Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Have we met?

There’s something I haven’t told you about me. I have no memory for faces. Like, really. No memory for faces. I am a police sketch artist’s nightmare. “I’m pretty sure it was a man. I think. But he or she definitely had a nose in roughly the center of his or her face.”

But even in every day life, this recognition thing can be a problem. One time I had an entire conversation with the professor of my Cell and Molecular Biology class thinking he was one of the members of my committee. Note: These two men do not look alike. I was just thrown off because I was at a poster session for the university’s Muscle Institute (I worked with skeletal muscle cells in grad school), so I did not expect to see my CAMB professor but I did expect to see my committee member, the God of Muscle Cell Research. The take-home message here is that I cannot recognize people out of context.

Difficulties also arise if I’m watching a movie. When I saw The English Patient, I could not tell the difference between Ralph Fiennes and the other guy who was married to the woman Ralph Fiennes was in love with. As it is vitally important to the plot to tell these two characters apart, I never had any idea what was going on. And I just now looked up the cast of The English Patient to find out who played the husband and discovered that it was either Willem Dafoe or Colin Firth, and, dear Lord, I hope it was Colin Firth because if I could not tell Willem Dafoe apart from Ralph Fiennes there is something seriously wrong with me*.

Why, you may be thinking, can I not tell who played the husband by looking at the name of the character in the cast list? Well, because I also have no memory for names. People tell me their names, and they may as well be saying, “Hi, my name is Blah Blah-dee-blah.” These issues are not new; I couldn’t remember anyone’s name even when I was in high school. In fact, I once played a game with Professor Lapp when we were in juniors in college wherein I looked through her high school yearbook and identified her friends, enemies and acquaintances by their photos. I was eerily good at it.

ME: This girl was a really good friend.
ME: You couldn’t stand this guy.
PL: No! I hated that guy!
ME: This girl used to annoy you but she tried to be your friend and so you had to be nice to her.
PL: Yes!
ME: And you didn’t really know this person that well, but you’d say hi in the halls.
PL: How are you doing this?

Naturally, after I finished with her yearbook, Professor Lapp tried to play the game using my yearbook. It didn’t go as well.

PL: This girl was your friend.
ME: I have no idea who that girl is.
PL: Um. OK. Well, this guy. You thought this guy was OK.
ME: Nope, don’t know him.
PL: But this girl. You didn’t like this girl, right?
ME: I’ve never seen that girl before in my life.
PL: Are you sure you went to this high school?

And it’s not like I can claim that I merely forgot who all those people were, because I was on the yearbook staff and I clearly remember holding up pictures of people and asking my fellow staff members whether the people in them were in our grade, because I had no idea. At the time, however, I thought this was normal. I knew the people in band and I did know people who took the same classes that I did; as an honors student, I pretty much saw the same 30 or so people all day. As for all of the people I didn’t know, I figured they didn’t know me either. How would they?

But then, as a senior in college, I ran into someone in the student center. “Hey, aren’t you Maureen from MHS? I’m Blah Blah-dee-blah! We were in the same grade!” His face was unfamiliar. His name was equally unhelpful. But he was so persistent that I was eventually forced to pretend to know who he was, but, trust me, I did not.

Now, it’s no surprise that I didn’t remember him. I have already established that I lived in a tiny marching-band-and-honors-class** tunnel, and this kid wasn’t in either. The mystery here is how he knew me. It’s not like I was a sports superstar or something. I was in the band. OK, granted, I was the drum major, but… band.

So, if I ever meet you in person, please tell me your name at least ten times and maybe write it down on a photo that I can keep. And the next time I see you, you should probably re-introduce yourself anyway.

*I feel I should point out that, at the time that I actually saw this movie, I did not actually know who Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe or Colin Firth were.

**And don’t forget yearbook committee! Hey, the Ph.D. in Engineering didn’t fall out of the sky.


Becca said...

Hey, I was in marching band too! And I spent all my extra time practicing in the band hall. I was kewl.

Ellen said...

I have the same problem with faces (and names)! I can so relate to your post about high school -- I was also in the "honors" track, and probably couldn't identify more than a few people who weren't with me in almost all of my classes. I can also relate to the "movie problem" -- if there's more than one, say, middle-aged dark-haired male I will have no idea who is who unless I want to repeatedly ask my husband. TV series are easier, of course, because you get a long time to finally figure out who the different characters are! Just curious -- do you also have problems with spatial perception and/or sense of direction?
Ellen (