When you hear someone say, “I’m terrible with names” what they are actually saying is they remember people’s faces, but can’t come up with a name for the person. Here’s something you won’t run into very often; I don’t remember people. There is something about my brain’s facial recognition software that is still stuck in the Beta Version, 1.0. No matter what I try as some sort of mnemonic exercise the truth is I have to know something about someone before I start to really see them. Faces without stories are just faces to me. Give me a story and I can put a face to it, usually. Give me a stack of photos with three different people in the stack and I cannot tell you who is who unless there is some stark difference like gender, skin tone, or some sort of face hugging alien attached to one of them. Now, ask me which actor played in what movie, and who that person was that played that part in another movie and I’m okay as long as I don’t have to do this by recognizing their faces.
I don’t do cars. When I was growing up I missed that thing with the cars that other male children developed. I knew all the right words to say when talking about cars but I didn’t understand it. I still can’t turn a wrench without breaking my elbow. It’s not a question of physical strength but more of one of manual dexterity. Worse, I don’t understand machines are all. I have no real idea why they work the way they do, why they break, or how to fix them. Some guys I know can tell you what year a particular car on the street was made. I’m clueless. I couldn’t narrow it down to a decade. I might as well be a chick for all I know about model and make of cars. Hell, I don’t even know what make and model means, really. I know someone who found a taillight assembly in a ditch and knew it was from a Ford. He thought I was nuts because I didn’t even know it was a taillight assembly. I don’t really know what that is either, but I do suspect it has something to do with the red plastic part that covered the taillight. I am lost as hell when someone starts telling me what size their engine is.
Okay, guys, here’s the thing; not you, not me, not anyone you will ever know will ever grow up to be a race car driver. Driving fast will only get you killed sooner. Knowing how to make a car go faster, by the way, doesn’t improve your driving skills at all, and considering how many of you can’t parallel park, there is a considerable number of men who talk about driving the same way they do about sex. You might think you’re great at it but you don’t do it often enough or long enough for anyone to be able to make the distinction. Certainly no one is going to pay you for either, and if they paid you for how well you did it, you would starve. Learning how to make cars go faster is a lot like trying to figure out what Megan Fox likes in bed. It may make you think you know something but it is something you will never know if you know, and that is as bad as not knowing, except you’ve wasted a lot of time tinkering. Tinkering is an euphuism for all activities that you’d hope might involve Megan Fox or NASCAR, but instead involves something you bought from Autotrader or involves a paper towel.
But even those people I really like and find interesting I can be at a total loss as to who they might be. I went to a meeting one day and I knew I knew the person speaking to me, and I knew he and I had more than a couple of conversations. I knew he would be totally aghast to learn I had no idea who he was, but I had forgotten his face as well as his name. It came back to me later but there was a period of time of about an hour I was in the same room with this person and adrift as to who he was. His face didn’t make sense until I heard someone ask me if he was at the meeting. Of course, that jarred my memory enough to pull off the “Of course he was, I spoke with him” but the bottom line was he had slipped away from my internal facial recognition software like I had just dropped a perfectly good glass on the floor for no reason. See? If your hand makes a mistake you sweep up the pieces and remember not to juggle wine glass while you’re drinking. When your mind slips it’s totally weird. We will easily forgive someone with a limp from a birth defect but someone who cannot remember names and faces has to be, well, weird.
It is partially my fault. Car people bore me. Normal people make me uneasy. I don’t share the daily tales of kids or grandkids with people and I just do not have very much in common with the people in my daily life. I try to keep up the names of kids and grandkids and I do well enough with this, but at the same time, someone can walk into a room and I may never realize that I met them in some meeting before, and when people ask I tell them I did not know that person. I suspect that when two people meet, there is some sort of connection, subconscious and unspoken, that assures each there is commonality. I think I’m missing that. I think that instead new people and I are blocked out, maybe the signal isn’t the right wavelength or maybe in crowds it gets lost. If this disorder has a name, I wonder if I will remember it?