January 9, 2002
Voices & Faces
got a gift for voices.
for imitating them, so much -- although I do a pretty credible Donald
Duck, when the mood is right -- but a gift for remembering
them when I hear them. After the second or third or
eleventh time somebody calls The Dirt Company, I recognize
their voice enough to greet them by name (just before I plunge them
into Voicemail Hell).
my line of work, this comes in pretty handy.
my "gift" doesn't extend to recognizing FACES.
give you an example. I was two-thirds of the way through a Chicken
Caesar Salad, a few years ago, before I realized I was having lunch
with my next-door neighbor. Her company and my company were both
participating in an Oregon Working Women ("OWW" for short)
Professional Development Seminar, imaginatively titled "Climbing The
Ladder of Success." My neighbor and I were seated directly across the
lunch table from each other: she'd been glaring at me for a good twenty
minutes before it dawned on me who she was. (Even then, I didn't bother
saying hello or trying to engage her in chit-chat or requesting that
she please pass the Dijonnaise: she already thinks I stole her
doormat.) Another time, when I was working for the doomed
newspaper company in TicTac, a woman came into the office on Saturday
morning. I used to come in on weekend mornings to do invoicing, so I
was in the office by myself. The woman stood at the front
counter, smiling pleasantly at me for a full minute and a half -- I
remember thinking Who IS this annoying person? --
before I realized it was my (newly-blonde) mother.
have a bazillion other stories, just like these, but you get my point.
If you and I exchanged pleasantries on the elevator this morning, and
now you're depending on *me* to provide the alibi that will keep your
neck out of the noose ... you're in big trouble. Names and faces slip
through my memory banks like fine aggregate sediment through a #10
it's probably not surprising that I didn't immediately recognize the
guy hanging around outside The Dirt Company offices on Tuesday
the precise moment he showed up, I was busy shovelling another buttload
of 11x17 into the jam-happy Minolta copier. I was seven-eighths of the
way through one of those Poopy-With-A-Capital-Oopy Days already, and I
was in no mood for further nonsense. When I looked up and saw this guy
standing in front of our locked front door, peering in at me
expectantly, my heart sank. Swell, I thought
sourly.Just what I need: an annoying salesdork.
I reluctantly opened the door, he gave me a big sunny smile and said
"Hiya, Secra!" (Even better: an annoying salesdork who knows
my name.) I stared at him vacantly.
me!" he said cheerfully, still smiling. "Bill!"
There was something vaguely familiar about him, I
had to admit. He was an attractive guy, maybe a couple of years older
than me, with a snowy white beard and twinkling blue eyes: sort of a
cross between Santa Claus and my groovy Uncle Jerry. Still, the only
"Bill" I know personally is the Bill who fired me six or seven jobs
* another story/another
tried one more time. "Secra," he said earnestly. "It's ME.
Geez. Bill-OLDE ROCKER-Bill ... our online pal from the Baby Boomer
Chat Room and message boards!
in the world are you doing here?" I asked, hugging
him. Frankly, I was flabbergasted. I hadn't seen Bill in ages ... since
the afternoon David and I had lunch with him (and with Brenda, another
Boomer pal) a year and a half ago. We spent an enjoyable two hours
sharing a bowl of salsa and tortilla chips with him that day.
was a PUPPET
on *FootNotes,* forcryingoutloud.
still I didn't recognize him even when he was standing right in
front of me.
the heck did you find me?" I gasped. He explained that he used to work
across the street from my building, and that he recognized my
description of The Dirt Company from a couple of recent *FootNotes*
entries. Since he was in the area that day, he said, he decided to
try and find me. He'd gone around from door to door, on every floor of
my building, until he'd finally located my office.
Note: Maybe I should feel ever-so-slightly weirded-out about being
tracked down so efficiently. But I don't. I've never worried about
trying to achieve 100% anonymity on this website, anyway. Still, I
think that maybe I'll refrain from describing my workplace quite so
explicitly in the future. In other words: no more references to the
crumbling red brick facade, the IKEA Super Store next door or the
incredible view from my 28th story window. We never know when Cranky
Denver Lady might decide to pop in, now ... do we?)
chit-chatted pleasantly for half an hour or so, while I finished
putting the California Overnight together. "I like watching people
work," chirped Bill, who has recently graduated from working stiff to
blissful retiree. (If we didn't LIKE him so darned much, we would
probably have to hate him.) We also talked about getting together for
dinner or something in the near future. It was nice. Still, I felt
sort of stoopid and remiss for not recognizing him, right off the bat.
It might have been nice to fling open the door and say Wow!
Olde Rocker! How the hell've you been?? But I couldn't, so I
didn't. And that's what has me baffled. Why this weird mental block
when it comes to remembering people, anyway? Why this inability to put
names to faces?
Is it because I don't routinely wear my glasses? Is it
because I stopped taking the Ginko Biloba? Is it because Bill was
wearing a HAT on Tuesday so his
second-most-noticeable feature -- ahem
-- was hidden from view?
is it simply because I'm terminally inattentive?
dunno. Perhaps this is one of those professional skills (or "Broken Ladder Rungs," as they
refer to them at the OWW seminars) that I should
commit to working on in 2002.
the meantime, if I've ever met you face-to-face -- if we've had
lunch together, or shared a hospital room in the maternity ward, or
pressed our bloody thumbs together during afternoon recess and became
eternal blood sisters -- or if you've given birth to me but have
recently changed your hair color -- please feel free to approach me and
say hello, if you should happen to recognize me in public somewhere.
be sure to wear a name tag.