TUESDAY: Losing It at the Border


Copyright is held by the author.

I PAID the bill, burped from the meal, and rushed to the car. Arlene was just standing in the parking lot staring at the Nevada landscape like a tourist. Afraid I was a little abrupt, but I ordered her in the car. “Just get the heck in and don’t say a word.” That terrible diner in this Nevada town that sounds like an intestinal condition — Pahrump or something — had simply rotten chili. And we were late, so I repeated, “I’m going ballistic if you don’t get in the car!”

I pushed her in, then she sat sniffling and cowering in the corner. She has the nerve to ask, “Who are you? What are you doing?”

“Just stop it! I’m going crazy in this place and we’re never going to get to Dave and Alice’s wedding on time!”

“Who’s Dave?”

Before we were a mile out of town, before I chilled enough to explain the basics to this woman, we hit the California border. I skidded up to this cop thing, a barricade, stopping every car so a trooper could stick his head in the car. I mean every car like there’d been a jail break.

“Yougotanyfruitsorvegetablescomingintothestate?” he asked in one long sentence.

“No, I ate my fruit at breakfast and green food turns me off,” I answered.

“He stole me!” my wife shouted. “Kidnapper!”

I looked closer at the woman in the red jacket and managed a “What?” before the cop had me out of the car and bending over the hood.

Now let me back up just a second. I got this condition. It’s called face blindness. The fancy word is prosopagnosia, and I read it in a book by that doctor, Oliver Sacks. Like, me and Arlene go to the supermarket and I have to call her cell and ask “Where the heck are you?” and she’ll  say in my ear, “George, I’m right behind you.” Problem is this condition where all people look alike. Guy walks by me and asks “Where’d you get that hat?” and I’ll probably tell him to mind his own business. Arlene will ask, “Didn’t you recognize our neighbour from one block over?” No, the thing is that the guy looks like every other bozo.

“So you just kidnapped this woman back in Pahrump?” the cop asks.

“I didn’t kidnap anyone! I thought she was my wife cause she had on a red coat. When me and Arlene came out of that diner — which has made me very sick and I may have ptomaine and have to sue them — well, I thought she was Arlene. See, I’ll admit I have this condition . . .”

Should I have to remember names? Faces? Seems like people today move like ghosts, spirits who drift by you and smile while walking their yappy little dogs, or people in passing cars who wave like they know you.

“Wait right here,” he says while the woman is alternately whimpering and trying to kick me in the leg. To make sure I wait, the cop handcuffs me to the rearview mirror while he goes to radio his station house or something, make sure I’m not wanted for being an immigrant terrorist kidnapper.

Few minutes later another patrol car skids to a stop and a fellow cop steps out. Cops I can recognize because they have this distinctive uniform, usually blue but sometimes it’s brown. Then Arlene gets out of the passenger side and asks, “George, what the devil have you done?”

Let me tell you, that doesn’t make me feel very good, mainly because I don’t know what I’ve done. “You had on your red jacket and were standing at the car waiting —”

“I changed,” she said. “Can’t you see? It got hot and I took off my jacket in the ladies room. When I came out you were paying the cashier and arguing about the food.”

Arlene is a patient woman and articulate. I’ll say that. She has a way with words and sticks up for me, which is why we’ve been married for probably 15 years. She explains to the police it’s all a mistake, and asks this woman if we can drive her back to the diner where her car is and is there anything else we can do.

Well, the woman is a teacher on her way to some place in California and she’s heard about face blindness. She doesn’t exactly give me a warm goodbye, but she lets the cop take her back to Pahrump.

I thought it best for Arlene to drive the rest of the way to Dave and Alice’s wedding and then I say, “I forgot to declare that orange I put in the glove box after breakfast. You think we need to go back and —”

“George,” Arlene says, “leave it alone. In the future I’ll remind you what I’m wearing before stepping 10 feet away. And I’ll stick a Post It note on my lapel with my name.”

  1. Well written, interesting premise, but it’s a bit far fetched for me. Not the condition itself, but that after all these years he’d still make this kind of mistake when his mistaken wife questions him. Could you make her a mute or something?

  2. Norm, that’s the heartbreak. I make those mistakes!

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