When they recognize you but you don’t recognize them

I’m bad with faces and names. Typically, you’ll hear folks admit to being deficient with one and excelling in the other. Not me. If you’ve just introduced yourself, I have absolutely no idea what your name is, three words into your next sentence. None. If you turn around in a circle, that’s like you just used the Men In Black “flashy thingy” on me, so we might as well just start over. It happens to everyone, but my terrible memory makes me especially prone to situations where you run into someone who recognizes you but you have no clue who they are. In fact, I’m something of an expert on the subject.

There are a few different ways to handle…. Hold up. Let me set the table for you.

It’s a warm summer day in Philadelphia. You’re walking around the city. Sure, you have some errands to run but you know what else you have?… a complete lack of urgency. It’s beautiful out! You’re leisurely soaking in the sun, people watching and window shopping. Maybe you’ll get an ice cream. Maybe you won’t. It’s your day. The expanse of Walnut Street is bustling with activity – friends of all ages laughing and cantering about, remarkably fit moms pushing strollers into lululemon, that guy in a full suit sidewalk dancing way too intensely (but it’s kind of awesome) in front of McDonalds.

The walk sign lights up and you cross the street. Somehow, amidst all the activity, you find yourself on an empty block of Walnut – just you and the person stepping onto this lonely block from the opposite end. You begin to sense something odd but cannot identify the source. You’ve been here before – on this block. Step by step you progress, trying to unravel the déjà vu. You look up. You’re in that weird in-between space, where you can see the person clearly but it’d be awkward to acknowledge them just yet – best to hold off for 9 steps or so. A mild smirk emerges upon her face. You turn your head to identify whoever is behind you, at whom she must be smirking. No one is there. You turn back; now she’s full on smiling – showing teeth and all. OH GOD NO! That’s not polite acknowledgement in her eyes at all. That’s recognition. Terror besets your leisure. You search your mind, frantically, and just as you’d found in looking behind you for answers; your mind, too, is barren.

“Hey, Jamal!” she says (you’re Jamal).

There are a few different ways to handle this situation, but my default is feigned recognition, which is a dangerous game. I’m typically not much of a risk taker but in these instances, I think my inclination toward kindness overcomes my risk aversion – I just want you to feel as memorable as I am to you. Is that so wrong? Yes, it is wrong. It’s wrong because one in every 13 people have the audacity to call you out on not recognizing them. Bless you 12 out of 13 who are kind enough to humor my passive lies while I figure out who the fuck you are – you sweet angels. But every interaction like this becomes a game of detective work.

“Hey!” you respond, glaringly omitting her name. “How are you?” – note: not ‘how’ve you been’, because maybe you just saw this person yesterday… but how are you supposed to remember yesterday?

Best-case scenario is that she perceives your vague response as an indication that you may not recognize her and reintroduces herself right away – to which, of course, you respond: “oh I know, I remember” or something like that. If that’s not the case, what follows is the piecing together of context clues – a job, a mutual acquaintance, an inside joke, anything.

Luckily, what I lack in facial and name recognition, I make up for with ability to talk without saying a damn thing of any substance. I recommend that anyone who shares this same plight, practice this skill. Most people just want to hear themselves talk anyway. I just say enough to remind you that I’m standing here, I’m alive and am capable of hearing your voice. That’s pretty much enough, usually. I just bridge the gap between what you just said and what you’re about to say, noting the clues to your mysterious persona as I go. “Oh yeah?” – “That’s crazy?” – “I know, right?” – “We should.” – “Definitely.” And she’s just-a spillin all the beans. Of course, with the poor memory, there’s no guarantee I remember the goddamn beans either. I’ve easily had 20-minute conversations with these people I know but don’t know, without ever figuring it out. Most of the time they never seem to realize it.

Eventually the one-sided conversation comes to a close and, mercifully, it’s time to put me out of my misery – to allow me to escape this interaction unscathed, like Quicksilver darting through the debris of a collapsing school to save the doomed children. But first, I want to dance a little bit because I’m feeling myself – because I know I’ve won the day already. Ok, sure, the responsible thing would be to just get out as quickly as possible. I realize that taking the time to showboat is increasing the likelihood of these poor children getting pummeled to death by this debris, but that’s my journey. I’ve got to get this name.

“Oh, you know what?” you say, unlocking your phone to the contacts section. “I don’t think I have your phone number. Here, put in your info for me.”

Sure, she’s going to question to herself why you’re having her do the work – that maybe you don’t remember who she is. But she’s not going to say anything because people hate awkwardness. She’s just going to bite her tongue and hand you your phone back. You’re going to act like you’re making sure it’s saved as you finally discover her identity.

“Nice to see you again, Stephanie!” you proclaim triumphantly as the two of you part ways in opposite directions on that lonely block of Walnut Street. Now who the fuck is “Stephanie?”

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