January 9, 2002
Voices & Faces

I've got a gift for voices.

Not 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).

In my line of work, this comes in pretty handy.

and i probably shouldn't post pictures of my desk, either

Unfortunately my "gift" doesn't extend to recognizing FACES.

I'll 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.

I 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 sieve.

So it's probably not surprising that I didn't immediately recognize the guy hanging around outside The Dirt Company offices on Tuesday afternoon. At 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.

When 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.

"It's me!" he said cheerfully, still smiling. "Bill!"

OK. 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 ago.*

* another story/another day

He tried one more time. "Secra," he said earnestly. "It's ME. Olde Rocker."

Oh. Geez. Bill-OLDE ROCKER-Bill ... our online pal from the Baby Boomer Chat Room and message boards!

"What 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. 

The guy was a PUPPET on *FootNotes,* forcryingoutloud.

And still I didn't recognize him even when he was standing right in front of me.

"How 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.

(Editor's 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?)

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?

Or is it simply because I'm terminally inattentive?

I 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.

In 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.

Just be sure to wear a name tag.

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

yes, i'm still going to do cartoons ... as soon as some of that
*new toy* fever wears off. indulge me.