John’s friend loudly exclaimed, “Mr. Secretary, this is where the geologists say the oil is.”

    “Right here?” John replied.

    His friend pointed at the fiberglass dinosaur in front of the museum. “Actually, the best access point is right by the Triceratops.”

    John thought for a moment, then bellowed, “Move the lizard!”

    Remembered John: “I think I pushed it too far with that. An elderly lady suggested I really wasn’t Secretary Watt. I winked, she laughed.”

    For more than five decades, Herbert Block — a.k.a. Herblock — was The Washington Post’s famed editorial cartoonist. Herbert Block was also Stewart Block’s father — a different Herbert Block, that is.

    “We occasionally received mail at our home that was intended for Herblock,” wrote Stewart, of Rockville, Md. “On at least one occasion, my mother was at home and received a call from a person trying to reach Herblock.”

    If that wasn’t confusing enough, one day Stewart’s father got a letter from the State Department addressed to yet a third Herbert Block, who was in the Foreign Service.

    Stewart’s father was a high-ranking official at the U.S. Postal Service. When he and Herblock finally met in person, the cartoonist autographed an editorial cartoon showing the postmaster general telling Lyndon B. Johnson, “We can cut down a little more. Some people are still getting their mail on time.” He signed it “From one Herb Block to another.”

    Alex Eckmann of Friendship Heights, Md., was once riding in the back of a Metrobus when a passenger at the front called out “I hope you’re not offended, but I thought you were Colin Powell sitting on this bus.”

    Everyone turned around to look at Alex.

    “Fortunately,” Alex wrote, “I had the presence of mind to say ‘Certainly not. He’s a very handsome man.’”

    Alex later ran into Alma Powell, Powell’s wife, at a fundraising event. He told her about his Metrobus experience and asked if she saw any resemblance.

    Wrote Alex: “She responded graciously, ‘You’re more handsome than he is.’”

    Tomorrow: People you definitely don’t want to be mistaken for.



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