I’m not boasting it’s simply a fact. Maybe it’s from having a gigantic extended family. Perhaps it has to do with growing up in large communities in small towns or perhaps I’ve just lived in places for too long a time. My collection of jobs has also put me in the position to learn a lot of names – clown, waitress, student, receptionist, teacher etc. Having lived in 4 ‘towns’ growing up and then staying put in a larger town for 18 years I suppose one learns neat little tricks to seem at least slightly socially adept, after all it’s quite flattering if someone remembers your name after only having met you once. Who doesn’t want to be liked or at least make a good first impression.
Things get awkward, though, when you don’t remember mine.
And don’t think I can’t tell – you know I can and that’s a toughie when it comes to keeping conversation going. It’s not that I’m not memorable, you would remember me if we had ever spoken more than a couple of sentences to each other but it’s not in everyone’s repoir to care about someone elses moniker – it’s when I remember having HEARD of you or seen you in passing’ so more than likely you’ve heard of me and know my face about town – hey, I said they were small towns! So I know of you, your name and surname usually and then I also know the name of your significant other. I could probably name your kids and at least 2 of your pets. It’s sad really.
It’s because I’m genuinely interested in the human condition, in people, in what they do and who they are and the easiest way to observe and categorize this species, I suppose, would be to remember their names. It does get a little ridiculous, I mean, I know the names of all the cashiers in our local shops and banks, because they wear name tags. The guys and girls at the petrol station have eventually asked me mine because I greet them every time. It’s not fair on them since I don’t wear one but I can’t help myself, it’s like a photographic memory of useless things.
So over the years I’ve developed some associations – some mnemonic magic to remembering names but I’m slowly un-learning them – on purpose. It’s just gotten too much, say from 10 years ago, I bump into. let’s call him *Kingsley (and having to change is his name is not easy because I’ve had to make a new association now if someone asks me about *Kingsley) it’s goes something like this, I say;
“Hi, how are you?”
and he says, “Um, fine thanks, how’s it going?” (at this point I have to admit, I try to tune out a little because he’s not really asking how it’s going – it just one of those insipid niceties) , so instead I’d pause and reply –
“Well, well thanks, actually very well. And with you Kingsley? Barbara well too?”
He tries not to look too abashed now since he’s just realized he can’t quite place me and here I am asking him about his second wife.
I try to subtly remind him where I know him from, “Little Tim’s collar bone heal up nicely?” – I was his Doctors receptionist for 6 years. This has got to help him a little, I know Tim is busy with his Tertiary Education and him and Barbara have only been married for 5 years (c’mon dude, I’m spoon feeding you here!) I didn’t have to speak to the patients but I got to learn ALL their names. Now he’s really confused and I’m starting to look like an ambulance chasing stalker.
“Ya, healed up great, he’s playing first team rugby for the Varsity now” – he manages to recover fast but doesn’t come up with a question of his own. I fall in with a little titbit just because I can;
“Him and Carl were such good friends through High School, did they manage to get into the same Res – oh and did Tim and Bianca ever go any further, they wanted to get married straight out of Matric,’ I’m a total gossip.
Bless Kingsley, he doesn’t start with the, “Hey, do I know you?” – obviously I’m no threat, behaving so familiarly, such a sweet, friendly, open face (I’ve been told and have since made it work for me). No instead he stammers along about how Carl is a freelance plumber after doing a trade and is making a great success of it (this gets filed away, because Carl, now a member of the plumbing fraternity must know Rick and Rick is an ex boyfriend of a very good friend of mine, Helia – she’ll know how it’s really going down with Carl). Apparently Bianca is still single, (good information, she’s a lovely lass and I can think of Tjaart, Eduard and Jacob – at least three guys that would be a good match) this makes Tim single too – I’m sure Kingsley would have mentioned if he was married.
By now my drink is getting low, my conversation has run out because Kingsley doesn’t know and can’t recall exactly where he knows me from and I’m talking to him like a twice removed niece (not as painful as it sounds) – and that’s where I start to feel guilty. Wasted emotion an all, here I am, inquiring – by name – about his nearest and dearest and I haven’t thought to reintroduce myself, that’s just bad manners eh? Oh how could I? Here’s this poor chap, casting about for a clue, floundering for a fact that will jog his memory as to what my name is! It’s just horribly awkward – and according to some smart ass Philosopher or Yoda, ‘a wise man never get’s himself into an uncomfortable situation’ – and here I am having us both look ‘not wise’!
And now, to avoid these situations I have conversations that go more like this, after studiously avoiding eye contact and not laughing too loudly in the group environment, the encounter becomes unavoidable because I’m standing in the direct line towards the food/drink/outside door/loo;
Kingsley: ” Hi.” – nodding and smiling.
Me: “Hi” – nodding and smiling. Looking away and moving in the same direction my eyes have went.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent