June 16, 2007

Instantly Forgettable

Apparently I make quite a non-impression. Yesterday morning I ran across the street to the coffee shop for a quick bagel and cup of alertness. The cashier ran my credit card and informed me that it had expired, and it was all I had brought with me. "I need to run back to my office to take a call in three minutes," I said. "Would it be cool if I came back in about an hour to pay?"

A skeptical look from the cashier, as if he and his co-workers had just received a fax from the FBI alerting them to be on the lookout for the $3.95 scam artist. Suspect is approximately five feet, three and one half inches in height, with messy bedheaded red hair, wanted in six countries and most of the United States for the "oh, I forgot my money" bagel and espresso scam. Suspect is considered non-threatening and, in fact, quietly charming but should not be approached aggressively, as she will flee with as many baked goods as she can grab. You are advised to ask her for a baby- or dog-related favor (her greatest weakness) to keep her on site until the authorities arrive.

"I've lived right across the street for two years. I'm in here all the time." I smiled hopefully.

I knew this guy by name. We'd had friendly interactions dozens of times over the past 700 days as I'd tapped a thoughtful index finger to my chin while choosing between a chocolate croissant and an everything bagel. I've spent countless hours in this place, working on my laptop, chilling with the New York Times, hanging out with friends.

Then the cashier said "I've never seen you before."

I laughed, because I thought he was joking.

He wasn't. I looked at the girl next to him, who also has looked at my face and heard my voice dozens and dozens of times. "You remember me!"

No flicker of recognition.

Very Twilight Zone.

I know I don't have a big, loud, "look at me" personality or bearing, but what the heck? Am I seriously that forgettable?

Maybe I'm one of those aliens that Virginia Madson played on the "Unforgettable" episode of Star Trek: Voyager. You, know, this one: "Cmmdr. Chakotay falls in love with an alien (Virginia Madsen) who possesses a unique physiology - her pheromones wipe all memory of her presence from the mind of anyone she meets within twenty-four hours." This is going to make any kind of long-term relationship very difficult.


Carmi said...

Found your link on Prego's site and thought I'd follow it home. I'm glad I did: it's a joy to bump into another like-minded, publishing-focused writer. Congrats on the Indianapolis Star assignment. I look forward to reading it when it's out.

This experience reminds me of the anonymity of life in today's urbanized world. We don't seem to be making the same day-to-day connections that we did when we were kids. The supermarket of my childhood, for example, was a place where the individual department heads knew me and what I liked/disliked. They greeted my parents by name every time they rolled into the store with their three kids in tow.

Contrast that to today's "superstore" where the employees are unionized, and seem to be constantly changing from one visit to the next. There's absolutely no sense of place, no connection.

I shudder to think about what we've lost in the process.

Bella Rossa said...

Hey, Carmi, thanks for the comment. I'm also always happy to meet another blogging writer. Your stories are very interesting, I'll have to keep tabs on you.

I agree with the whole "anonymous urban" aspect of this, which is exactly what I felt with this moment.

When I was a kid (why do I always feel like my grandma when I say that) everyone in every little store up and down the main street of my town knew every kid in town.

Dale said...

That's pretty unsettling Bella. Can't they just smell the talent off of you? Tsk tsk.

Bella Rossa said...

I know, Dale, can't they see the creativity oozing out of my pores?

Makes me feel like I need to develop my inner diva a little bit.

PinkFluffySlippers said...

How can anyone not notice a redhead? Makes no sense. Maybe espresso fumes actually impair short-term memory.

Bella Rossa said...


Sans Pantaloons said...

Hello Bella. Sometimes it takes an exception before a connection is made. They will probably remember you now. Henceforth you shall be known as the Scam Lady.

Nice to meet you. I popped over from Dale.

Bella Rossa said...

Hi, sans, thanks for popping by.

Yeah, I think next time I go in they'll talk to each other under their breath - "It's the 'I brought the wrong card' chick - watch her."

Zed said...

I think those workers only make note of extra-heavy-duty weirdos, troublemakers, and loudmouths. And of course they always remember those who pretend they don't know that their credit card has expired. You're on their list NOW.

I'm a redhead too, and I'm here by way of Dale. Great place! :)

Bella Rossa said...

You may be right, Zed, you may be right. And hey! Dale sent another cool person and another fellow writer my way!

The Freelance Cynic said...

Well no one will admit to recognizing a Coffee stealing monster...

Bella Rossa said...

That's true. Maybe they were afraid if the confronted me, I'd go crazy and hurt some people. I am pretty intimidating.

Johnny Yen said...

I work at a restaurant on the north side of Chicago, Jury's, and we know a number of regulars by name. We have, in fact, had a number of times where a regular has forgetten a wallet or money, and we let them sign for it and come in in a day or two to pay for it. It's good customer relations all around.

Bella Rossa said...

I agree, Johnny. I worked as a barista in college, and I had dozens of people's regular orders memorized.

Some of them would say "Yes, a half-skim caramel latte...you have an amazing memory!"

And I'd think, "Uh, you've ordered the same damn thing every day for three months. I'd have to be a pretty dumb monkey not to notice the pattern."

Manda Newlin said...

It's another nasty case of prosopagnosia! Or most folks are even less aware of others than I thought. Argh!

Bella Rossa said...

Manda: yeah, it's weird, huh? I couldn't figure out if it was a small-town versus city thing, an "I'm rather bland" thing, or a "this interactions haven't been as meaningful as I thought" thing. I still wonder.