Thursday, December 3, 2009

Seinfeld Moment: The Statute of Limitations

Entrance to the Emory Faculty Office Building at Grady

"Hey there, Dr. Mannings! You doing alright?"

I looked at the glistening eyes of the middle-aged man standing in front of me. His smile was wide and genuine, and his face familiar. In fact, quite familiar considering he was the daytime security officer in our faculty office building across from the hospital. His neatly pressed uniform was decorated with gold star pins; shining as brightly as his consistently cheery disposition.

"Yes, sir," I replied, doing my best to show as much enthusiasm as he. "If I were any better it'd take two of me!" Figured I'd add one of my Dad's favorite sayings for emphasis.

"How them rowdy boys of yours?" he asked with one eyebrow raised. I was impressed that he remembered. But the truth is, he always remembered. He let out a hearty chuckle. "Boys is a whole 'nother breed, Dr. Mannings, a whole 'nother breed!"

I shared a laugh with him followed by a quick anecdote about the kids. I waved and stepped onto the elevator as he settled back down in a chair beside the front desk. What a pleasant guy.


Okay, here is the thing. This security officer started working in our building a little less than a year ago. Shortly after he started, I introduced myself to him during a warm and friendly early morning encounter. During that chat, he asked about my specialty, and even asked about my children after I made reference to them in the conversation. Delightfully engaged and simply "nice for no reason" --without the slightest trace of being fresh. I recall thinking, "This guy must greet folks in his church or something. . . .he has a knack for people," and then -- totally out of my character -- I didn't register his name in my memory. So several months and pleasantries later, I admittedly cannot, for the life of me, remember his name. It's horrible, especially considering how much I take pride in knowing peoples' names. What's worse is that he not only remembers my name (give or take an extra consonant) he uses my name every chance he gets.

I know, I know. You are probably wondering. . . .Why not just ASK the dude his name? Or better yet, why not just peep out his badge on the sly? Let's be clear here--I am no coward. There's usually no shame in my game when it comes to just biting the bullet and asking. Most times, it goes a little like this:

"Please forgive me! I am so embarrassed to ask you this, but somehow your name has completely escaped me!"

I started doing this after my prior version backfired. I used to say, "How do you pronounce your name again?" The day that someone said "Kate" I knew that dog wouldn't hunt anymore. At the start of 2009, I promised that I'd just start asking. No more pretending I knew someone's name, or worse doing the ultra-obvious move where you try to have the person whose name you don't know introduce themselves to one of your friends. For the most part, my "do ask, do tell" policy has worked quite well--that is, with the exception of Mr. Happy in the Emory Faculty Office Building.

Here's the problem. I think there's definitely a statute of limitations on requesting a name. It isn't like getting, say, a birth certificate late. . . .you know, where even if your child is potty-trained it's fine to roll in there with a straight face and a $10 money order like, "What?"

With someone's name, you have a window of about 3 - 6 months--with one caveat. Rate of window closure is also directly proportional to the number of times the anonymous party utters your name. Yeah, so with every "Dr. Mannings" that Mr. Happy said to me, the window has inched down a little more. 9 months, and five thousand "Dr. Mannings" later, it's not only shut, but painted shut.

Every interaction that I have with him now is like a Seinfeld episode. I find myself constantly plotting to figure out his name. I scan his uniform, trying to inconspicuously catch his name on his nametag, but seriously, it is always, and I do mean always, flipped over or partially covered when I see him. I wait to see if someone else will greet him saying, "Hey there, Mr. Insert Real Name!" --but they all seem to stick with generic salutations like "What's going on, boss-man!" I even ask colleagues, friends, random folks in the building. The bad part is that after all this time, none of them seem to know his name either. It's terrible. (But kind of funny, too.) Case in point, real conversation I had today:

"Do you know that really, really pleasant security officer's name that sits in the FOB during the day?"

"Oh, he is so nice, isn't he? That guy is always in a good mood!"

"Yeah, but what's his name?"

"I think it's 'Tony.'"

"No, that's the evening officer with the salt and pepper hair."

"Oh yeah."

"You don't know his name?"

"It's not Tony?"

"Did he tell you that?"

"No, for some reason I just keep thinking 'Tony.'"

"Okay, well it's not Tony."

"That sucks, since I think I called him 'Tony' this morning."

So then I'm back at square one. I've become semi-obsessed with determining his name. I figured I'd try enlisting some help. Matilda. I'll just ask Matilda! Matilda, the receptionist that greets visitors in our building during the day would surely know, considering she is right there with him all day. As it turns out, that's poses a problem. She's always right there with him.

Earlier today, I thought it was my big chance. I caught her sorting through some papers at the front desk, and, a ha! He was no where to be found! I walked briskly down the hall toward Matilda, cutting my eyes from side to side to make sure no one heard me.

"Hey Matilda!" I greeted her cheerfully. I looked around again and then lowered my voice. "You mind if I ask you a silly question?"

"Oh, good morning, Dr. Manning. Sure, what is it?" She lay the papers down in front of her and smiled.

"That gentleman. . . . .you know, the one that--"

I was interrupted by a booming, musical voice from beneath her desk. "You just had the wrong cord connected back here, Matilda! Should work fine now!" Mr. Happy stood up, brushed the dust off his uniform pants and then rubbed his hands quickly to remove any other debris from the floor. You've got to be kidding me! Matilda looked over her shoulder and said, "Great! I knew it was likely something easy." She then turned her attention back to me. "Sorry, Dr. Manning. What were you saying?"

I couldn't hide my amusement with the irony. I am so going to blog about this. "Um, nothing." I internally giggled as Mr. Happy gave me a playful salute.

"Dr. Mannings! What you know good?" he announced while placing his hands on his empty holster. Window closing tighter.

"I'm well, and you sir?" Sir. So obvious that I don't know your name. What a loser. Just ask him, Mannings. What's the big deal?

Then came the pleasantries. "Dr. Mannings, did you hook up the meal on Thanksgiving? I know you can burn in the kitchen can't you? With all them boys in your house, you better have some cooking skills!" He released that same throaty laugh. "And don't tell me you don't cook, Dr. Mannings!"

Dag! There it is again. How can you ask someone's name when they keep saying yours? It's just too awkward. Maybe I could say, It's Man-ning not Man-nings. Then I could do the, "Pronounce your name" trick. But then what if his last name is, like, Jones or Hill? Told you that dog didn't hunt.

"Dr. Manning used to be Dr. Draper," Matilda said to Mr. Happy. "I knew her back when she was Dr. Draper." I smiled politely, and then opened my eyes wide. OMG! That's it, Matilda! This is my big moment! A name reference! A golden opportunity to get Mr. Happy's name once and for all!

"What's your wife's last name?" I asked Mr. Happy. I can't stand myself, I'm so smooth.

"Aawwww, ha ha ha. . .it seem like if you a doctor, you might want to keep your name as is," he responded, getting away from my wack attempt at getting his name.

"It was an honor for me to take my husband's name," I countered, "but it's definitely a personal decision for most folks." Ah hah! An idea. "If your daughter was a doctor, what would you want her to be called? Dr. . . . ." I'm so smooth, I really and truly cannot stand it. This is my big moment. . . wait for it. . .wait for it. . .

"Like you said, Dr. Mannings, it's real personal. I would just be proud she was a doctor, to be honest." Killing me. Softly.

"Alright then y'all," I said as I waved and walked away with a feeling of defeat. The painted shut window just got nailed shut, too.

True story:

I came upstairs later this afternoon and stepped over to my program coordinator Tanya's cubicle. Tanya could possibly one of the nicest people I know, next to Mr. Happy. I was feeling pretty positive that she, being all nice and such, would be the authority on other equally nice folks.

"Hey, Tanya, can I ask you a question?"

"Yep, what's up?" She gave me her same warm smile, eyes twinkling like Mr. Happy's. She is so going to know this.

"Do you know the name of that day time security officer downstairs in the FOB? Really pleasant, always smiling?" Please put me out of my misery, Tanya.

She slid her jacket on, grabbed the mouse to her computer and clicked 'Shut down.' Zipping up her coat she squinted her eyes and said,"Who Tony?" Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!

"Noooo, not Tony!" I exclaimed with way too much hyperactive emotion. Tanya looked at me sideways with an expression that said, 'Boo, you need a vacation.' I didn't care. I wanted, no I needed to know Mr. Happy's real name. "Tanya! Tony is the evening security officer with the salt and pepper hair. Not him! I'm talking about the guy that's always down there with Matilda. You know who I'm talking about, right?"

Tanya looked skyward and tapped her finger over her lips for a moment. "Hmmmm." I waited patiently while her wheels were turning. Sure, she was on her way home, but not too busy to help a sista out. She then stopped and shook her head. "I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. I know exactly who you are talking about, but I have to admit, I don't know his name." Great.

So today, alone, I have asked five people what his name was, and 4 of the 5 said, "Tony." The reason I know it isn't that is because on several of the days his badge was facing me, it was half obscured by his jacket. . . . . yet I could make out the first letter of his name, which was 'B.' Mr. B. Happy.


Okay, so you tell me--what are the rules on getting names? Is there a statute of limitations? I'm just saying. Has this ever happened to you? Who is your "Mr. Happy?"

I welcome your insight on how I can go about getting his name. Until then, I will just keep trying to catch him when his badge isn't flipped backward or continue my attempts to ambush Matilda . . . . . .and if she says "Tony" I don't know what I'll do!


  1. Hilarious!!! Short story.. I knew this guy for more than two years. We spoke in the hallway, he had cooked barbecue for the Black Employees Network. I was well past the statute of limitations... He called one day on the phone and just started talking , knowing that I would recognize his voice. I didn't and asked who is this? He said, cheerfully, this is Isaac. From my response or lack there of, he sensed that I still didn't know who I was talking to. He said "Tony, I'm the guy you always call Chief". That's what I did when I didn't remember a name.. What' going on chief? or What happening lady or girl?

    Suggestion: Just come out of the bushes and confess, Mr. Happy will get a kick out of it...

    Oh! Uncle Skeeter and I "cut our eyes", not Dr. Manning LOL

  2. How can we be sure your name is Tony?????

  3. Listen carefully. For whatever unspoken and highly unreasonable social rule, Mannings, you can never ask for the name. The irony is that the statute of limitations never ever runs out, even when the door to the name is not just shut, but hermetically sealed. Thanks for giving voice to one of life's most comical conundrums.

  4. I have determined his name, and it indeed begins with a "B." Yes!

  5. A note about this problem. Mrs. G and I have an understanding...if we meet someone whom I know but she doesn't, and I don't introduce her within about 30 seconds, she will stick out her hand and say "My husband is a turkey. I'm [Mrs. G], and you are...?" Works every time.

  6. i hope you finally just apologized and asked him what his name was!!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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