Friday, March 12, 2010

'I know that face!'

“Eddie! Eddie!” my Mom would shout from the direction of the living room. “Eddie!”

From my bedroom, at the other end of what seemed a looong hallway at age eight or so, I’d rush to save my mother, who obviously had some emergency. There was a ninety-degree right turn into the living room, and somehow I’d make it without banging my skull against the plaster walls—a feat that, I’m told, I did far less skillfully as a toddler.

She’d be sitting comfortably on the couch; I’d be panting. Before I could croak out the word “What…,” my mother would be pointing at the TV screen. “Who’s this actress?”

I learned at a very early age that yes, indeed, it’s possible to be angry at someone you love for not needing emergency care.

These were the days, mind you, before IMDB and even those Leonard Maltin books. The TV Guide we’d have around featured the top names in a cast and even a couple more during the '60s. But as for those obscure character actors? We were on our own.

Over time, I stopped running so quickly—good thing there wasn’t a real emergency. But the damage was done. I began remembering these names and faces myself. I didn’t stop at movies and TV shows, though. All the world’s a stage! And though I surely don’t remember everyone’s face or name I encounter every day, just a tiny minority, I remember enough to get into trouble. Names of husbands. Wives. Old friends. Friends of wives’ old friends’ husbands. Okay, maybe not. But to my family, it must often seem so.

When spotting more than a few people who work locally, I’d remember everywhere I’d seen them in the past. It was one thing to remember such things. Maybe lots of people do. But I would have to open my big, flapping mouth. “You used to work in the bagel store, and before that….” It wasn’t always a good idea, I learned after mentioning to one blonde that I recalled she’d worked at the library. “You do…?” she replied with a single raised eyebrow. I beat a hasty retreat.

The day my in-laws moved to a condo development, I saw a man and approached him. “Hello, Joe, how are you?” Later, I told Elena and her parents that Joe had been one of the repairmen, something like a superintendent, at the projects where I grew up, and I liked to talk to him when he came to fix something. When had I last seen him? Oh, about 35 years before. He remembered my family, even me, and was touched that I remembered him so fondly.

But once at Bar Harbor, we went to a great improv comedy show that, for one skit, brought up a nervous tween named Scott from the audience. The next day, I recognized the boy and his family at a buffet restaurant. While filling a plate, I turned to the lad—yep, I wouldn’t want someone doing this to my kid, either—and exclaimed, “Hiya, Scott!”

The strangest incident, I recall, was at a party Elena and I once went to. I met a man named Harold and, right away, told him I used to see him every weekday morning on the 7:50 to Grand Central. He and I rode the same car, and Harold always sat with the same man and chatted. I described the companion. Harold quickly excused himself. Was it my breath?

I think I’ve learned to keep mum unless I’m sure that whatever I say will be taken as a compliment. What I don’t say then, I later tell Elena—like what dessert a woman whose name I wasn’t supposed to remember brought to a party fifteen years ago. Her frequent reply: “Good thing you didn’t say that!”

At home, I try to avoid frantically crying out to the kids to run over, only to ask them where else an actor or actress has appeared. It’s because they, like myself by about age 12, knew better. But I’ll still call poor Elena, who comes eventually. To find me sitting in front of the TV with the laptop, having double-checked online what I thought was true. How times change.

“Where have we seen this guy?”


  1. just glad you and elena recognized me that one afternoon years ago lol

  2. Me, too! But for that one we have to credit Elena, who's no slouch herself at recognizing faces.

  3. Great stuff... I kinda remember your mom doing just that. Although I must say if I was Harold, you would have freaked me out, too. Who was that stalker guy... I might think, or am I just being paranoid? Paranoid? Who thinks I'm paranoid! I want names!!

  4. I do that stuff too. (I realize I'm about 5 months late in posting here). My son David used to complain that in the middle of a show, or movie, I'd say, "he/she was in such and such movie... do you remember?" he's used to it now and does it too.