One more than one occasion, I have had a conversation with someone and I have no idea who they are.
Having spent so many years working in the newspaper industry, you meet a lot of people and, I apologize for this, but to be honest I just don’t remember who they all are.
I may have been the only photographer/reporter they met that day, but they were one of the many people I met that day.
I wish I could remember all of their names, but I must admit only a handful stuck in my somewhat memory challenged cranium.
You see, that vast expanse of grey matter between my ears has never been good at remembering names. This makes for many awkward situations.
The problem is compounded by my wife who remembers every name of every person she has ever met in her entire time on this earth.
“Lisa, of course I remember you. You were assisting the doctor when I was born.”
That is, of course, a ridiculous exaggeration, but her ability to remember people is not that far off.
She will say, “Do you remember so and so from church?”
I will look at her with a blank stare.
“Her husband was Bill.”
“Their kids were Tom and Lisa.”
“He was tall, bald and drove a blue mini-van.”
“Oh, OK, Bill. Sure, I remember him know”
“Good, so you remember his wife, Connie”
And that does not even include the people I met through work. I can be walking down the street and someone will stop me and start chatting me up.
This is where things get a little tricky.
When I meet someone on the street, I do not want to be rude and ask who they are as if they were not important enough for me to remember them.
It’s not that they are unimportant, it’s just that I just lack the ability to remember names.
So instead, I just chat right back. But the reverse chatter must be done carefully. It is a craft I have honed over many years.
For example, never ask how the wife and kids are. He may not have a wife or kids, or there may be multiple variations of that combination, so instead I throw out the nice and generic, “So, how is everyone?” Perfect, no specific references to trip up on and generally the person will assume I am talking about their lovely family.
They will then chatter away about the wife, kids, dog – whatever, while I desperately try to mine the deepest reaches of my brain for any sliver of information on where I met them and who they are.
Other generic questions can include: “So, what’s new” which is the broadest of all generic questions. “How are things?” “How was your summer/winter?” “How’s work going?”
You get the idea. The key is to ask nothing specific, but ask a question that will generate discussion.
I once had a 10-minute conversation with someone I ran into on the street.
When we parted ways, my wife asked, “Who was that?”
To which I replied, “Beats the hell out of me.”
She used to get upset that I would not introduce her to some of the people I was chatting with, but once my lack of recall prowess was established, she was fine with being left out of the conversation in exchange for not making me or the other person feel a little awkward.
I am sure glad I married, um, er, no wait, don’t tell me. I know this one. Her name is…