The following is my inner dialogue as I try to establish whether this guy I'm looking at talking to his friends on the L train bound for Brooklyn is in fact season 1's runner-up of FOX's American Idol, Justin Guarini.
That guy looks like Justin Guarini.
He has Justin Guarini's facial features.
Is he the right age for Justin Guarini?
I think this is Justin Guarini.
No, I really think this is Justin Guarini.
Am I racist for thinking this is Justin Guarini?
Is Justin Guarini a race that I can be racist toward?
Is Justin Guarini a mixed-race person?
Is that racist to say? I feel like 'mixed-race' just sounds racist.
Can blackish be a term without it being offensive?
This guy looks blackish.
His hair is curly; it looks like what it would look like if you cut Justin Guarini's hair.
Justin cut his hair once and he came back to American Idol. I don't remember what it looked like.
I know this isn't racist, but is it along the same sort of thinking to think that just because this guy's hair kinda looks like Justin Guarini's hair short, that this would be Justin Guarini?
He looks really young. Maybe it's not him, only because this guys seems to look really young for how old Justin Guarini should look now.
How old does Kelly Clarkson look? Women age better than men, right? Or is it the other way around? Does Kelly Clarkson specifically age better than Justin Guarini?
Is Kelly Clarkson a good role model for young women?
Justin to Kelly was pretty bad.
Justin Guarini's performance of "Let's Stay Together" was all I could think of when I saw Obama sing "Let's Stay Together."
Is THAT racist?
He's standing now. He's tall enough to be Justin Guarini. I also think he's old enough to be Justin Guarini. He's not too young; he's just aged really well. I mean, he was a star for a while.
Oh yeah, he was a star for a while...
He was famous.
He was like one of the first reality TV stars.
Now he's not. Now he's sitting on the L Train headed into Brooklyn with me and all these New Yorkers. Is he from New York? Did he move to New York? What happened to Justin Guarini?
How sad if this is Justin Guarini. I liked him. There wasn't much to not like about Justin Guarini. He wasn't gonna win Idol, but he certainly wasn't offensively bad in any way. But this is just what happens, I guess. Maybe this is why we shouldn't invest so much hate and ill-will toward TV personalities who have no business being famous. Because it doesn't take much time before those people are gone from the public eye, are removed from the social consciousness, and excised from the pop culture frame of reference. And then they return to their normal lives, their lives from before they were famous, though never quite the same because they had their moment in the sun. If this is really Justin Guarini, how long did it take for him to no longer be recognized on the street? No one even bothers to look at him now, save for one young man who's trying not to look like he's staring and is arguing with himself about whether or not this is actually him.
Does it make him sad that he's no longer recognized? Or is he somewhat okay with this passage of time, with his new place in the universe? What is a has-been really, but someone who once had something that most of us can say we never even had?
Is there something to be said about everyone's own inevitable slide into irrelevance, the ownership of the world never resting for too long with any single generation, the torch relay's faces blurring together in an endless line of features and expressions?
It doesn't matter now whether or not objectively this is Justin Guarini, because my own mind has been made up and in eight stops I've crafted his entire rise and fall, and to me he was the once-great Justin Guarini, a swooner and crooner, a goofy kid in a paisley shirt with a silky voice. In one more stop, he is gone. He steps off the train and out of my life, much as he did to me a decade ago on television.
And I try to watch him for as long as I can, to see if someone else maybe recognizes him from the foggy recesses of their mind, or maybe even to see if he realizes I'm looking at him, the argument and narrative within written all over my face, and he pauses briefly to cast a knowing glance at me as if to say, "Yeah, I know you know."
But no such glance is exchanged and at Lorimer, he disembarks, and my last thought for him is, "I hope Justin Guarini knows what a horrible train the G is."