I am standing in the supermarket having an animated conversation with a woman whose name I've completely forgotten.
We are talking intently about the weather, my kids' whereabouts and the upcoming election. We're chatting like old chums yet, for the life of me, I can't remember her name or how I even know her.
My pulse quickens with every second that ticks by. It's too late to confess that her name has slipped my mind. We've been gabbing for five minutes! Worse yet, she greeted me by name, to which I lamely replied, "Heeeeey! Good to see you!"
As she shares her thoughts about red and blue states in the balance, my mind races: Who IS this woman? How do I know her? Did she teach my son English in high school? Was she my daughter's preschool teacher, perhaps? One of my many ex-hairstylists?
Can she tell by my plastered-on smile and deer-in-the-headlights expression that her moniker escapes me? Does she know I'm racing through the recesses of my mind, desperate to find a place and time when I called her by name? (A context! My kingdom for a context!)
Then, a horrifying thought occurs: What if someone else I know wanders down the condiment aisle and I have to introduce her? What will I say? And what if I can't remember the new person's name? ("Heeeeey! Good to see you! You know each other, right? Oops, I think my phone is vibrating. You two introduce yourselves while I take this call ... " )
I want to scream: Just once, could I PLEASE get in and out of the grocery store without bumping into someone I know!! What is this, the "Cheers" bar?! I turn to prayer:
Please God, send me a sign. Give me one clue to the identity of the person before me. Bestow upon me her name, occupation, the nature of our relationship, names of her husband (if any) or children (if any). Grant me the knowledge so I do not hurt her feelings or bring further embarrassment upon myself. For one more shred of humiliation would be a burden I could not bear and would send me over the edge into the abyss.
The conversation turns to a certain state race. It is clear we share the same politics, but that's not the arena in which I know her. I work for a newspaper. I steer clear of political activism.
(But read my lips, people: I'll be first on the bandwagon for the candidate who runs on the mandatory name tag platform. Think of it! Name tags required, 24/7, on everyone old enough to talk. After all, you need a passport to visit Cancun. What's wrong with requiring name tags to shop for groceries? Compulsory "Hello, my name is : " lapel stickers would depolarize the nation and boost the economy, to boot. Heck, I'll throw my own hat into the ring for that cause!)
Finally, a break in the conversation allows me to grab my jar of mustard and say good-bye.
"So, heeeeey! Good to see you again! Take care." I turn and casually pick up a jar of Durkee Sauce, even though it's not what I wanted.
I bolt for the checkout counter, my head bowed to ensure I don't meet anyone else's gaze.
As I head for the car, I am still vexed by the mystery but decide to let it go. I've never been good at putting names with faces, even in my younger days. This is not a sign of decline. It's a lifelong disability.
Driving home, I stop at a red light and it hits me like a bolt from the blue.
"That's it! Of course!"
I scream the woman's name at the top of my lungs, pounding the steering wheel with both fists in frustration and elation.
The blare of a horn stops me cold. A man in the car on my left is waving. He looks vaguely familiar. Uh-oh.
Smiling and no doubt looking like roadkill waiting to happen, I roll down my window.
"Hey, Cathy!" he says. "Everything OK in there?"
"Heeeeeeeeeeey!" I reply. "Yep, everything's fine. Good to see you!" At that moment, the light turns green. (Who says it doesn't pay to pray?)
I wave good-bye to the man and hit the accelerator. I'm sure I'll remember his name, eventually.
In the meantime, I'm going home to draft that mandatory name tag bill and organize my campaign.