During a recent brief hospital stay, my mother casually mentioned to me that one of her nurses recognized her from a brief hospital stay a few months earlier.  (She’s doing well, thank you.)

She and I were both surprised by this.  My mother is not a frequent visitor to the hospital, a place that does quite a lot of business.  It’s not out of the question, of course.  I, for example, only see my mother at Christmas, but I recognize her on sight almost every time.  And there are blackjack dealers in Vegas who recognize me every year when I go out on vacation, despite the fact that they see upwards of 100,000 players in between, and I’m not the kind of high-roller that gets noticed.

But it got me thinking about how being recognized on sight is a mixed bag.  Sometimes you want to go where (almost) everybody knows your name, and they’re (usually) glad you came.  Other times not so much.  For example: 

Places where being recognized on sight is nice:

  • Church (I hope to spend eternity with these people.  After a few eons, it’ll be a pain if I have to keep reintroducing myself.)
  • Starbucks (Although I find it odd that they go to great lengths to remember my drink order.  This seems like a poor use of their memories.)
  • Hair stylist (After all these years, I no longer have the ability to describe how I want my hair cut.  If Jamie ever retires or moves away, I will be reduced to “Not a mullet, please.”)

Places where being recognized on sight is less nice:

  • Surgical ward (“Congratulations!  You’ve earned enough points for a free liver transplant.”)
  • Funeral home (“Welcome back, Mr. Bauer.  We’ve prepared your usual visitation room.  Closed casket, of course.”)
  • Traffic court (“Nice to see you, Mr. Diesel.  You’re looking as fast and furious as ever!”)

I thought about this today while I was at the pharmacy.  As a result of certain bio-mechanical impediments (some due to a spotty maintenance record, truth be told), I am a regular customer at my local pharmacy.  They have three pharmacists and a number of pharmacy technicians, and it seems like all of them know me on sight.  I am often greeted with, “Hi John!  I’ll have your prescriptions in a minute.”

Somehow, it vaguely bothers me to be on a first-name basis with the drugstore.  Not that I’m too formal — I’d be just as discomfited being instantly recognizable by my last name.  And it’s certainly not their fault.  They’re just trying to be nice.  But it just irks me to be known as the kind of person who’s instantly recognized at the pharmacy.  So rather than play their game, I always try to subtly gain the upper hand when I walk up to the counter:

 “Hi, I’m looking for something in a statin.”
“Have you got anything that begins with B?”
“What’s the pill of the day?”
“All these pills are white.  Do you have any green ones?”
“What’s on sale?”
“I’m looking for something pill-shaped.  What do you have here that’s cheaper than Skittles?”
“I’m here to pick up my prescription.  Oh, and can I get that to go?”
“Just give me one of everything.”
“I’m feeling saucy.  Surprise me!”
“What goes with Ambien?”
“No, no, may I help YOU?”
“I’ll trade you a handful of assorted pills for the numbers on this little piece of plastic.”

(Disclaimer: I only do this when I am picking up a prescription, because I have a firm policy, “Never harass a customer service rep that cannot respond with bad service.”)

My favorite encounter was with a new pharmacy tech a couple weeks ago.  I pointed to the sign that said “We can add flavoring to your medicine, no charge!”  I asked if she would make my eye drops cherry flavored.  She looked at me for a second, and said, “I don’t think you’d be able to taste them with your eyes.”  I don’t know if she was joking with me, placating me until security arrived, or just concerned that I would be dissatisfied.  Whatever the case, I ended up going with the unflavored eye drops.  I was mildly dissatisfied.

Author’s Note: Yes, I am aware that my antics are probably a large part of the reason they remember me.  I am well-versed in irony.  Sadly, I am not as well-versed in ironing, but that’s a story for another day.

(Disclaimer: The day for that story, which involved melting an iron-shaped divot in a pair of polyester dress pants right before a big date, was February 9th, 1980.  Sorry you missed it.)

3 thoughts on “Cheeriness

  1. I get honestly nervous when I’ve been to a place enough to be recognized. I can’t convince myself that I could be worth being remembered. I’ve sometimes stopped going to a fast food place because the cashiers acknowledged me as a person.

    I’m also still living down the shame of the time it took me several minutes to recognize my mother. (To be fair it was recognizing her by name, and because of the context I was thinking it might be someone about my age, rather than someone old enough to be my mother.)

    • I’m used to it. I’m 6’4″ and loud, and I make jokes all the time, so stealth and anonymity do not come naturally to me. Also, I spent 19 years as announcer for an improv show, and have been a reader at Mass for 30+ years, so I occasionally run into people I’ve never met who recognize me by my voice.

      One time, I was at the movies with two friends. They had both performed in the previous night’s show, on stage, while I did my announcer gig from the sound booth behind the audience. This woman walked up to the three of us, turned to me, and said, “You were at ComedySportz last night! I thought I recognized you!” The four of us chatted for a few moments before she walked away. As she left, we looked at each other and I said, “You two were performing in front of her. I was sitting behind her in a darkened sound booth. What was she doing last night that she recognized me and not you?”

      And though I didn’t recognize her at the time, that young woman grew up to be my mother, the pharmacist. (Not really, but the suits wanted a big Hollywood twist at the end of the story.)

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