Lately, it happens constantly. Jon Niedzwiecki will be in a restaurant or at the gym or taking his father to the hospital for chemotherapy, and someone will do a double-take and then stop him.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” they’ll usually begin, “but do you know who you look like?”
Yes he does. And he knows they are probably not going to say “that guy from ‘Southie Rules,’ ” though Niedzwiecki is in fact that guy from “Southie Rules,” the A&E reality sitcom that starred his South Boston family.
Nope. They are going to tell him he looks just like Aaron Hernandez.
For Niedzwiecki, this is old news. It has been happening since the moment the New England Patriots drafted Hernandez in 2010. And for a while earlier this year, it was probably better than being recognized as the guy from “Southie Rules,” which was so demolished by the public that “Southie Rules” jokes were old in about two Twitter hours. The show went away soon afterward. The Hernandez sightings did not.
The number of specific features they share is pretty impressive, said Niedzwiecki’s fiancée, Jessica Hanna. “The straight hairline, the short dark hair, the small forehead, the big nose.” And the build; Niedzwiecki is about 40 pounds lighter and without the full-on action hero arms, but he is still built, and the arms are dunked in tattoos. While they were filming the show one day at a yard sale at the family’s three-decker in Southie, a guy stopped and asked him to autograph his scooter. He thought he was Aaron Hernandez.
His younger brother, Matt, teased him constantly, but Niedzwiecki did not mind looking like Aaron Hernandez. He was a star athlete, muscular, a favorite with the ladies. “He wasn’t a bad person to look like,” Niedzwiecki said recently in Route 9 Tattoo & Body Piercing, the shop he owns in Framingham. “Then that changed.”
In the days since Hernandez was arrested in a killing and had his picture on every screen, the double-takes have gone way up, and an easy joke became uneasy. It’s nothing to laugh at, Niedzwiecki said. But he has had to.
“What else am I supposed to do?” he said. “I have to try to embrace it. I’m stuck looking like an accused killer.”
Shortly after the story broke, he took to social media to write: “Due to recent events involving my stunt double Aaron Hernandez, I’ve returned to Twitter to announce that I no longer look like him.”
But he does. At his fiancee’s bridal shower over the weekend, his future in-laws had him pose for photos with their daughter with his hands behind his back as if he was handcuffed.
Knowing the jokes were coming, Niedzwiecki wore a white V-neck T-shirt and tucked his arms inside, mimicking the now-famous photo of Hernandez being arrested. That night, when the shower continued to a strip club, he got a discount lap dance.
As far as doppelgangers go, Jon Niedzwiecki has it strange. But, he thinks, it is nothing compared with what happened in April to his brother, Matt.
On a recent day, the brothers were sitting behind the desk at the tattoo shop, telling that part of the story, when a woman walked in the door, took one look at Matt, and it happened again. “You look like the little brother, the Marathon bomber,” said Mary Arrandale, 47, of Framingham, wagging her finger at Matt. “What’s his name?”
She was talking about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the brothers implicated in the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. When police first released the grainy surveillance photos of the two bombing suspects, Matt Niedzwiecki’s phone began to ring. People texted. They wrote on his Facebook wall. “You look just like the guy in the white hat,” they all said.
Matt Niedzwiecki is tall, thin, pale, with serious eyebrows, a prominent nose, and a shaggy head of dark hair that is almost always covered with a backwards baseball cap. In the grainy surveillance photo, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the “White hat” suspect. When Matt’s own daughter, who was about 1½ at the time, saw a photo of “White hat” on the television, she said “Daddy.”
As the manhunt began, Jon told Matt, in all seriousness, that he should not leave the house until the two men were caught. When Matt did make a trip to the supermarket the following day, he said a couple people broke their necks trying to get a good look at him.
“I gave them a wave before they pulled out their phone and called the cops,” Matt Niedzwiecki said.
After years of teasing his brother for looking like Aaron Hernandez, when it was still OK to look like Aaron Hernandez, the tables had turned. But this was nothing to joke about. “It’s like looking like bin Laden,” Matt Niedzwiecki said. “No one wants to be told they look like a terrorist.”
Once Tsarnaev was identified and clearer photos were released, the double-takes subsided, which was fine by Niedzwiecki. It was nothing to joke about. For weeks, the brothers offered free Boston Strong ribbon tattoos at the shop, and nearly 200 people took them up on it.
Still now, as they sit in the shop, waiting for customers to walk in, they know it will happen again, that they will have to go through the process of being mistakenly famous, and all the conversations that go with that. “Honey, you need to cut your hair,” Arrandale told him. He laughed. They have talked about that. Jon could grow his hair out, grow a beard. But it is not going to happen; they can handle looking like someone the public hates, Jon Niedzwiecki said. “That’s something we got good at when our show premiered.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.