Wednesday 07 Dec 2016

I Know You
David Simmonds

Have you ever been on the wrong side of one of those "hey, I know you!" moments?

I have, and it was one of my worst. I was walking on a woodland trail just outside Sault Ste. Marie. A fellow came along in the other direction. I instantly recognized his face. So I stopped him, and said something like "hey, I know you, we've played in the pub together, remember!" Then as my brain kicked into gear and flipped the 'engage memory' button, it occurred to me that I couldn't in fact place him in any establishment in which we might have played. On further reflection, as I stood in front of him grinning I realized that I didn't know him at all, and that he was in fact the fellow from “Quirks and Quarks” (Bob McDonald) who appears on “The National” from time to time using plastic forks and paper cups to illustrate how the latest nuclear disaster has happened.

As soon as I realized, of course, I shrivelled in embarrassment. I was guilty of the sin of fawning familiarity, as well as slow random access memory. I had worked myself into a wild lather because I recognized a face from television. My quarry made a couple of gracious comments to ease me out of my shame, and allowed as how the same sort of thing had happened before. I carried a lasting scar from making a fool of myself merely because I had imperfectly recognized a familiar public face.



I wonder how my opposite number must have felt as well. "Gee, this is great: he remembers my face, but hasn't a clue what I do. What I do must be meaningless. I guess there's no point in getting out of bed tomorrow." The world's next tsunami goes unexplained, and I am the one to blame. 

I've been on the receiving end of a show of unwarranted recognition, and I can't say that I fared any better in the encounter. My wife and I were sitting minding our own business in the Buttermilk Cafe in Cobourg. I could see a man looking at me and smiling, who then came, his face overcome with a cocksure look. "You're Stuart McLean, aren't you!" he said. In the man's defence, Stuart McLean was doing a show from Cobourg that day. My first thought was, well, if I were, I wouldn't be awarding you any airline points just for recognizing me, and I wouldn't appreciate you sticking your nose right in my face when I was just trying to enjoy my coffee. My verbal response, however, was lightning fast. "Err, no, I'm sorry," I believe were my exact words.

Now that - and about five more seconds thought time - is what separates the Winston Churchills of this world from us ordinary mortals - the inability to come up with a timely snappy response. If I had thought more carefully, I would have replied, "No, I'm Farley Mowat, except I'm not wearing a kilt," or "No, but the lady across the table here is Grace Slick from ‘Jefferson Airplane’."

Winston Churchill deserves his own paragraph here, for which I apologize to those who already know him. One Internet list credited him with three of the top ten comebacks of all time. Nancy Astor said to Winston Churchill, "If you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee" Winston Churchill said to Nancy Astor, "If you were my wife, I would drink it." A boring speechmaker to Winston Churchill, "Must you fall asleep while I'm speaking?” Winston Churchill said to boring speechmaker, "No, it's purely voluntary." A woman at party said to Winston Churchill, "You're drunk!" Winston Churchill said to the woman, "You're right, Bessie, and you're ugly. But tomorrow morning, I'll be sober." Although, we're digressing, my favourite comeback comes from Ghandi. Reporter to Ghandi: "What do you think of western civilization?" Ghandi to reporter: "I think it would be a good idea."

It’s flattering to be mistaken for someone as funny as was Churchill. Yet, it's a little deflating to admit, "No, I'm just another ordinary person who can't claim to have his stature." What's worse, I've also been mistaken, in the same confrontational manner, for Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Bruce Cockburn. For all I know, maybe someone will mistake me one day for Wayne Gretzky. What is there that is so peculiar about my appearance I can project essentially whatever image the observer wants to see? I lie awake at night worrying about it. My wife complains about her relative anonymity; I tell her she should count her blessings.

Celebrities, however, should also count themselves lucky. I'll bet that Margaret Atwood rarely is importuned by people saying to her, "hey, I know you; you're Ethel Griswold from Cherry Valley!" For all the times Margaret Atwood may importune, she should be grateful for all the Ethel Griswolds of this world who have spared her the annoyance, more frequently. 

Here is my parting advice. All right, so maybe you spot a celebrity. There is a statistical probability that it might happen. Based on my unfortunate experience, better just to keep that remarkable fact to yourself rather than share it with the real or imagined object of your observation. Save your dignity to lose on another occasion.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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