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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
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Never Mind Why

Schmutter-061413

Social Caterpillar

Dear Whatsisname,

Don’t worry, I don’t think less of you for it. This happens to me all the time. I’m a Language Arts teacher in my local mesivta, and as such, there are increasingly more people all the time who know me, but I have no clue who they are. I can’t remember hot and cold since the last time I took a shower, I’m going to remember a kid I had 7 years ago who looks nothing like he did then? I look pretty much the same, besides for gaining some extra weight. I’ve kept my part of the bargain. Whereas they are now sprouting all kinds of hair and pimples and various stages of lankiness, such as the one where your head is bigger than your body, and the one where your hands are bigger than your head.

But I run into them at the supermarket, and they’re all, “Hey, Mr. Schmutter!” That’s how I know they used to be my students. No one else calls me “Mr. Schmutter.” If someone knows me from my articles, they usually abortively try calling me “rabbi” first.

Now most of the time when this happens with other people who probably weren’t my students, I try to talk to them long enough so that while we’re talking, I can piece together the clues and try to remember their names. (“Let’s see, he asked about my car, and he mentioned Queens. Then there’s his age, and his hair color…”)

But with students, most of those clues sound pretty much the same. (“Let’s see, he was in my class, and he went to that school. And his age is the same as everyone else’s.”) That narrows it down.

So these days, when they say, “Mr. Schmutter!” I say, “Hey, it’s you!” And they’re like “Yeah, it is! How did you recognize me?” And then I take the clues that I know, and I fake it:

“Still in that yeshiva? I figured. Still hate going to class? Heh. Are you still in contact with everyone else? Wow. Did you ever finish that assignment?”

There’s always one assignment he didn’t finish.

Of course, experts say that in this situation, you should go, “Where are my manners? I haven’t introduced you to this guy,” and then you pull in a friend you’ve brought along for just such purposes. But I can’t bring someone I know every time I go to the supermarket.

Maybe I should pull random people out of the aisle and go, “Have you met this guy?” Sure, I don’t know that guy either, but I’ll hear his name when he tells my student. Then I’ll walk away and hope I get far enough before they get to the part of their conversation where they’re wondering why I said they should meet each other.

Have a question for “You’re Asking Me?” I’ll make up a fake name for you. I might as well. I can’t remember your real one.

Never mind why.

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