MIDDLE-AGED PLAGUE - Face it: Mostly, it's out of context, out of mind

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During an Art Walk festival thing, a pleasing horde of tourists was deposited at our studio doorstep, and I was being the gracious artist's wife, introducing myself to the guests as they arrived.

"Hello," I effused (this isn't particularly difficult, because I really do like meeting new people), "I'm Carolyn, the Norwegian Artist's wife."

"I know," one of the last arrivals replied. "I'm Stephanie, the bus driver, and we have met many times before at the office when you paid your daughter's monthly bus fare while she was attending to community college."

Oops.

It is a besetting issue that, although I can remember names of obscure people whom we knew nominally 20 years ago, I cannot identify a person's face out of context.

The Norwegian Artist, yes -- I recognize him far down the beach just by the way he walks and stands. Same with the kids. I do, after all, see them on a regular basis.

My mother, I recognize. Dad, too. The brother in Michigan might be a challenge if I spotted him in the grocery store.

Everybody else -- well, if they're not at the doctor's office where they belong, or behind the counter at the bank, or at the bus agency, then I find myself either introducing myself to someone that I have been chit-chatting with for years (in the case of the doctor, there's been a bit more than chit-chatting), or looking at themcovertly from bent head position, as I pretend to besearching for something in my purse.

"Do I know that person?"

"Is that last week's client?"

"That wouldn't happen to be our neighbor of 12 years, would it?"

My Venerable Mother, who for years was known as -- and still is known as -- The Safeway Bakery Lady, deals with this all of the time. After 19 years of teasing shoppers over the intercom in her seductive voice -- "Good Afternoon . . . Shoppers -- (deep, slow, sultry intake of breath). Today (breath), we have (breath) Hot . . . Soft . . . Fresh . . . French(loooooooonnng breath) Buns," she caused more people to salivate than Pavlov did with his dogs.

Needless to say, when you elevate the subject of rye bread with sesame seeds and pumpkin chips to the level of sensual sublimity, people make a point of finding out who you are.

So, some 15 years after she retired from being the Safeway Bakery Lady, the Venerable One is greeted wherever she goes by literally hundreds of pastry aficionados and doughnut dilettantes. It is simply impossible to recognize that many people.

But, as I tell my children and myself, I am not the Venerable One, and I do not have 19 years worth of whispering sweet cupcakeries in captive shoppers' ears. So why, I wonder, are there such a large number of people who recognize me on the slimmest amount of acquaintance?

"Who was that person?" I whispered to Tired of Being Youngest once.

"She worked at the orthodontist's office for a month three years ago," TBY replied.

"So I met her once, three years ago?"

"Yeah."

"And she remembers my name AND my face?"

"Yeah."

"Is there something about me that strikes people as so odd or unusual that they only have to meet me once to remember me forever?"

"Umm. . . I don't feel comfortable answering that question."

I find myself constantly chatting with people I assume are strangers who indicate during the conversation that we have communicated before, leading me to believe that A) I really am lousy with this face thing or B) there's something about me that is distinctively memorable, and I have a feeling it leans toward the unconventional side. Sigh. Maybe I am more like the Venerable One than I thought.

Regardless, I take precautions, recognizing that it's highly likely that I will be remembered, somehow, and I don't want the memories triggered when people see my face again to be distressing ones. Years ago, I was dealing with an especially uncompromising individual in a public situation, and, rather than tell her what an officiously pompous unmitigated ass she was being, I clamped my mouth shut, wheeled about, and walked away in search of a reasonable human being with superior powers to the unreasonable one.

Good move, that. It being a small town and the woman being a public official, she was later promoted and moved to a different office, one that involved our seeing one another on a semiannual basis.

I actually recognized her face for once, and she most certainly remembered me.

Carolyn Henderson is manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. Find more of her writing at middleagedplague.wordpress.com.

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