Saturday, November 24, 2012

Name Recognition

   This is a long post. I think it's worth reading. It is much more me-centric then most of my already-me-centric posts are, so if you are just here for cute baby stuff you should skip all the annoying words and look at the pictures of Wyatt I've posted. Otherwise, thanks for listening as I get some heavy things off my chest.

This picture, like all  others in this post, really has nothing to do with
what I am actually talking about, except that it involves me.

   My dad's not great with names, although he's actually better with names now than he was when I was real young. This is important because he is a pastor and lots and lots of people know him from seeing him yell at them every Sunday. He's one of those yelling types of pastors. I distinctly remember one trip to Target he and I took when I was in middle school. There were three different occasions on this trip where a couple would walk up, say hi, and start chatting. I could tell immediately that dad didn't know their names. (I won't tell you how I knew, because then you'll know if he ever does it to you. He won't do it to you though, because you're one of his favorites. He told me that.) So, I pulled a trick I had learned recently to help him out, a trick no one taught me: I'd introduce myself to them and ask them their names, assuming we hadn't met. They'd be impressed/apologetic and say "Well hello Grant, I am [insert name] ..." and fall for my trap. Dad would then dive back in to conversation and I'd leave to look at video games or something. After that third couple walked off and we were heading to the car, he even said "Grant you are saving me tonight." He didn't buy me anything, of course.


This is one of his most "human" outfits, by which I mean he's not dressed in baby clothes much. Credit goes to Gramma G for the adorable pullover, and credit goes to Grant G for the non-matching-yet-still-outfit-matching socks.

   There are precious few things that I am very, very good at: Tetris, sarcasm, connect four and making milkshakes. That's really it, and you'll notice I didn't put "blogging" on that list. However, one skill that I have nearly mastered over the years is having a conversation with someone when I have no idea what their name is, or even who they are. One side effect of having your dad be a pastor at a large church is that growing up, there have been a lot of people that knew me and I didn't know them. I developed phenomenal coping mechanisms. I have had 20 minute conversations with people, and only at the end have I figured out their names or who they are (those are two different things, by the way).
   I smile and say hello, ask specifically general questions, share something that we both likely have in common or have experienced together (remember that time it was raining!?), and bring up people that we might know in common. Through these processes I can narrow down what or who we have in common and maybe land on a name, or at least an idea of who this person is.

Wife: working.    Baby: helping.    Dad: cameraing.

   Okay, the two dense chapters above are all preamble to my miserable failing of today. I am taking Wyatt for our mandatory thrice-daily walk. We walk behind a car that has a high-school aged kid who is about to pull out of his driveway, sees me and the baby and waits. Good kid. He gives me a bit of a look, but I figure he's just mad that I slowed him down. As I walk along, he doesn't pull out. In fact, his car stops idling, he gets out and hollers "I didn't know you lived around here!"
   I turn around. We're about a hundred feet apart at this point. I make my first, crucial mistake. A mistake I haven't made in literally a decade:
   "Who'm I looking at!?"

   Never, ever admit you don't know who you are looking at. You can get away with it if you're old and everyone assumed you have bad vision and smell bad, which is a day I look forward to, but I am not there right now.
   He doesn't really reply, and I am nervous from already screwing up.
   "Sorry, I can't really see you," I lie. I wanted to pretend like he was blurry or something lame like that, but I was wearing my glasses so that's just plain ridiculous.
   He tells me his name. I don't hear it, so I ask him to repeat it.
   "I'm so-and-so." I honestly don't remember his name because I was so flustered, but I definitely didn't recognize it when he said it. Let's pretend like it was Jake.

No caption on this one!!

   The first, most important question to answer when you are in this situation is to figure out where you know this stranger from. When I am at church or at school or volunteering at the orphanages like I do all the time, it's easy. When you are on the street in a neighborhood, it's hard. With this kid, I have lots of options: from my current church, from my old church, from the camp I worked at for years, from playing/coaching ultimate frisbee, from one of the two high schools I have taught at in town, from one of the dozens of schools I have subbed at in town. That's a lot of possibilities. It doesn't even include any of my other jobs (too young), from Lane Community College where I also teach (too young), from college (too young), friend of a friend (his greeting was too personal and comfortable), neighbor (I've never talked to anyone at this house before), or anything else.
   I blow it. As I walk up to him and shake his hand, I commit to him being a family friend of some sort from church. I haven't had enough former students yet that I can't recognize them, though I will forget their names, so I assume he can't be a student of mine. "Jake! right, right, thank you. You're taller than when I last saw you."

   "You're taller than when I last saw you" is a great line to throw out when you are certain you knew this kid when he was younger. Everyone likes being taller. This kid was tall, too. But he looks at me funny and says "Do you have my brother, Dave?"
   I'm freaking out. Do I have his brother? I don't even recognize his last name, so how could I have his brother. More importantly, it's obvious that I should know this kid from school. I stutter. He jumps in. "No," he says, "my brother has the other teacher."

   I can't express to you how foreign this situation has become. I've been here a million times and only this time have I made mistakes I never even considered. Now a brother is being thrown at me and I am off balance, so I try to spin it. "Yeah, I live on the other side of the school. We've been there for a little over a year now."
   "Oh, okay." Jake is puzzled. He's looking at me weird. I don't like it.
   I freak out. "I'm sorry, Jake can you remind me where I know you from?!"
   "From Marist." Where I teach.
   This kid is not a student of mine. I don't know many students that aren't students of mine. But!! Oh of course, I forgot that I met like 40+ students on one of their weekend retreats that I was staffing about a month ago. That's where I know him from. (Are you getting the feel that my life is like one massive game of Guess Who?! Also, I am really, really good at Guess Who?! I should list that as another super-strength, along with my biceps.)
   "Oh, right right right, were you on the retreat?"
   "Yeah, I was one of the leaders."
   Him being one of the leaders means we spent no less than 6 hours together in a room with only about 14 people in it. It means we exchanged names, prayed, hugged at least once, and that he laughed at all of my jokes. I can't think of another time I've choked so bad. He throws me a bone.
   "I was on kitchen crew so we didn't see each other much."
   "Right, right, that's right I'm sorry. Did you have a good time?"
   He's a super nice kid, and smiles and says he did. We might say more stuff, we might not. I don't know because I just don't know anything anymore. Forget who this kid is, who am I? How did I let this happen to me? I walk off.
I think I've decided that his chin is my favorite part. Besides his cheeks. And nose. Definitely not his nails. But his teeth are probably my favorite, despite his more-frequent biting trend.

   As I walk off, I think about that day at Target, and how one day Wyatt will have to bail me out of conversations over and over. Why can't he do it now?! I've even tried. I've held up Wyatt and said "Wyatt say hi to the nice people" or something like that, hoping the nice people will say "Hi Wyatt I'm Bob," but that's only worked once.

   Now what?! I'm going to see this kid at Marist again. I honestly don't know his name, despite him telling it to me AND his brother's name. This is why I am so bad with names, of course, because I spend all my time during conversation trying to act like I know your name when I have no idea. Well, that and I spend all my time during conversation trying to seem smart and funny and clever and wonderful. That's taxing.

   I guess sometimes you have to make critical mistakes to remember your basics. Maybe I had this coming. Maybe I'd become cocky, or complacent. I know that when Doug or whatever his name was first said "I didn't know you lived around here!" I should have done what I did the last time someone said those exact words to me (like 4 months ago) and say "Yeah, right over there! How are you doing?!"
   Is that so hard?

Oh gosh he's just so happy all the time. It's annoying. Have a bad day!
Go be quiet and contemplative in a corner for a while!! Don't fuss about it though!!

My mood: worried I might see that kid again
Wyatt's mood: daddy daddy daddy
Listening to: Bicycle Race by Queen

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