Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Monday, May 31, 2010

He can't place the face, either....

By Dick Hirsch

I saw Norm just recently. It was at one of those occasional parties where friends gather to exchange greetings and share news. I won’t mention Norm’s last name because this column has strict privacy standards, but it’s quite possible you may know Norm because he is a businessman of some prominence, who is also active in cultural affairs.

Over the course of a year, I’d estimate that I encounter Norm at least a half dozen times in various restaurants and other public venues. He always greets me in a friendly fashion, as he did that evening. For openers, he said:

“Hi, Bob, how are things going?”

Now he doesn’t always call me Bob. The previous time I saw him was in a parking lot near t he HSBC Arena. We noticed each other as we hurried toward the admission gates. He waved first and shouted:

“Hey, Dave, let’s hope they can win tonight. Go Sabres.” He raised and waggled a clenched fist as he walked, apparently pleased that he had made contact with a friendly face. Then he disappeared in the crowd.

I report those experiences not to embarrass Norm, but to seek advice from any readers who may have had comparable experiences, or therapists who have been successful in counseling others with a similar problem. If given the opportunity to seek professional advice, I would ask for suggestions about the recommended response to being greeted by someone you know who uses the wrong name.

I must be fair and explain that Norm doesn’t always call me Bob or Dave. A few months ago he actually called me Dick, which is comforting, but that positive note is negated by the experience I had one evening last winter during an intermission at Kleinhans Music Hall. It was a large crowd and he was sipping a cup of coffee. He gave me that friendly salute, followed by a perplexed and vacant look, and called me nothing at all, an indication that he had drawn a complete blank and couldn’t match any name with my face.

An added consideration is this: he has proved himself to be an at least semi-regular reader, sometimes commenting on topics about which I have written. He does that in a knowing manner that indicates he really had read the column. That is not exactly a resounding testimonial to the vaunted power of the press, is it?

With that as background, I return to my immediate concern: What is the proper response? Do I continue to ignore his mistakes? Should I begin purposely calling him by a wrong name, perhaps Bernie or Tom, in hopes of shocking him? Or do I explain, in a calm and kindly fashion, that he has been referring to me by names other than my own? Maybe I should seek the assistance of a mutual friend, someone who knows both Norm and me, and ask the friend to try to moderate the situation by telling Norm of his memory lapses involving me.

I should explain that no objective observer would consider Norm to be a doddering fogey, the type whose forgetfulness could be ascribed to his advancing years. He appears to be vigorous and in complete touch with the world around him.

For years there have been advice articles suggesting methods that are supposedly helpful in remembering names. I presume Norm skipped over all of them, or else wasn’t paying attention. Often cited is word association, the strategy of linking the person with a familiar object or celebrity. I have tried that myself and discovered it is more difficult than you can imagine to establish an appropriate linkage.

Another allegedly useful solution is to concentrate when meeting a new person, focusing on the person, and perhaps repeating the name during that initial conversation. In such a case a person might say: “Glad to meet you, Bruce.” A little later the name could be used again once or twice, such as “What sort of work do you do, Bruce?” or, later, “Hope to see you again soon, Bruce.” I have tried that a few times over the years and received some suspicious glances in return.

Norm is just a convenient example; the inability to remember names is a widespread affliction, but the focus has always been exclusively on methods of memory enhancement. But what about the forgotten? Like so many others, Norm probably claims that he never forgets a face, but he apparently has made an exception in my case.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The coupons remembered best are the ones you did not have

By Dick Hirsch

The numbers have been crunched and re-crunched and now the data files and ledger sheets are complete and ready for public consumption: far more cents off coupons were redeemed in 2009 than the previous year.

This should not some as a major surprise since the economy, while showing occasional positive signs, is still sluggish. Furthermore, almost every one knows someone who has lost a job due to downsizing.

So, in bad times, the number of coupons used increases. The biggest in history for coupon use was the recession year of 1992 when 7.9 billion were redeemed. That’s lot of cents off. The number is more impressive when used in full, not abbreviated. For those who paid little attention in math class, this is 7,900,000,000.

After that banner year, there was a downturn in coupon use, directly related to better business conditions. Coupons were still popular with advertisers, but consumers were less likely to bother with them. The steady decline continued through 2008, but usage recovered in 2009 with the redemption of 3.5 billion coupons for various products. That was an increase of 27 percent over the previous year.

At our house we use our share of coupons, but experience has shown me that the coupons you remember the best are the ones you did not have. To be devoid of a coupon and notice that you are surrounded by other customers with coupons can be a upsetting experience. No, it isn’t painful but, if you are a coupon user, it raises serious questions about your perspicacity, if you know what I mean.

We had such an experience last year while dining for the first time in a restaurant that had been highly recommended by some friends. It was very enjoyable; the food was excellent, the service was professional and the overall ambiance was admirable. Just as I was finishing my chicken I noticed a transaction being conducted at a nearby table. With dinner complete, the waitress was handed a slip of paper by the diner. Oh, no, I thought, he has a coupon and we didn’t know...

There is no reason for me to dwell on that dispiriting interlude. Let’s just say we enjoyed the meal, but it would have tasted better if we had one of those coupons, which I later learned were pegged at a maximum of $15. As the old saying goes, caveat emptor...let the buyer beware.

Generally speaking, however, we have enjoyed many good experiences with coupons, most of which we still clip from the Sunday paper. I realize that is old style couponing, with more and more advertisers distributing their coupons through the Internet. That phase of the coupon business is growing at an astounding rate; during one six month period in 2009 over 10 million digital coupons were redeemed, according to Inmar, a coupon processing company that furnished the figures used in this column.

You probably know that many people spend a great deal of time collecting coupons, keeping them in a envelope, and then trying to find them once it is their turn at the checkout lane. I admire those people for their diligent work, but it can be maddening to another shopper watching them shuffle through their packet trying to find the proper ones to hand to the cashier.

I once had a redeeming experience with one of those coupon users, a woman I did not know. She saw me in the cereal aisle, studying the display, apparently attempting to decide which to select. She just handed me a coupon good for 50 cents, and said it was an extra as she walked away, pushing her loaded cart. It was one of those manufacturer’s coupons, the store was doubling, so ut saved me a dollar. I was touched by that experience and happened to mention it in a column. A few days later I received a note including a few coupons for toothpaste, cereal and detergent from a woman I knew slightly. “There is no need for you to rely on the generosity of strangers,” she wrote. That convinced me that coupon users are generous, willing to share the spares in their collection.

I have always wondered whether wealthy people used coupons. I once saw a reputedly rich man while we were both collecting deposits on soda cans, yet there are many others who don’t bother. Thus, I can report that the answer is “yes” and “no.” The rich seem to be like the rest of us. Some do and some don’t.