A Modest Proposal by Erika Raskin

Photo of someone with a sheet over them waiving
Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

I have a touch of prosopagnosia (that’s Latin for: oh shit), which is an inability to recognize faces. For me it’s always been a transient condition, hitting without warning. Certain situations are predictably hard. Cocktail parties for instance. I can have a very pleasant conversation with somebody scooping hummus onto crudite’ (that’s a nod to New Jersian, Dr. Oz) then step into the bathroom, come back out and re-introduce myself to the same person now standing by the drinks table.

It can also happen in less stressful arenas. One time I glanced up at the TV and saw a doctor in scrubs being interviewed in front of the local hospital. He looks familiar, I thought. I read the chyron. It was my husband.

Recently I was in town when a woman began waving. I had no idea who she was. I did what I usually do in those situations– enthusiastically asked how she was– all the while hoping my lack of formal greeting would go unnoticed. It didn’t. In fact, X retaliated by attaching “Erika” to almost every word she uttered.

It was like a new language.

I was practically on my knees.

Aggressive name usage is a common reaction to having one’s own moniker unspoken. Masters of this conversational comeuppance often raise the ante by asking after every one of your family members, neighbors and pets–while you’re still trying to figure out what social context they belong in.

As feigned recognition is most likely exposed when introductions are expected, I cower at the notion of large group functions where I might have to introduce my plus-one (spouse). While cocktail parties are particularly hazardous they are nothing compared to book signings.

Not because of the strangers, of course. It’s the people I know. Or should know. The ones whose semi-recognizeable features cause pinpricks of agitation on the soles of my feet and a balloon-like swelling of my head.

It’s a game of inches as they approach, book in hand. Knowing I’m going to have to retrieve their names in order to WRITE THEM DOWN is pretty much torture. Unlike a receiving line at say, a wedding, where all you have to do is enthusiastically thank the slightly familiar guest for coming (neighbor? new in-law?) then quickly swivel towards the next stranger in line, book-signings are high-stakes pop-quizes. A single file group proffering tomes that need to be personalized.

In ink.

“Who should I make it out to?”

“Ha ha, Erika. Good one!”

It’s torment.

I tried a couple different remedies. Name tags at one event; the bookseller attaching sticky notes to copies with proposed inscriptions, at another. Both systems were adequate but the other night I had a brainstorm. It came to me while I was using the greatest invention of modern times—the info button on the TV remote—to retrieve the title, plot summary and cast of the movie I was watching.

Think of its usage in real life! An app with facial recognition capabilities to retrieve names and pertinent tidbits with Alexa or Siri calmly whispering into your earpiece. Seriously. It’s not like the information isn’t being collected by someone, somehow anyway. Why not monetize it?

Files could be created, cross-referenced and coded for overlapping social circles. Handles of new partners would be automatically updated, eliminating the risk of asking after previous title-holders. The Acquaintance Data App would be like having a portable assistant throughout life’s long mental status exam. No more searching for context clues or trying to paper over one’s befuddlement. See someone waving in the frozen food aisle? No problem! Click a button, pull up pertinent deets and head towards the Cool Whip.


Erika Raskin
Erika Raskin is Streetlight‘s fiction editor. The books that caused the afore mentioned anxiety attacks are Close and Best Intentions. More of her words can be found at erikaraskin.com.

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