Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
I love small-town life, but it’s not without its challenges. Especially if, like me, you aren’t good with names.
There are people I’ve been stopping and chatting to on the street for years, people who, by this point, I know quite well. I know that they’ve recently changed careers, have two dogs, like to go to Florida to visit their family, and so on.
I just don’t know their name.
Sounds impossible, I know, but it creeps up on you. You’re introduced by a mutual friend at some party and you talk for a while, then you see them a week later in City Market and you exchange a few pleasantries. You’ve forgotten their name, but it’ll come to you, no problem. Several months of chance encounters around Tinytown and you’ve become officially well acquainted.
Except that you don’t know their name, you know it’s not going to come to you, and by this point it’s way too late to ask. When you’re in the middle of hearing them describe their recent colonoscopy, there’s really no tactful way to slip in a “Ouch, sounds painful … hey, uh … what’s your name again?”
For a while I thought I was covering my tracks pretty well. People would say, “Hi Barry” and I’d reply with an overly enthusiastic “Oh, heeeeeyyyy” response. Then someone did this to me. I waved to them on the sidewalk and they said “Heeeeeyyyy …” and by the time this reached my ears it had translated itself into its actual meaning – “Oh no, it’s that guy whose name I don’t know!” Painfully obvious.
I’ve tried the tricks you’re supposed to use for remembering people’s names. Like repeating it multiple times when you first meet them, or coming up with some sort of rhyme, or thinking of someone you know with the same name and somehow connecting the two.
“Hi, George. Nice to meet you, GEORGE. I don’t think I know another George. George Washington? George Bailey? Oh, I know, my first dog was named George. Georgie Porgy. We just called him George. He got hit by a car. You have a car, right? OK then … George at the forge in the Royal Gorge. George. George. GEORGE!”
I only learned later that you’re not supposed to do this out loud. Still, this method hasn’t worked for me so far.
So, until such time as all citizens are required to wear photo ID badges in public (“Hello, my name is Heeeeeyyyyy”) I’ve developed – and tested – a few tricks of my own, and I thought I’d pass them on to my fellow sufferers of a short retention span:
1. Always carry a clipboard with you. When you find yourself in this awkward situation, whip it out and announce that you’re collecting petition signatures for some worthy cause that everyone can get behind. Make sure your phony petition has a space for “signature,” “clearly printed name” and “name you’re called by people who know you really well.”
2. A more expensive variation on the above – Say, “You know, I think I’ll give you some money,” then whip out your checkbook, fill in the date and amount then say, “Do you spell your name the usual way?”
3. Force the nameless person to drop their wallet/purse/groceries. It needs to look like an accident, of course, and this part may take a bit of practice. While you’re helping them gather their belongings from the ground, you can usually catch a glimpse of something with their name on it, like a credit card or a piece of mail. Then you can apologize by name.
“I am so sorry about that, Netflix, I’m just extra clumsy today.”
4. You have technology – use it! Say, “Hey, I don’t think I have your number. Why don’t you call me right now so I can put you in my phone?” When they do this, answer your phone and say, “Hello? Who is this?”
5. Give in. Sometimes you’ve just fudged for as long as you can and have to take your lumps. This happened to me recently. I said to this guy, “OK, this is really embarrassing, especially since I’m the godfather of your kids and you’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at my house for the past eight years, but I just never really caught your name. Please tell me again, and this time I swear I’m going to write it down.”
“Barry,” the guy replied.
“Oh, yes, of course,” I said. “Um … do you spell that the usual way?”
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