Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Hello, Mike!"

Have you ever had one of those moments that you only wish you had known would come back to haunt you?

I'll never forget the time an elderly man walked up to the circulation counter at my university library, where I was employed as an undergrad student worker. The man had to have been well into his 80s, but he got around on his own, seemed seriously engaged in research of some kind, and approached me with a friendly manner.

I checked out his books without complication, wished him well, and then listened only half as well as I later wished I had.

The kindly old man looked at me with a smile and proceeded away from the counter to make his exit from the library.

As he stepped away, he said or asked something that I didn't quite make out.

And that is the moment I wish I had back.

For whatever reason, I'll never know why, I didn't ask the man to repeat himself. Having no idea what he had just said to me, I simply smiled and answered, "Yeah!"

(I know, I should have demonstrated more respect and offered, "Yes, sir" but that is another point altogether.)

Receiving my affirmative response with a nod and a smile, the man walked away, and I went on with my work, only to realize about five seconds later, to my horror, what the man had actually said.

I don't know why this happened, but it was as if my brain received his message via satellite, with a five-second delay.

Whatever the reason, his words at last rang clear in my mind.

The man had actually asked me, "Is your name Mike?"

And I had, without the slightest hesitation, answered, "Yeah!"

So, it all came rushing together in my mind, and I spent the next few seconds contemplating my options:

1.Chase after the man, who had barely reached the exit, explain my error and give him my real name.

2.Let it slide, on the chance that I would never see this man again anyway, and that if I ever did, his advanced age would almost certainly cause him to ask my name again, at which point I could correct my error without him knowing the difference.

Well, I went with choice # 2, and here's how it played out:

The elderly man did indeed reappear at my circulation counter, again and again and again over the next year or so, each and every single time greeting me with a warm and hearty, "Hello, Mike!"

The one possibility that I had completely discounted actually proved true: that this elderly man's mind was a steel trap, a sharp-toothed bear trap, and caught within its clutches were my face and the name "Mike", never to be separated from each other again.

Over the remaining time I saw this man, which amounted to at least a year, if not more, I accommodated this ridiculous error by either avoiding him altogether or making sure I was alone when he approached, so none of my co-workers would witness my charade of responding to the wrong name.

I was "Mike" to this man, with all the nonsense that entailed, all because I wouldn't break down and tell him the truth.

I had another identity for awhile there, one I didn't want my friends to know about, and one I didn't talk about, for the sheer embarrassment of how fake I was acting and how easily I could have avoided such a foolish dilemma.

Does everyone who knows you know the same person?

Do they all call you by the same name?

By whose name do you want to be known?


Pecos Dad said...

Great post, Mike. . . er, David! Right on target.

Sam said...

Bah hahahahahahahahahahaha!