I attended a cultural event over the weekend, and following the evening's performance, I gathered with the rest of the crowd in the lobby of a theater for a drink and some socializing.
Now I'm not great in these circumstances in general, but considering what happened there in specific, I was terrible.
Never again, though!
Here's the story:
Trying to make my way through the crush of humanity, I was stopped by an somewhat familiar stranger about my age. He looked at me and exclaimed:
"Well, well...if it isn't Andy Nulman of Sir Winston Churchill High School! You look great!"
Not a bad start, a small compliment. But it proved to be just a softening set-up for the H-bomb he was about to drop:
"Do you recognize me?"
While I may have a great sense of recall for events and actions, I am far less gifted in face/name recollection. It's something I try hard to improve, but it's a weak point in my real-life social networking.
So... visibly uncomfortable, shifting side to side and stammering, and because I didn't want to come across as a pretentious ass, I finally sputtered in as humble tone as I could muster:
"I am so, so, so, sorry but I don't recall. I'm really not good at this; I think I may even have a real problem. Please excuse me. You are...?"
Proper social grace and decency at this juncture is to extend a hand, smile and reveal one's secret identity. But no such luck on this night. Rather than help a brother off a very big hook, my tormentor responded with a wide grin:
"I can't believe you don't know who I am!"
Slight pause, then...
"I think I'll let you squirm for a while."
I came to the theatre for a show; I didn't sign up for a memory test, yet here was one being administered without anesthesia or lube. For some reason, I stood there paralyzed for what seemed to be hours of discomfort before he finally relented and graced my ears and memory banks with the sound of his most precious name (which I will not reveal to graciously protect the guilty).
The result of this unlocking was, shall we say, somewhat less than finding a buried treasure chest filled with gold.
Yes, we indeed did go to school together at ol' SWCHS. But he was a couple of grades younger than me, and never a really close friend. At most, I remember him as a nice guy in the halls, an acquaintance you would exchange niceties with at the mall or a party.
And here he was again, decades later, a grinning timeline terrorist holding me hostage by dangling disconnected brain synapses in front of me.
After a minute or so of awkward exchange, I mercifully pulled myself away...and vowed that this was the LAST time I would ever be put in such an uncomfortable situation.
I'm sure that at one point in your life -- or many, like me -- you've shared my pain by being put in situations similar to this one, where the happy innocent becomes the uneasy victim. And what I learned this week is the Express Pass/Golden Ticket out of them.
So... the next time someone makes ME feel this ill at ease at the name-me game, my two-pronged sledgehammer attack will start with this body blow:
"I'm sorry...I don't know who you are. I guess you weren't really all that memorable."
And when that someone breaks -- and trust me, they will, almost immediately -- and spits out his or her name, I will take a deep breath, twist my face quizzically, and reply with this knockout punch, one word delivered in many syllables:
Believe me, after this, I will never ever be uncomfortable again.
Nor, for that matter, forgotten!
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