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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

There must be
a name for this

I'VE got two major problems: I never forget a face and I can never remember a name.

Someone ought to study this affliction regarding names. I used to think it was just laziness or lack of interest on my part. Then one day I was introducing my wife of many years to someone and I forgot her name.

I panicked. How could this be? I KNOW this woman. I married this woman. I looked back and forth between my wife's eyes and the eyes of the person waiting to be told her name. What the hell is her name? It had to be there somewhere, in that beer-besotted mess of neural pathways that passed for a brain! It finally came to me, but I was so flustered, I introduced her as, "My little marge, Wifey."

The longer we lived together, the more aware of my disorder she became. For the record, I forgot her name only once. But I was batting well above .600 in not being able to name the people I introduced her to. She began to dread these encounters. We'd make plans if we saw people I knew and she didn't. I'd drift away for a few minutes and she would introduce herself and then cleverly pry the other persons' names out of them. Then we'd meet later and she'd tell me who they were. It's pathetic, I know.

Then, an insidious aspect of this infirmity asserted itself: it was contagious. What's-her-name began to fear social introductions in my presence so much that she began to forget people's names. Now if we go to parties, she immediately veers away from me to avoid meeting anyone as a couple.

I've been told there is a flip side to this affliction: people who can remember everybody's name after a single introduction. These are the people I run into in airports or at parties, people who I haven't seen in decades who address me by name in such a warm, personal way that I want to stick a bread knife in my heart to avoid having to respond.

"Charley!" they say. To which I have to answer "dude!," "buddy!" or the hopelessly transparent "howzit, guy!"

I want to confess and apologize. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm ill. I know your name. I just can't think of it right now. I'll remember it on the ride home. Don't hate me. It's a name-ular brain dysfunction. I'm not stupid. Ask me some trivia. Like, who freed the slaves? I know that. He had a beard. Wait. Don't go. Guy. Buddy."

My other ailment is being able to remember faces. I never forget a face. The problem is, there are so many people who look alike.

My wife also understands this abnormality. She saw me outside the news building talking to a man she knew. She knew I didn't know the guy, but knew who I thought he was. She merely walked up and took my arm to lead me away, telling the man, "Excuse him, he thinks you're somebody else."

In college I ran into a guy I knew in a tavern and we talked for a while over a few brewskis. I thought he was my roommate's brother. I even remembered his name and used it frequently! We talked and he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. Then, in mid-sentence, I suddenly realized he was not my roommate's brother but a psychology professor whose name at that moment escaped me. Apparently, his interest in me had not been personal, but more along the clinical line -- he thought I was insane. I left the table with as much dignity as possible.

"Hey, gotta run," I said. "Nice to see you again, uh, buddy."

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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