Here is something I’m just beginning to realize: I recognize people by their hair, not their faces. I don’t think it’s a great habit, especially because everyone has different faces, but a lot of people have similar hairstyles. But for some reason, faces are hard for me to remember. Hair is so much easier, especially when people have really distinctive hair and you can recognize them right away just by looking at the back of their head.
With that said, new haircuts throw me off. On several occasions, I have failed to recognize people I talk to on a daily basis as soon as they change their hair in some drastic way, like buzzing it all off or straightening it. It’s a little embarrassing. They have to tell me their name and, in really bad cases, where I have no context clues, they also need to remind me that we work together.
Today, after a splendid weekend in Palm Springs, I took a shuttle back from the airport to Santa Cruz. The driver looked so familiar. I could have sworn that he had given me a ride three months ago; he had the same name and everything. The only thing that was different was his hair. It used to be long hair; now, it was cut really short. It was one of those really strange situations where you don’t know if the person is, indeed, the person is the person you think he is, but there’s enough evidence to suggest he could be.
The haircut thing has tripped me up so much in the past few months, I decided that the driver was, indeed, the person I remembered with a new ‘do, so, taking a gamble, I said, “Hey, nice haircut.”
This is probably, come to think of it, was not the best thing to say to someone you may or may not have met fleetingly three months ago. In the best case scenario, he would have recognized me and said, “Thanks! I remember you so well from when I drove you to the airport three months ago, back when my hair was long!” And the worst case scenario was that he was a different person altogether and that I had identified myself as a stalker within five seconds of meeting him.
The driver squinted at me. ”Do I know you?”
I contemplated this. ”Probably not,” I said, feeling very bad about my facial recognition skills. ”I thought you drove me to the airport a few months ago, but I probably confused you with someone else.” I wished, in vain, that I had not complimented his haircut.
After talking about global warming for ten painful minutes, I changed the subject to Civil War reenactments, which, truth be told, isn’t a much better conversation-starter than global warming. The whole time, I was trying to figure out if he was actually the same person as I thought he was or not.
When he dropped me off at my apartment after the longest, most awkward hour ever, he looked at the address again. ”Huh,” he said. ”I remember this place. Maybe I did drive you before.”
So maybe my facial recognition skills aren’t as horrible as I had thought they were. Maybe his facial recognition skills are worse. Still, from here on out, I’m going to compliment people on their new haircuts with great caution.