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“You look familiar.”

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Funny how context can conjure such different reactions to such a statement.

A curious combination of factors leads me to be stopped by strangers from time to time. Hardly a week goes by when someone doesn't ask, “Don't I know you?” or some other variant.

I don't know exactly why it happens to me so often, but I have enough data to form a hypothesis to work from. Datum 1: I have been told that I have a look that is “iconic.” (This seems to suggest that someone who sees me is more likely to register the memory than some “more normal-looking guy.”) Datum 2: Due to my job I am fairly often pictured on television or am pictured in some local paper or other. Datum 3: When I am in the media, it tends to be about something that people find important or interesting.

It would be nice if people were to stop me because they realized that I am “that famous author” that they admire so much. That, sadly, is very unlikely the case, as I can best be described as an author of rare books. In any case, the attention can be nice in that it seems to affirm that people are at least vaguely conscious of some of what I say or some of my work. (In more specialized circles, e.g., information security, I'm much more likely to be recognized unambiguously by people who also know my work. That's even better!)

As I was going through the security screening process in Columbus on my way to deliver a lecture in Wisconsin, I was stopped by someone in the airport. The comment this time was, “You look familiar.” That was just fine but I was not sure what to do when recognizing that the source of the remark was in fact a TSA officer. This is the point at which I might have been inclined to ask whether it was on a “WANTED” poster or some other such thing distributed to security personnel at the airport. The initiating remark seemed lighthearted enough but given all of the big and scary warnings about jokes I thought better of it. Traffic was slow and I had plenty of time before my flight; maybe I could take a minute to engage in a conversation with an officer who was probably bored out of his skull. Then again, I just wanted to be through the checkpoint so I could put my clothes back on.

I thought quickly about my options and decided that in the end the best way to avoid being dragged into a conversation was simply to be boring. “I come through here a lot,” said I, quite honestly. The agent nodded at this bit of wisdom, apparently accepting the explanation for why I would seem familiar. Whatever. I got to go on my way.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2008-05-04 06:20 PM
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