I had two amusing experiences at work within the past couple of weeks, so I figured I may as well combine them for a post instead of pretending I’ll do two separate ones.  Deal?

First off, there’s a woman at work who I’ll call Sally Jean.  It’s important that her fake name be a two-parter, because every time she meets someone new, she very intensely tells him or her that she has two names and you must call her by both.  “I was named after two aunts,” she says in her rehearsed explanation, “and I don’t want either one to be left out.”  She’s friendly, but aside from hearing her “two aunts” story a few times, we’d had very limited interactions.  Well, a couple of weeks ago, that changed.  I was walking toward the elevator and she and I saw each other, smiled, and said hi.  “Can I ask you a question?” she asked.  “Of course,” I said, figuring that she’d just asked me one that second and nothing bad had happened.  “What exactly do you do here?” she asked with genuine curiosity.  For the next five minutes, we chatted.  I would mention one of my job functions, she’d ask a follow-up question, and so on. I could tell that she was waiting for some missing piece in my description to make a light go off, but she never seemed to get there.  After, she said, “Thanks, that was really helpful.  Because in a meeting yesterday, someone said that if we really want to succeed, we need to get more people on our team like Peter (insert last name that isn’t mine here).  Did I pronounce that right?”  “Oh, that’s not me – that’s a different Peter,” I said.  She went from praising to confused to embarrassed to damage control in about half a second.  She said something about how it was great to hear about what I do regardless, but it was clear that her inner voice was saying, “Well that was a colossal waste of time then!”  I concur, I concur.  Seems a little odd that someone who cares so much about having two names would ignore the very important second name of someone else, but that’s ok.  I was tempted to just say, “Bye Sally” when I walked away, but I somehow managed to use her complete name.  Must’ve been all the conditioning.

The other story I wanted to tell happened just a day or two later.  A lot of my days are spent in meetings, so sometimes I really enjoy spending part of a lunch hour either sitting outside or walking around the park next to my office while listening to music or a podcast.  On that day in particular, I eventually settled into a seat at an outdoor table with a great podcast playing in my ears.  It was NPR’s “All Songs Considered” podcast, with an episode devoted completely to music from the 90s.  I spent all of my high school and college years in that decade, so the music was beyond nostalgic for me.  Every time they played or even discussed a song I knew, I recalled where I was and with whom at the time in more specific detail than I expected.  It was fantastic.

One of the things I liked was that they would not only talk about the songs and artists they liked, but they occasionally slipped in snippets of ones they didn’t.  The “unliked” ones produced the same – or even stronger – flashbacks.  Near the end of the podcast, one host played a second of “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray when the others weren’t expecting it.  “Oh man, we haven’t even talked about Smash Mouth yet!” a host said in response.  “That wasn’t Smash Mouth,” I said aloud, chastising the person who couldn’t hear me.   It was at that exact moment that I realized I wasn’t alone.  A woman sitting just a few feet away from me looked over confusedly before turning back to her food.  I didn’t say anything or offer any kind of explanation; I just took it and went back to my listening.

I can’t help but wonder how she might explain that scene to a friend or loved one that evening:  “I was just sitting there eating some food, and there was this dashingly handsome man right next to me listening to music.  After several minutes of silence, he suddenly spoke out of nowhere, and it sounded like – I swear to god – ‘That wasn’t Smash Mouth.”‘ He seemed a little perturbed about it too.  Then he was quiet again and didn’t say another word before getting up and leaving.  What the fuck?”

What the fuck indeed, lady.  If people leading a music podcast don’t know the difference between two groups from the 90s with inexplicably long stints in the public consciousness due to crappy yet catchy songs, then they don’t deserve to be my shepherds through the fields of nostalgia.   Maybe that other Peter is up for the job; I’ve heard good things about him.

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