I was enjoying a pedicure at the nail salon. There were several of us lined up in our footbath chairs, doing the salon version of elevator etiquette — a possible quick simple nod to your neighbor, but no direct eye contact. When it came time for the technician to scuff the bottom of my feet, I promised her I’d do my best not to jump because I’m ticklish. The woman sitting next to me said “that’s the hardest part for me too.” We shared a chuckle and I glanced at her. She looked familiar. Like I think I knew her from somewhere in my past, but I had no clue where or what her name was. Within a couple of minutes she was on her way, and I was left to ponder “how do I know her? Or do I not know her?”
As we get older and have more life experiences, we naturally meet more and more people. So the chances of unexpected recognition are pretty high. Since many relationships are merely passing acquaintances or fade over time, we end up with SFF (Somewhat Familiar Face) Syndrome. And it drives me nuts. One glance of someone out of place and time, and I start a stream of brain history review, which is faulty at best: Old college connection? Past work associate? From the gym? (we all look a whole lot different in business attire and make up instead of workout clothes and sweaty ponytails)… Or perhaps a parent of one of my son’s past friends? A teacher from the school? Maybe even a store associate where I shop? Yikes, it could be anyone from anywhere.
The other day I was in the check-out line at Target and it happened again. The woman in front of me at the next register looked familiar. Soon I was attempting the subtle glance-without-staring thing. Eventually it came to me, I believe she may have been the mom of one of the kids in my son’s cub scout pack. He was in cub scouts nearly ten years ago. If it was her, she has changed her hair style (highly likely) and put on a bit of weight (who of us hasn’t?). But I couldn’t be sure, nor could I remember her name. And by the time I had come to this conclusion, she was long gone.
So what to do? Walk up and say “Hi, do I know you?” Or wait and see if the other person seems to recognize me and says something? Ignore the whole thing and pretend I know no one? I have considered what would be the worst case scenario in addressing the other person: possible awkwardness and embarrassment, or coming across like some sort of stalker with dementia.
I realize that I do the same thing with celebrities, but without the embarrassment factor. Quite regularly my husband and I may be watching a tv show or movie, and we will have a conversation like this:
“Wait, did you see that guy?”
“Wait until the camera goes back on the guy in the suit…. THERE! Him! He was in that other movie…”
“Oh, right, he looks familiar….but what the heck have we seen him in?”
“You know, it was that old movie with um… that other guy… the one about the mob….”
“Are you sure that’s him?”
“Yes, he had longer hair then…. do you remember? What was his name?”
And so the conversation will go on until FINALLY one of us will recall the other role the actor played, or even better, the actor’s name. Finally coming up with the answer feels like mastering some kind of long-involved treasure hunt, and we will sit back, spent but vindicated and proud of our intelligence.
I have one BFF who is really handy to have around when this happens, because she has an uncanny knack for remembering not just various actor’s roles, but their names, their marital status, and their kid’s names. But for me, it is a guessing game every time.
Just the other day, I saw the preview for a movie that I’d like to catch. Again, there was a familiar face that I couldn’t quite place at first. Then I figured it out, and with great excitement mentioned it to my husband:
“I saw a preview for a movie that looks good… it has Hugh Grant and Glenn Close in it… no, wait, not Glenn Close…. Oh dang it, um…. Meryl Streep!”
“Is it a chick flick?”
“I can’t remember the name of it… maybe a chick flick, but I think you’d like it. Anyway, it took me a minute to figure out who the other actor is, but it’s the guy from Big Bang Theory..”
“Really? Which guy?”
“Um, oh, you know…. Not Raj…or Sheldon…..um… It’s the guy who plays Wojohowitz – no, wait, that was the name of the guy in Barney Miller.”
“Do you mean Wolowitz?”
“YES! That’s him!”
I sat back slightly exhausted “anyway… I want to see that movie….”
I have come to accept the fact that I will always suffer from SFF Syndrome, and I may as well make a game of it. Luckily, there are key people in our lives who will always be clearly and indelibly recorded in our memory banks. This morning I saw a woman who was not only our past Realtor but one of our first friends when we moved to our town nearly twenty years ago. I hustled right up to her to greet her, as I hadn’t seen her in many years. She is now 93 years old and sharp as a tack. She was happy to see me, and asked about my family – all by name. As I drove home, I thought “I want to be like her when I grow up.”
I’ll bet she never forgets a face.