He (or she) who shall not be named

Barry Smith

“I should know this guy’s name because I work with him all the time,” Christina whispered to me, “but I don’t, so you have to back me up.”I knew exactly what my wife meant. She meant that when he bursts out with a “Oh, hi, Christina! How are you?” that I’m to step forward at once, hand extended, and proclaim, “Hi, I’m Barry, what’s your name?” Then, just to be safe, I’ll repeat it.”George. Nice to meet you George. My first dog was named George. Georgie Porgy. Cool, then … GEORGE!”I love small-town life, but it’s not without pitfalls. There are people I’ve been saying hello to on the street for years, people who, by this point, I know quite well. I know that they’ve recently changed careers, have a dog, like to go to Florida to visit their family. I just don’t know their first name. And when you’re in the middle of hearing them describe their recent colonoscopy, there’s really no tactful way to slip in a “I’m sorry … what’s your name again?” You don’t always get the kind of whispered, advanced warning like I described above. Sometimes you round the corner and boom, there they are – someone you know well, even like, you just don’t happen to know that one little pesky detail of their life that everyone is so hung up on. Their name.This is where our 10-second rule is in effect. If one of us begins talking to someone in a familiar tone, and have not offered an introduction after ten seconds, it’s time to move in.”Hi. I’m Barry. What’s your name? Laura? Laura faura fo faura, banana fanna bo faura, fe fi fo faura … Laura! Nice to meet you. How do you know Christina?”This last part is an extreme safety measure, for it could be that more than just the name of this person has been forgotten.Of course, my wife’s not constantly by my side. If I’m solo, I usually go with the overly enthusiastic “Heeeey! How are you?” I try to add enough warmth and familiarity to make it seem like I’m beyond a first-name basis. The thing is, sometimes people do the same to me: “Heeeey! How are you?” and it is crystal-clear that they mean, “What the hell was your name again?” This leads me to believe that I’m not the only one out there who sometimes has no idea who they’re talking to.So, until such time as the current administration requires all citizens to wear photo ID badges in public, I’ve developed a few alternate approaches for getting out of this embarrassing situation, and I thought I’d pass them on to my fellow sufferers of short retention span: 1. Pretend to be collecting signatures for some worthy cause that everyone can get behind. This will mean constantly carrying a clipboard with you, but it’ll be worth it. Make sure your phony petition has a space for “printed name,” “signature,” and “name you like to be called.”2. Force the nameless person to drop a wallet/purse. It needs to look like an accident, of course, and this may take a bit of practice. While you’re helping them pick up their belongings from the sidewalk, you can usually catch a glimpse of something with their name on it. If you’re successful, you’ll be able to apologize by name.3. Pantomime that you’ve got laryngitis. If you keep running into the same person, you’ll have to go for the full tracheotomy.4. Use technology! Say, “Hey, I don’t think I have your cell number. Why don’t you call me right now so I can save it in my phone?” When your phone rings, flip it open 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, “Look, this is really embarrassing, especially since I’m the godfather of your kids and you’ve had Thanksgiving dinner with me for the past eight years, but I’ve totally forgotten 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 … how do you spell that?”