Ol' Whatsisname

Sometimes, we work-at-home hermits must go out into the greater world, where we run into old friends and strike up conversations and generally act like we haven't become total social misfits.

And we're reminded that other people have lives, too, even if we're too caught up in our own domestic melodramas to keep in touch. Not only that, but they have names, and they expect us to remember them.

Seems like everywhere I go, I run into familiar faces. The swimming pool, the supermarket, the bank. All my old acquaintances are out and about, ready with a handshake and a smile. And I have no idea who these people are.

I know I should know them. I recognize their faces. Sometimes, I can even put them into context -- I know this person from my kid's school or from some party or from a story I covered back when I had a regular newspaper job. But their names? Gone. Forgotten. Erased from the memory banks.

If people were computers, I could just display an "Insufficient memory at this time" message and go on my merry way. Users understand that when it comes from machines. But they expect me -- a fellow human -- to remember their names, which leads to some awkward conversations:

"Hi there. You look so familiar. I know that face, but your name escapes me. Yes, yes, of course. I remember you. You just were out of context. I’m not used to seeing you all dressed up like that. Heh, heh. That's right, we went to school together. And then there was college. Right. Roomed together, you say? Uh-huh. Then there were those ten years we worked together at the newspaper. Sure. Oh, yeah, I DID see you last weekend at that cookout. Of course. Sorry. I’m terrible with names. "

How did this happen? I'd hate to blame creeping age. I prefer not to think about that, though the mirror tells the cruel truth. And I don't want to blame the excesses of my youth, when millions of brain cells gave up their lives to the cause of tequila.

Instead, I'll blame my children.

I trace my memory loss to the moment I chose to become a stay-at-home-dad. I isolated myself from the world, working at home and spending most of my time with two young boys. And without regular contact with other adults, I began to forget about them. In particular, their names.

My social circle shrank to the number of guys who can fit around a poker table. One close friend I see regularly, the occasional lunch out with others, but that's it. The rest of the time, I'm home with the boys, forgetting everyone else.

Meanwhile, my sons' social circle keeps growing. As they get older, they make more friends and I'm expected to remember the friends' names. And those friends have parents. And they all have names, too. Most of the parents I know have just given up. Now we greet each other with, "Hi, you're So-and-so's Dad." And we nod, knowing that's enough.

(That brings me to Today's Parenting Theory: The section of the human brain that holds other people's names is erased by high-pitched squeals, such as those frequently emitted by children. Enough yowling around the house, and our brains are washed clean.)

There's one more factor here: I write fiction as well as this column (which isn't exactly the same thing), so I spend a lot of time with my imaginary friends. More time, actually, than I spend with real, breathing adults. All day long I'm in the company of characters like Bubba Mabry and Felicia Quattlebaum and Otis Edgewater and Benjamin Dover. (Get it? Ben Dover? Har.) Those names are easy to remember because I made them up.

Maybe that's the answer in the real world, too. I'll invent new names for the people I meet. Give them some moniker I'll be more likely to remember.

So, if you run into me somewhere and I call you "Gertrude Beeblefitz," I'm sure you'll understand. You can call me "So-and-so's Dad."

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