I’m very visual. I need to put a face to a person. Whether someone is telling me about their crush, their nephew or the grown woman wearing NASCAR pajamas at Kroger, I almost always ask for a physical description.
Side Note: Loosely, what I’m looking for here is height, frame, hair color/style and a general consensus of appeal. (example: 6′, athletic build, wavy brown hair, a little above average) See? Nice and concise, but you get a very workable visual of this character. You may wonder why “appeal” is in the mix. It’s in there because typically, if someone says a guy is 6-feet, with wavy brown hair and an athletic build, you’d say, “Oh—so attractive, right?” Too often, that’s followed with, “No, not at all. His teeth were kinda jacked and his complexion had seen better days. He also had three tears tattooed down his cheekbone.”
The weird thing about my need for a visual is that I tend to be more curious when the situation is negative. Like at work, if I’m exchanging emails with someone I don’t know—and I don’t care for her tone (or grammar)—I immediately go into our associate database to see who I’m dealing with. More often than not, as soon as the picture pops up, I just nod in victory like, “Yep. No surprises there.”
Please know that while I’m not proud of my ways, my conscience is mostly clear because I accept that it goes both ways. I don’t pretend that someone looks me up and goes, “Oh! I’m a fool! She’s delightful!” Actually, I don’t pretend that anyone else even looks people up to satisfy their curiosity and justify their irritation.
Just last week, I had a somewhat pointed email exchange with someone from another department. I couldn’t see her head shot fast enough. Sure as the sun rises in the East, her image popped up and I immediately thought, “Yep, a bitty, just like I thought.”
Side Note: My mom had a few off-shoot cuss words when I was little. Bitty was a favorite, as was ninny … “What a little ninny!” I used to secretly love it when she’d accidentally say “shit” and immediately turn it into, “shitawahoo,” like any of us kids thought that was a legitimate word or place.
When I’m mad at another driver, I just have to see him or her so I can put a face to my rage. I can’t enjoy my ride until I see.that.face. And so often I’m like, “Ugh, that’s what I THOUGHT.” Rarely do I back down from my disapproval based on the visual. There is something satisfying about being irked by a careless driver, then seeing his dumb, selfish face as a reward.
When I make the grave error of reading comment sections online, I have to imagine what each and every troll looks like, in order to even halfway assuage my disgust with their ignorance and recklessness. Imagining they are greasy, fat men in ambitiously over-sized tighty-whities, living in their Grandmother’s dank basement, eating a chili dog with one hand and typing with the other, is the only way I can self-soothe. I simply cannot believe that the vast majority of people I know, or come across on this planet, would ever write the things these dopes write in comment sections. If you tell me otherwise, I’ll have no option but to remove myself from society.
Lastly, when I read novels, I have to associate a character with an actor or singer if the author doesn’t provide me with a clear visual. I just have to know who I’m working with or my brain bounces around trying to place people.
But then, there is this.
I, in turn, am the worst at describing people on the fly. I’m a BIG TIME noticer in so many ways, but I often struggle to describe a person when asked. This just happened yesterday:
Clerk: Thanks for calling. This is Lindsey, how may I help you?
Me: Hi—I was just in there and I’m wondering if you could hold an item for me?
Clerk: Sure, who was it that helped you?
Me: Uhhh, a girl—a lady?
Clerk: Ooo-kaaay. Did she have blonde hair?
Me: Uhh, I’m not sure. It might’ve been longish though.
Clerk: Tell ya what, just let me know what item you need and I’ll go track it down.
The problem is that the only things that popped into my head, when she asked who helped me, were wholly inappropriate.
The Worst Me: Hi—I was just in there and I’m wondering if you could hold an item for me?
Clerk: Sure, who was it that helped you?
The Worst Me: A short, sturdy lady with nondescript hair, large gums and sausage fingers.
I know! But I can’t be the only one who has had to stop herself from describing someone in an unflattering way—even if that way would actually pinpoint the person quite efficiently.
Me: There’s a lady I pass by a lot on the 3rd floor—over by the big conference room—who is so sweet.
Co-worker: Which wing?
Co-Worker: How is she sweet?
Me: She just always smiles like we know each other and says hello without fail, even when I see her more than once in a given day.
Co-worker: Hmm, what does she look like?
Me: Oh, she’s about 5’5” and really homely. She has no shoulders, wears Little House on the Prairie dresses and needs about 6 inches off her hair.
Co-worker: Oh! Her! She’s nice to me, too!
But the truth is, my failure to properly describe someone has been pointed out to me more than once. (“He was a male, with hair and he had a voice” hasn’t garnered a lot of praise.)
It’s bizarre, because I can tell you about someone’s personality, tendencies and quirks, but I rarely remember the color of her hair. I can mimic and impersonate the finest nuances of certain people quite well (for an amateur), but I don’t always notice what they’re wearing.
Side Note: I grew up around some smokers and I used to watch my aunt obsessively, because I was fascinated with the process of it all—the technique and routine it required. I got so good at imitating her that I took to picking opportune moments (i.e. moments when it was least expected and most mortifying for my parents) to reach for a pack of smokes, tap them on my palm, pull one out, place it between my lips, and through squinted eyes, fake light it with my thumb. Then I’d take a long, deep pull—before removing it with my scissored index and middle finger—and blow pretend smoke out of the side of my mouth, in an effort to keep the make-believe smoke away from the guests. If there was enough time before my mom or dad snatched the cig away from me, I’d delight in pretending someone said something funny and I’d laugh-blow smoke out like a seasoned toker. Everyone agreed that I truly looked like I’d smoked for years, even though I was only nine. (I still do it today, when the opportunity presents itself.) I used to like to put the unlit cigarette between my lips and let it kind of hang loosely from my mouth as I pretended to fix something that required both hands. I’d squint as the fictitious smoke assaulted my eyes—then I’d pull the ciggy out, exhale dramatically and place it back between my lips to work some more.
Side Note Addendum: I never said I was normal. Remember, when I was little, I liked to face backwards in the backseat of the car and—if there was a trailing driver looking at me—pretend to be having a heated argument with my parents. I have no idea why that lie appealed into me. Was it the nicotine?
A recent conversation:
Me: Hey, one of the neighbors came by when you were running and asked where we got our rose bushes.
Jocelyn: Guy or girl?
Me: A guy. He had a dog with him.
Jocelyn: A chocolate lab with a yellow plaid leash?
Me: *stare* I don’t know. The dog was big and brown.
Jocelyn: Oh, that’s the neighbor who works at a dealership—the one who drinks IPA and whose brother visits all the time.
Me: *stare* How do you know this?
Jocelyn: Because I pay attention! Haven’t you noticed that he has a different Mercedes every month? And sometimes when I run, he’s washing one of them and drinking a Stone IPA. Oh, and his brother looks just like him!
So here is my take-away.
- I need to practice noticing clothes and hairstyles as much as I notice idiosyncrasies.
- If I notice someone has a wonky eye, I need to make sure I also notice something I can actually speak out loud to describe them.
- I need to come to terms with the fact that “brown hair, medium build and two eyes” are not sufficient descriptors.
- I can’t describe someone by saying, “She’s a nervous-laugher whose two crutch phrases are ‘Does that make sense?’ and ‘At the end of the day'” … because most people will say, “Huh? But what does she LOOK LIKE, you nut job?!”
I like to believe that being a Behavioral Noticer is more prestigious than a Physical Noticer, but it actually gets me in hot water from time to time. I’ll say to someone, “Have you ever noticed how Rick says ‘when that’ when he actually just means ‘when?'” And two weeks later, she’ll grab my elbow and pull me off to the side and whisper-growl, “Hey thanks a whole shit ton for pointing that out about Rick—now I can’t even concentrate in meetings because it’s all I notice!”
I’ll quietly remove her clenched hand from my elbow and say, “It’s ‘shitawahoo ton’, thank you very much … and you’re welcome.”