We all know that incredibly uncomfortable moment when we run up to somebody we think we know to give them a hug, or we call out their name, only to discover as they turn towards us in a moment of confusion that they are a complete stranger.
This happened to me on several occasions as a child. I remember one Sunday morning at church, I ran up to a woman who looked exactly like my mom from behind. I wrapped my arms around her waist and hugged her, and then I asked her where Dad was.
“What?” an unfamiliar voice replied, and I found myself gazing up into the face of a stranger.
“Oh! Sorry. I thought you were my mom,” I informed her before running away.
I thought I’d outgrown these uncomfortable situations but I discovered recently that age is not the ticket to freedom from awkwardness, especially if you are one of those people like me who is simply destined to encounter every bit of social discomfort that life could possibly throw your way.
“Bob!” I cried out from down the hall in the skilled nursing facility where I was completing my clinicals for my nursing assistant certification.
The man at the end of the hall did not respond.
“Bob!” I called out again. “What are you doing here? It’s so good to see you!”
The man looked up from his task of putting a garbage bag into a receptacle.
“Me? Most people here just call me Doc. I’m the Janitor.”
That was definitely not Bob. My friend Bob was a contractor (yes, he’s heard the Bob the Builder jokes many times), a family friend about my dad’s age. I thought maybe he’d come out to do some work on the dilapidated building I was working in. Then again, I don’t know why I thought he might be replacing trash bags. He is kind of a handy man, though, and if he sees a job, he tries to get it done.
So, for the rest of my clinicals, I called Doc (in my head), “The Bob Fraud.”
Not being able to contain it anymore, I called up Bob one night and got his voicemail.
“Well, here goes nothing,” I told myself, when I heard, “Hi, you’ve reached Bob. Leave your name and a number and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
I fought back laughter as I left a message saying, “Hey, Bob, we haven’t talked for a while and I guess I just missed you so much that I ran up to the janitor at the nursing home I’m working in and tried to give him a hug because I thought he was you…do you have a twin brother who is a janitor that everybody calls Doc because they don’t know his real name by any chance? Well, okay, catch you later. Bye!”
I never heard anything back from Bob for weeks. Then, on my birthday, I received a card in the mail that had my name and address written on the front in unfamiliar handwriting. The return name and address were also unfamiliar:
Jan. A. Tor
1 Dirty Lane
Gotta Clean, USA
WHAT THE HECK? What kind of a creepy German man was sending me a birthday greeting with a Starbucks card inside? Jan? I haven’t known any Jan’s since the German exchange student in high school.
My parents were both laughing hysterically as I thought out loud.
“Becca, read it again!” They were urging me.
“Jan A. Tor…Jan with a j sound maybe rather than a y sound? Jan A. Tor…oh my gosh. Janitor! This is from Bob, isn’t it!?”
I think that was the best birthday card I’ve ever received.