Sitting at a kitchen table in Texas, gathered for the wake of a man universally acknowledged to be quite the curmudgeon, the bomb was dropped.
"Tell me one thing about your dad he wouldn't want us to know," David prompted his nine-year-old nephew.
There wasn't any air conditioning, everyone had long since run out of things to say about David's deceased father, who had lived a long life and gone on to the hereafter without much tragedy being involved in the event. Everyone was at loose ends, sitting around talking over cups of coffee and beers that were rapidly becoming either too cool, or too warm to be enjoyable.
The young boy looked around, and with a decidedly delighted grin announced at such a volume it went booming out to the living room, "My dad has a pimple on his butt that won't go away!"
This is probably why whenever I think of Carl (whose name I am changing for extremely obvious reasons), I can't help but remember him as the unfortunate butt-pimple man. I don't know him well, to me he is one of my husband's Texas cousins, there's a passel of them, after all.
"Carl's been transferred to Phoenix," my husband told me.
"Carl..." I said vaguely, trying to search my memory banks, "which one is Carl, again?"
"You know, the guy with the..."
"Oh! Yes, him." And we went on to talk about Carl's promotion, as I wondered whether his backside was still blemished. What an association to have for a human being. If I ever see Carl again I'm going to have to stop myself from inquiring about the hindquarters in question, but you know I'll be wondering, wouldn't you?
As an aside, Carl's likely a wonderful human being. He was in that kitchen to witness his son's over-share and didn't promptly ship his son off for medical experiments. In fact, at the present time he's paying to put that same child through college. Parents are, generally speaking, a forgiving lot.
But we all know someone who exists in our memory with that sort of tag. So-and-sos niece, "You know, the one who used to be a stripper..." That woman's husband who had the unfortunate habit of writing bad checks. The neighbor who suffered from Lyme's disease, and in the grips of a delusion attacked his mailbox with a hammer at three o'clock in the morning.
You know you've got someone in your memory like that. Someone who is known by whatever ill-fated thing happened to them, whatever misfortune has befallen them, whatever weird tag is the thing that pulls them up in your memory. Their most easily identifying characteristic.
"You know, the one who lives in Seattle? Not the lawyer, the son who was going to make a fortune raising turtles? Him, anyway, turns out..."
Those identifying labels. Some of them are good, of course, and we all hope we're known to someone by a good label, a positive tag.
"Carolyn's son, the guy who married that beautiful Swedish girl? Yeah, that one. Anyway...."
"Larry, you remember him, don't you? He has that big house in Tahoe..."
For the most part we don't know how other people label us, remember us. Sometimes we do. Like my friend Tilly who found out she is known by the tag, "Oh, you did the raw food diet! Yes, of course, how are you?" and when she heard that, she had to flinch. Mainly what Tilly found out about the raw food diet was that it was only suitable for people living a hermetic existence, as it had certain side effects, you see. Luckily this did not seem to be the association being made. At least she hopes, better to be known as a Health-Nut than as being Self-Propelled. I changed her name, too just in case you were wondering. If it has to do with an individual's posterior, or the workings thereof, I tend to do that, funnily enough. No one wants to be known by anything relating to buttocks, that's my motto.
Yesterday, I found out one of my labels. Whereas I might like to think that people remember me with some sort of wonderful tag, some highly flattering means of identifying me, chances are good someone, somewhere associates me with something I'd just as soon they didn't. I'll spare you what the majority of those might be, as I'd just as soon not promote the idea of remembering me as, "Oh! That woman who set Marta's stove on fire at New Years?" Yippee, like it's my fault the flambe went that far wrong? Clean your drip pans, woman or "Oh yeah, she split her skirt on the subway, didn't she?" and then half of NYC got to see what I was wearing underneath for the hour it took me to troop back to my hotel. What a spiffy walk of shame that was. Thanks for burning it into the recesses of your brain for all time. I know that's what happened to me with that one, too.
I was taking a walk around the neighborhood, enjoying the beautiful day when I encountered my neighbor from across the street, Miranda, out for a stroll of her own. A lovely person, I might add. She had her mother with her, and took the trouble of introducing me.
"From across the street." Miranda indicated me.
"Hello, are you having a nice visit?" I asked, as Miranda's mother squinted at me.
" You're from Florida, aren't you?" She asked, and I allowed as how I wasn't. Miranda pointed out that I lived in the beige house. No, not the smaller beige house, the big one. The one with the pool. I am evidently not particularly memorable. Then a look of recognition crossed her face, "Oh, you're the one with the spiky things, aren't you?"
I managed to muster a laugh, as I nodded. I am indeed the one with the spiky things that I keep sticking up in the eaves, that kept falling out because the temperature had been too low for the epoxy to set properly.
"Yes, that's me. Winning the war, at last." I admitted, and began forming the sentence that would bid them both a good day.
"You're the one with the thing about birds, you're The Pigeon Lady."
Ah c'mon! Couldn't I at least be known by something that sounds imposing, intimidating? Something that would send a warning out into the avian world that I am not a woman with whom to trifle? Something featuring The Impaler? The Conquerer?
The Plucker, maybe?
Oh well, at least it doesn't involve my butt. I hope and pray.
Here, by the way, are the Spiky Things. That at least sounds vaguely imposing, right?