I’ve been face-blind all my life, and it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. A surprising number of things have gotten better as I’ve gotten older — my Gross Happiness Index (GHI) is higher than it’s ever been, as has my Sudden Understanding of Previously Mysterious Things. On the other hand, my body is slowly dying. That’s been true forever, but somehow it comes up more than it used to.
Alison Gopnik? Is that you?
Usually it’s not a problem. All the faces I see in daily life are familiar, from Darcy (the baby next door) to Omar (the mayor of Glenview) to my friend Brian (who hates the Internet and will never read this). I recognize them. But anyone I haven’t encountered in the last six months: Absolute blank. I know I know them, but I don’t know who they are. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to like them.
Actually, it’s worse than that. When I retired, I threw a small party for 50 or so of my closest friends. Naturally, not everyone could come. Terry and Pete were off in New Zealand, Peggy couldn’t make it up from Santa Cruz, and my daughter Shana couldn’t make it out from Montreal because she had a thing. (My daughter Rachel, who lives in the Bay Area, could and did come). So the day before the party, a Saturday, I was watching sports on television, probably college football. There was a knock on the door.
“Goddamit,” I thought, and probably said. A mid-afternoon unexpected knock is probably a door-to-door solicitor, often one of the kids from an “American Honey”-like scam. Second choice: A neighbor with some questions or some data, including things like “did you know you left your groceries on the sidewalk?”
I opened the door. Standing there was a middle-aged woman. “Yes?” I said, and then the world went out of focus momentarily as I changed the parameters in my in-brain recognition software.
“Shana!” I said.
“Daddy!” she said.
She was the surprise guest for the party. I was perhaps a little too surprised.
Last week I went to the Berkeley Public Library’s annual author’s dinner. Tracy and I were being honored or something; our names were on the program, but we didn’t get a plaque or anything. (I like me my plaques you bet). We were part of a fund-raiser, and who doesn’t want to help libraries? Plus, free food, and the opportunity to meet people I hadn’t seen for a while. Uh-oh.
All of which was complicated by the presence of people whose names I knew but whom I had never met. Probably. Did I ever shake hands with George Lakoff? Had I hung out with David Goines? I’ve had several long conversations with Dave Eggers, but would I recognize him? He’s a big guy, right?
I entered the fray. Tracy went one way, I went another. Everyone was smiling in a vague, non-threatening way. A short woman in a flowered dress came up to me. “You probably don’t remember me,” she said ....