(Illustration by Eric Shansby)
Columnist

I am not a handsome man. The caricature of me that generally accompanies this column, drawn by Eric Shansby, depicts a comically disheveled, mop-headed, pasty-faced, pudgy, bulb-nosed schnook, and it is actually quite flattering. In short, I am under no illusions about my appearance. Stretching mightily for kindness, a reporter who once profiled me said my hair belonged to someone “with a complete lack of vanity.” 

But I have a small vanity problem now. It involves the photograph that accompanies the Wikipedia page about me. As I write this, it has been there for more than a year, despite my persistent and occasionally devious efforts to delete it. The photo was taken six years ago at a public event after I had been walking around for three hours in the hot sun, still feeling the effects of double knee-replacement surgery, pain etched in whatever facial features remained after swelling up from meds and bed immobility. It is not a good photograph, even for me. 

I asked some of my friends to describe it. My editor, Tom the Butcher, said I resembled “a wheel of overripe cheese.” Pat Myers said I looked like “Super Mario’s mug shot after the crack raid.” My comic-strip collaborator Horace LaBadie instantly linked me to a photo of “Siku, the runny-nosed walrus” who had been cured by veterinarians of a parasitic infection that caused her to ooze quarts of snot. Rachel Manteuffel said I am a Muppet, specifically “the Swedish chef after a squid-explosion mishap.” (Remember these are my friends.)

I tried asking Wikipedia to change or delete this picture. No answer. So I did what any user can do, and deleted it myself, on seven occasions — which, yes, was in blatant and shameful contravention of all Wikimedia Commons policies blah, blah, blah. (One is evidently not allowed to alter one’s own entry.) But my change kept getting nullified by administrators. The picture kept crawling back, indestructible, like the cockroach it is. Finally I started begging, leaving pathetic pleas for administrators in the Wiki “history” pages, exposing my soul to the army of earnest 17-year-old volunteer Wiki cops out there. In return, I got lectures on proper user behavior. 

If I am not vain, why do I care about this photo? It is mostly because I use my Wikipedia page as a shorthand bio. Sometimes, if I am trying to coax a reluctant person to talk to me about something I am writing, I will link to my profile. It’s a pretty accurate description of me, for better and worse. I don’t want these people wondering if I am also a bloated corpse that has just been fished out of a lagoon. (Or Khalid Sheik Mohammed, rousted from hiding, in custody, also photographed on a bad day.)

So here we are. My last resort, in the pages of The Washington Post.

With luck, some kindly Wikipedia administrator is going to kill the photo and maybe substitute another, one in which I am merely conventionally ugly. But it is also possible that this column will serve as a clarion call to every smart aleck and wisenheimer and cyber-vandal out there. Anyone can make ephemeral changes to my Wikipedia page, any time.

I considered that before writing this column. I don’t particularly want to spend a week being depicted as Yoda or Donald Trump or the Selfie Monkey or Steve Buscemi’s foot. But what the heck. The truth is, they’d be improvements. 

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