Our esteemed premier is considering inaugurating Stage Three as the Province continues its systematic recovery from COVID-19. Most citizens will welcome greater social freedoms as provided in this next step: perhaps indoor seating at restaurants and more numbers permitted at social events. I remain concerned over one critical aspect of gathering in reopened venues, mingling with more people. It is not so much the increased risk of my catching the virus, as scary as that would be; it is a horrible paralyzing dread of not remembering the names of casual friends and acquaintances whom I have not seen since February.
This whole business of recalling names is a common cause of social anxiety. I have been forced to invent several strategies to cope with my own struggles. These little suggestions—from obvious to unique— are now freely offered to any reader anxious about re-entering a Stage Three social life.
ONE QUICK PEEK: It is common practice in some formal gatherings to invite guests to affix a name tag on their clothing right over the heart. Clever folks like me have learned to sneak a glance at those tags as we approach the interaction. The challenge is not to get caught mid-glance.
OPEN EARS: A person’s name can suddenly elude me just as I loom closer. If that acquaintance is already engaged in conversation, I subtly raise my antenna and eavesdrop, hoping to pick up the name when it is uttered by someone else.
CHECK MY INNER ROLODEX: This happens during a nervous moment right before that encounter with someone vaguely familiar. I remember their face but, alas, not the name. Opening an inner inventory of names stored in my brain, I hastily work through the alphabet: Albert, Andy, Arnold, Atlas etc. Then I repat with my B-list. Once I reach Zebadiah and still no recall, I begin again at my A-list but this time round, I try adding a vowel: Aaron, Aesop, Ainsley, Aomon, Autry. Unfortunately, by the time I finally arrive at the end of my Zed list– Zully– that nameless acquaintance has already left the room.
A SLY CONFESSION: I could also regretfully admit: “I’m sorry; I should know your name.” She quickly replies with disappointment written all over her face: “It’s Jane.” I instantly respond: “Obviously, I know your first name, JANE, but I meant what is your last name?” If she provides her last name instead when I initially ask the question, I use the same strategy but now in reverse: Of course I know your last name is Carruthers, but I meant what is your first name?” Either way, I end up avoiding total embarrassment. Jane Carruthers wrongly assumes I knew at least one of her names.
MARRY A SMART SPOUSE: Think of how many times a flustered husband (It is a more common affliction among males) forgets a name. His partner (who knows her man’s flaws) quickly steps in: ‘Bob, of course you remember Ralph Jordon.” The gratefully-rescued Bob grabs this tossed lifeline: “How could I ever forget you, RALPH JORDON?”
SO HOW DO YOU SPELL THAT? I humbly believe I have invented this technique which will now be demonstrated. With a casual acquaintance whom I have known far too long to risk asking for their name, this might work:
Bob: “After all these years, and while I obviously know your name, I was just thinking last evening— I wonder how he spells it?” (I am hoping for a name with multiple spelling options, like Gene/Jean, Luke/Luc or a Stephen/Steven.) The innocent question essentially disguises the fact I really have no clue about his name. Once he spells it out, I have succeeded in cleverly uncovering the missing moniker. But be forewarned: this strategy can backfire and may require a further deception:
Acquaintance looking puzzled: “Come on, Bob. How many ways can you really spell Tom?”
Bob: “TOM, obviously I know how to spell your first name. What I am asking is how you spell your last name.” At that critical moment I fervently pray that it is not Smith.
When Stage Three is introduced to our region of Ontario, I will cautiously venture forth into the world I once knew—and took for granted back then. I will remain vigilant, careful to avoid COVID contamination and also those acquaintances whose names have mysteriously faded from view.