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Nice talking to you, stranger

Barry Smith

You were so enthusiastic when you said “hello,” even calling me by name, that I assumed we must go way back. That’s why I stopped to chat. Though I couldn’t quite place your face in that instant, I was sure it would come to me quickly, which is why I responded with an equally passionate “Hey!” I was hoping my exuberance would cover the fact that I didn’t call YOU by name.It was a knee-jerk reaction, this phony recognition.I think I did a pretty good job, but as I remember the times when people have done the same to me – giving a big walloping “Hi!” despite obviously having no idea who I am – I know that I can see right through their confusion every time. I see no reason to believe that I’m any better at this cultural charade. Yet despite my superficiality you have continued to talk to me, leading me to believe that we really do know each other well. And since we’ve been talking for a full two minutes now, you’re probably assuming that I have figured out who you are, where I know you from, where we’ve met before. Well, I haven’t. I keep hoping it’s going to click in, but as the minutes tick away and the conversation gets more personal – I now know that you’ve recently had surgery and started a new job – I realize that it’s too late to actually come out and say it: “I’m sorry, but I have no idea who the hell you are.” How could I? I just asked about your kids. Thank God you actually have some. That was risk without reward, I tell you.Please don’t take this personally, because it really is all about me. I’ve reformatted entire lobes of my brain in the name of Cosmic Oneness. I’ve painted rooms without remembering to open the windows. My hat is very tight and my glasses are dirty. This is not personal.Also, please don’t think that my enthusiastic greeting was insincere. I am truly happy to see you, a fellow human being, and am glad that you have taken time out of your day to stop and say hello to me. I just don’t know who the hell you are.My wife usually helps me in these situations. If I’m talking to someone she doesn’t know for more than 20 seconds without an introduction, this is a “Mayday” sign, and she innocently introduces herself and specifically asks the name of the person whom I’m standing dumbfounded in front of. Sometimes she then turns and repeats it quietly to me. On a particularly bad day she’ll write it down and hand it to me.But she’s not here at the moment. It’s just you and me, talking about your deepest hopes, fears and dreams. I feel a real connection with you, and the conversation flows easily. I just don’t know who the hell you are.You do look very familiar, though. No, seriously. Maybe it’s just that the context is all wrong. Maybe the lighting was different when we first met. Maybe you’ve changed your hair? New jacket? Botox?And true, I’ve just suggested that we meet later in the week over coffee and catch up even further, but this is a ploy. As I pull my book out and ready my pen, I pose my last-ditch question with as much nonchalance as I can fake: “Do you spell your name with any extra vowels or anything?”You reply: “Nope. Just like it sounds.” Damnit.Hopefully you can see my dilemma. We’ve gone on far too long for me to suddenly break down and admit that I don’t have the slightest idea who you are, especially after you’ve just told me all about your mother’s recent untimely passing. My only hope now is that someone shouts out your name, or that you drop your driver’s license and I manage to get to it before you do.Very nice talking to you, though. Really. It’s been too long. Hope to bump into you again soon.Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is barry@Irrelativity.com, and his very own Web page is at http://www.Irrelativity.com


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