Tonight while I was at work, I happened to notice that a customer looked rather familiar. For a moment, I wondered if he was a smalltime celebrity, but I nixed that idea the moment he spoke–his voice was familiar, too. As I walked away from the table, I immediately realized who it was. I checked the ID that was left for the pool table and sure enough, the last name on the card (which was actually his female companion’s card) was O’Connor, just as I’d suspected. I was then convinced that the familiar-looking guy was, in fact, Mr. Tim O’Connor– my former counselor from the camp I attended for three summers in New Hampshire from 1990 to 1992. Almost sixteen years ago.
I approached the table and posed the inevitable question: “Were you a counselor at Brantwood Camp in New Hampshire in 1992?” As I’d expected, the man gave a sort of stunned smile and confirmed that yes, he had been. “Mr. O’Connor,” I said. He nodded and smiled a bit wider. “I was one of your campers for three years,” I said. I told him my name, and he remembered me, then he introduced me (or should I say re-introduced me) to his wife, who had been a camper and later a counselor while I’d been at the camp. As soon as she said her name, her face became familiar, too. “Wow,” they both said.
We spent a few minutes recounting old memories, and they filled me in on some happenings at the camp (they’re involved in the Alumni Association, which I haven’t managed to join yet, though I should). They showed me a picture of their two sons, who are adorable. We agreed to exchange email addresses before they left, and they said they’d pass on my information to another former counselor who lives in Boston, who I made a failed attempt at contacting last year.
This story would seem incredibly surprising if this sort of thing didn’t happen to me all the time. For example, not more than a month ago, a guy came in at the end of the night and I had the same “I know you” feeling–I asked him, and it turned out that he was the ex-stepson of my former Big Sister from Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and I’d met him while she and his father were in the final stages of planning their wedding. My instinct that time had been “I know he’s someone I know’s older brother…” and sure enough, it was his younger brother Charlie who I spent more time with, because he was closer to my age.
I have run into people I know from the Vineyard in Eugene (OR), Big Sur (CA), at least half a dozen in Monterey (CA), and a dozen or so on the T and in passing here in Boston, and a few more in other places. I ran into a couple I’d met in a bar one evening in Monterey at the San Jose Airport months later. I found out that a former bartender at my current place of employment spent part of her honeymoon hanging out at the bar I used to work at in Monterey–and it was a Sunday night, which meant that I was there, working–she described every person I worked with and a handful of regulars to a tee. The new waitress at my work used to hang out with the group of kids I partied with when I lived in Hyannis, only she hung out with them years later. I’ve seen Monterey friends unexpectedly in Portland and San Francisco. I was once on a plane from Oakland to Boston and was seated in the row across from a girl I went to school with on the island from kindergarten through high school.
About nine years ago, I ran into another former Brantwood camper when I knocked on her dorm room door to ask for a lighter because my high school friend (who my friend Jamie and I were visiting at college) said the girl in that room would be the most likely to have one. I wasn’t as practiced at my “don’t I know you” spiel then as I am now, so I simply rattled off her name and address like an automaton and waited for her to realize who I was (we’d written for a short time after camp ended). Sure enough, she did. We are still in touch. A few years before that, I was working at the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, and in walked Cathy and Tracy Freel, two sisters I’d raised a bit of hell with at camp my second year (one of them, I can’t remember which, had hidden cigarettes in the cinder block beneath her tent).
I’ve run into a girl named Else, who I met on a bus in New Zealand four years ago, twice–once on Martha’s Vineyard the following summer, and once in Boston last winter.
I don’t know why, but it seems like these random run-ins happen to me exponentially more often than they happen to anyone else. It could be accounted for by the fact that I have an exceptionally good memory for faces and therefore perhaps I tend to recognize people in situations that others would not (9 times out of 10 I’m the one who recognizes them). Perhaps it’s because Vineyarders are well-traveled, myself included.
But how the hell do you account for Else?! That shit just doesn’t happen twice. But I’m sure it will happen again. In a few months or a few years, I will be in New York, or Toronto, or Guatemala, and I will run into Else–again. The last time, we exchanged phone numbers and didn’t call. Maybe next time we’ll become friends.