But I'm actually talking about the other sense of the word, that thing that happens in your head when you see someone you recognize and the message travels to your identification centers -- little cubicles in your brain that house all the people you have ever known and the data that pertains to them. I'm sure this process is what goes gaga when you have Alzheimer's. The message ends up in the wrong booth.
So, yeah, I'm talking about recognizing a person's face. The recognition game ain't all guns 'n' roses, trust me. I'm a class-A recognizer, and let me tell you, it sucks. Because the fact is, most people aren't, and it gets mighty awkward when you greet someone with a big hug and he has no idea who you are. I remember just about everyone I've ever met, from grade school onward. I can run into them and tell interesting anecdotes about the time that their mother packed them a lunch with a rotten egg in it (Bernard Damburger, kindergarten, or as we called him, Barnyard DamnBooger), or about the time they stapled their two fingers together (Bobby Johnson, second grade, currently serving a life sentence at Joliet).
And yet no one remembers me. This used to really bug me. After all, I was voted "Craziest" and "Best Sense of Humor" in high school. What more could I do to get their attention? Juggling on a unicycle dressed like a court jester fell into the bailiwick of the drama geeks.
But now I realize that people just don't remember people like I do, that it's a curse I must live with.
Last week I walked into the Argus on Mission to meet four friends, who all greeted me with a big "Hey!" when I walked in. The recognition felt really nice. The bartender walked up with a big smile and asked me what I wanted, and I immediately recognized her.
"Did you go to Mills?" I asked, to which she replied in the affirmative. I knew that her name was Silvia, that she had been an English major, and that she used to have really long hair. She replied to me with a big smile, but I could tell she had no idea who I was. I was an English major who actively participated in class discussions. I had a unique sense of style and ate bananas in class. How could she not remember me?
Ah, well. As I said, it's my curse.
The Argus is a nice place to settle into. It's long and dark, with a hodgepodge of stuff on the walls and a down-to-earth blend of staff and patrons. Argus, coincidentally, was a Greek giant with 100 eyes. After Zeus fell in lust with the lithesome nymphet Io, his wife, Hera -- the original Mrs. Roper -- turned her into a cow. There she stood in a field for ages, her sad cow eyes trying to reveal her identity to any passersby who might recognize her and somehow remove her curse. Hera put Argus on the job of guarding Io, knowing that if he fell asleep he would still have at least 50 eyes open at all times. This went on for ages, and finally Zeus got smart and sent Hermes out to find Io and rescue her. Hermes looked at a lot of cows, but only one seemed to look back at him with pleading vigor. He recognized her. Then she took her little hoof and scraped her name in the dirt. Hermes sprang into action, literally boring Argus to death with stories. He prattled on and on about his trip to Constantinople, how to make brandy wine from plums, and how dreadfully long the contractor was taking to install his vomitorium, until the giant's hundredth eye was closed for good. Io was returned to Zeus and transformed back into a beautiful maiden.
I sat with my friend Garrett at one end of the bar. "Hey," I said, "have you ever noticed that if you're in a bar and you aren't wearing your contacts, it seems like everyone at the other end of the bar is someone you sort of recognize?" It was true. I was seeing all sorts of people down there: a chick I used to work with, a guy who was my neighbor, even Bernard Damburger.
Mark Eitzel was playing that night, and he and his band began to set up. I recognized his Fiddler on the Roof look immediately. My friends and I proceeded to talk about dolphins.
"I ain't no vegetarian," said Nate. "I believe that as higher beings we are supposed to eat lower beings."
"So," I responded, "does that mean that a dolphin can eat you?"
"Yes!" said another bartender, joining our conversation. I let out some sort of a cackle and we all swapped dolphin stories, about how they gang-rape other dolphins, or get slaughtered by asshole fishermen, or can distinguish between thousands of eek eek eek noises. I did my best dolphin impression.
"I think I remember you now," said Silvia, my fellow Mills alum. She bought me a beer. It's nice to be remembered.