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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Trying to put a name with the face

“Hello, there,” said the woman with a smile.
“Hi…” I responded, friendly yet tentative. A moment of silence, the moment of truth, a confes¬sion: “I know I know you, but you’re name is escaping me.”
“Ellen Kerness.”
“Argh! Of course!” I said to the Saratoga Hospital spokes¬woman, whom I’ve met several times. “I’m so sorry.”
I really am sorry. It’s embar¬rassing to be so bad at recog¬nizing people — especially if they’re out of context, mean¬ing somewhere other than behind their desk with the nameplate.
Plus, I ran into Ellen on Wednesday at the Saratoga Hospital benefit, which is not exactly out of context for the hospital spokeswoman — although she was off duty and we were nowhere near the hospital.
Still, I’m glad I resorted to the instant confession, which I rely on more and more these days. Usually the person’s name is at my fingertips but refuses to move from there to my brain. Sometimes I have absolutely no clue to whom I am speaking.
There is only the briefest of moments at the start of a con¬versation when you can admit to the other person that you can’t conjure up their name. If you do it, you may be relieved to discover that they couldn’t remember yours, either — or that the same thing happens to them. Especially if they are women of a certain age.
If you don’t come clean, you are forced to continue the con¬versation in ridiculously fuzzy fashion praying for a clue that will withdraw their identity from the recess of your memo¬ry bank.
Sometimes, the name rings a bell, but only in the blurry distance. I know I’ve talked to this person … but about what? I want to ask, are you the happy reader whose club photo was published, or the mad reader whose paper did¬n’t make it to the porch?
Of the various techniques for summoning names, I rec¬ommend the spouse assis¬tance method. Anyone stand¬ing next to you whose name you know can substitute for the spouse.
Here’s how it works: Some¬one approaches who clearly knows you, but you can’t remember their name. You take the friendly offensive position with a semi-introduc¬tion: “Hi! Have you met my husband, Jim?” That is their cue to introduce themselves to Jim, thus providing their name for all to hear.
This tactic fails when the person doesn’t recognize the prompt and replies, “Of course I know Jim!”
At the hospital benefit, after Ellen Kerness moved on to talk to someone less lame, the well-known woman with whom I’d been chatting said she admired the way I came right out and admitted to Ellen that I couldn’t place her. This woman, I was surprised to learn, claims to be as bad at name and face recognition as I am.
It’s comforting to discover I’m not the only one so afflict¬ed by this cerebral flaw. Who is this person? She shall remain nameless – although I know it. Honest!
Have you met my husband, Jim?

Barbara Lombardo is man¬aging editor of The Sarato¬gian. Her column is published Saturdays in the Life section. Contact her at


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