Exchange heard while sitting in the New York Hilton's lounge-bar, Pursuits, waiting for the start of last month's Oliver North/Fawn Hall look-alike contest, sponsored by Ron Smith's Celebrity Look- Alikes of Los Angeles, "the Original International Celebrity Look-Alike Organization, Est 1976":

New York Woman 1: "Now what did this Fawhn Hawll do?"

N.Y. W. 2: "Fawhn Hawll is the one who did the shrettings that started the Iran-countah whatevah."

That should shut up any liberal whiners who say people outside the Beltway don't have a deep understanding of the issues that were involved in the Iran-countah whatevah. For my part, it created a headache that would not go away until I'd caused a large ice cube to disappear by rubbing it on my forehead in a soothing ampersand pattern. I tried to regroup mentally, but it was tough. I'd come here partly to assess the impact of Olliemania on New York City -- keep in mind that this took place a loooong time ago, a month, and it was still the hot trend of the late '80s -- and aside from this type of outright super-ignorance, I'd been hearing a lot of what I call New York Mets Bleacher Fan foreign policy: "Nobody bodders us 'cause we're toughest, aw-RIGHT? That's whud Ollie is SAYING!" Yeesh. Still, I had to concentrate on the task at hand. Get out pad, pencils and -- "Miss-tah?" Oh no, it was one of the two offending dumbheads. She was gonna ask: Who is this Admiral Dexpointah? "Miss-tah? Do you know wheh the contestants are supposta group up?" I turned. Surely this woman couldn't be contemplating a Fawn Hall try. She was a typical middle-aged, leather-tanned, over- glamorized New Yorker, with a bourbon-cured voice and a straight, frosty-blond hairdo that some shyster coiffeur probably said made her look "just like" Linda Evans. That's when I remembered: Of course, there was also an Open Look-Alikes competition to find miscellaneous celebs for Ron Smith's "100th Anniversary of Hollywood" show. Relieved, I now felt normal enough to ask the one question you're never supposed to ask at these clone tournaments. "Uh, who are you supposed to look like?"

She bristled, then mugged. "Guess." I took my time. You've gotta be careful with celebrity look-alike people. Despite what the promoters constantly tell you ("They're just ordinary folks having fun"), many of them do cross the line between reality and delusion. I decided to vex her with wrong guesses that, because they were flattering, would make it harder for her to get angry. "Charo?" No. "Barbara Eden?" No. "Corporal Klinger?" Oops. At that, she huffed off to the contestants' waiting area. I stayed, having already viewed that dizzying scene -- the room contained a few decent Ollies, about 10 women who had foofed their hair into tumbling Fawn Hall do's, a good Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, a very bad Elvis with cardboard sideburns, a transvestite Phyllis Diller complete with a rubber-prosthesis pointy nose and lots of people who didn't look like anybody, some of whom practiced the, uh, imitations they would use during the contest. There was an Alfred Hitchcock with a German accent: "Good evenink. I'm sorry I leff my glesses on my nose." A Zsa Zsa Gabor: "I'm Zsa Zsa Gabor, dah-lings." An Alan Alda: "Frank, I'll do the operation!" I'd already convinced myself it would be journalistically okay not to talk to any of them. (Would you?) Instead I went back to my seat and eavesdropped.

"What, for example, would you do with a Fawn Hall look-alike?" a reporter asked one of Ron Smith's assistants.

"Okay, imagine this. Our Cynthia Lauper look-alike -- I know it's Cyndi but I call her Cynthia -- could, like, be under interrogation from an Iran-contra-type or whatever panel. Then, after it's over, Fawn Hall would run into her in the hallway and say, 'Hey, babes, those stockings really held up well under questioning.' See? A stocking ad."

Yeah, I see. Let's run that one up the flagpole and cannonade it. I chugged Coca-Cola until the hurting stopped, then I looked at the panel of celebrity look-alike judges: a Cyndi (excuse me, Cynthia) Lauper, a male Elvis, a Mayor Ed Koch whom many people mistook for Frank Perdue, a Madonna, a Joan Collins packed chunkily into a tight evening gown, a -- Oh, no! Duck! I saw that one of Ron Smith's assistants was looking for me. He had promised to set up a "quick interview" with Ron. I didn't want a "quick interview" with Ron, so I hid under the table until they went by. When I came up, the Marilyn Monroe look-alike was sitting next to me.

"Hiya," she said, "who are you?"

"Uh, one of the Everly Brothers?"

"Huh?"

"Nothing. I'm a 'journalist.' "

"Really? I'm an ak-triss." Do tell? In character, she sighed and pouted her way through a long tale about how Ron Smith was mad at her over something or other, and she was worried. For once, I shed my snakeskin of sarcasm -- something very real was happening here -- and I calmed her down with cooing verbiage. Paternal feelings blossomed within me. I wanted to buy her enough jewels and furs to smother a chorus line. I wanted to lock her in an apartment so all the other stiffs and joiks couldn't get their oily mitts --

"Ooh, they're starting. Gotta go!" Goodbye Passionella, hello bossy little pudgy guy with a Burl Ives beard and a Euro-tapered suit: Ron Smith, introduced as "the quintessential guru of this business." After he herded the General Celebs through their big chance ("We'll get this over with quick as we can and do the main event"), the Ollie/Fawn contest was held. The overall results were as follows: 1) The Fawn with the most hair won; 2) A short-haired guy in a uniform was picked as Ollie, but he lacked the crucial jack-o'-lantern teeth and pitcher ears; 3) My Linda Evans friend got stomped; 4) My Marilyn Monroe friend placed second behind a Kirk Douglas who kept saying, "I wanna be chaaaamp"; 5) Marilyn was quickly set upon by lech photographers, a Sean Penn and a Spanish TV crew; and 6) Now that she was a "celeb," she wouldn't talk to me anymore.

Dang. Oh well, que sera pseudo-ersatz sera. Now, without further whining, I'll leave you with a saying of Guru Ron Smith that best characterizes the spirit of the day. It was delivered as a rebuff to a bad-karma Ollie contestant who had the nerve to say the real Lt. Col. North should be jailed.

"Now look, we're not here to make a judgment on whether Col. North is right or wrong! I believe that what he did was stand up for what he believed, whether you or you or you feel it's good or bad, and I think there's no other country in the world that you have the opportunity to do this in, and that's what we're tributing -- America, loyalty, honesty and being able to do what he did, I believe, is a wonderful thing. But thank you for your belief, which is not necessarily my belief, or your belief {pointing}, or your belief {pointing}. So let's hear it for America, for patriotism and . . . the way it is in the U.S. as opposed to Russia and the rest of the world!"

That prompted wild applause. ::