Only I could have an experience like this. Warning – this post is going to be long, and it is going to test your ability to believe the unbelievable. If I put this scene in a script, the producers would throw it out for straining credibility, but I assure you, every word is true. Hopefully the named players below will chime in.
Today is proof that the universe has a sick sense of humor.
As I’ve stated before, when you make a decision to do something, a whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance. Of course, “unforeseen meetings” can take all kinds of forms.
Upon announcing that I would be indie-publishing my book, Happiness as a Second Language, my friend Keith Domingue reached out to let me know that he had just gone through the process for his book, Luthecker, and since he’d already done all the groundwork, wanted to share his experience with me.
Huzzah! Who says no to guidance from an expert? So I arranged to meet Keith at a spot that would be convenient for him, which happened to be in Westwood.
Then, I remembered that last year, my husband and I had dinner in Westwood with a former classmate of his and her husband, Peter, who happens to be a VP at one of the largest branding consultancies in the world, and his office was a few blocks away. Desperate for branding advice as I move forward with publishing, cover art, color choices, etc., I reached out to see if he could meet me for coffee while I was in town and conveniently he could, so we arranged to meet at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf near his office.
So I met with Keith and that was amazing! He was so generous and open with his advice and I honestly think he took at least two weeks off my journey towards publication. I will never be able to thank him enough.
Then, I left at 2:25 to walk two blocks up the street to meet Peter-the-Branding-Expert at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that he’d chosen.
Arriving right at 2:30, as I walked up the steps to the patio, a man looked up from his laptop and said, “Valerie?” which was weird because he didn’t look like who I was expecting at all, but I knew right away we’d met before, so I said “Peter?” and he said, “Yes!” Then he gathered his laptop off the table and followed me inside as I ordered a drink and offered to buy him one, but he refused and the whole time I am thinking, “Why does this guy look so different?”
I covered my shock by telling him I was expecting him to be dressed more businesslike, and he told me he was teaching a class at UCLA Extension for Directing, thus the casual attire. Again, this was a shocker, because I had no idea Peter-the-Branding-Expert was also a director, but that made enough sense (for LA), so we sat down at a table on the patio and he immediately opened his laptop and showed me the poster for his movie and I asked about the design elements and we went through them one-by-one, then I stopped him to say that what I really wanted was information about how to create a book cover that could establish a brand, so he launched into an incredible description of fonts and logos and how they trigger reactions in the human brain and I got some relief because I remembered a lengthy discussion at dinner last year about fonts, and that is one of Peter-the-Branding-Expert’s specialties. Okay, this is cool. He’s the guy after all.
At this point in the story, I realize that I appear to be somewhat of an idiot, but here’s the problem at the root of all of this (which I am outing to the world for the first time): I’m face-blind.
I have a condition called Prosopagnosia. Now, to be fair to the truly disabled, I have a very mild form of face-blindness which means I don’t imprint faces until I’ve met someone 4-5 times, but at least I do eventually imprint them (unless we don’t see each other for a very long time, then I have to start anew). Some people never imprint faces. Some people cannot recognize their own parents, or themselves, or their children. I’m not there, but God help me if someone I’m working with on a movie changes her hair color or shaves his beard. Halloween is pure hell.
For a brief time in Hollywood I was the flavor-of-the-month screenwriter and one November had roughly 50 meetings with executives all over town, then made the career-killing mistake of going to Sundance that January, where every junior development exec was riding the shuttles or standing in line for movies, wearing hats and parkas, and I didn’t recognize any of them.
And here’s the thing about face-blindness — most of us go 20 or 30 years before we realize we have it, if ever. I used to think I was the most self-absorbed person on the planet because of the number of people who would come up and start talking to me, obviously remembering conversations we’d had, knowing things I must have told them, and I would have no idea who they were. What a horrible person I must be!
So, to compensate, most of us find ways to stumble through situations pretending. It feels like the height of rudeness to get ten minutes into a conversation and say, “I’m sorry, have we met?” Especially when the answer is almost always, “uh…yes.” So, we fake it.
And now here I was, sitting with Peter, a branding expert, who knew my name, and seemed to have been waiting for me at the exact spot and the exact time that I was scheduled to meet Peter-the-Branding-Expert, and was showing me his work and telling me how to improve mine and it was all very useful.
But I still wasn’t 100% sure. This just felt weird. So after 20 minutes, I excused myself to the restroom and checked my phone. No call, no text, no email (at least, not one that came through by that time), so I went back to the meeting, which was really informative and going really well.
Then, the rug got pulled out from under me.
The man at the next table had been eavesdropping on our conversation, and he also found Peter to be really informative, to the point of butting in and asking for his card. Peter didn’t have one on him, so I gave him a sheet of notebook paper and he wrote down his information, including his name: Peter Hyoguchi.
We were now 45 minutes into the meeting, and I was sitting across the table from a man I’d served on a committee with in the Writers Guild seven years ago. Who was named Peter. Who appeared to be some sort of branding expert. But we were 45 minutes into the meeting! There was no way to say, “I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else.” And what happened to Peter-the-Branding-Expert? Could they be the same person? Could I have gotten the names confused? Again, I know I don’t look very good here, but these are the nightmare situations prosopagnosics go through – we don’t know what is normal in situations like this because we know that no normal person has situations like this!
After a really helpful and lovely hour with Peter Hyoguchi, I walked two blocks back to my car and looked at my phone and now I had an email from Peter-the-Branding-Expert, which had been sent at 2:45 asking where I was, apologizing for being a few minutes late and wondering if I’d walked out or just not shown up at all.
Which means Peter-the-Branding-Expert walked into the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Westwood – the one at Westwood and Weyburn, not the one three blocks away at Gayley and Weyburn – in all likelihood passing the woman on the patio engaged in a conversation about branding and probably never thought to interrupt or ask if she was the person he was supposed to be meeting, whom he had only met once, months ago, in a dark restaurant, and who was not looking around for someone to meet, and thus he thought that I was a no-show.
I want to convey the emotions I experienced upon realizing all of this, and the reaction I had, but I’m afraid that those wouldn’t be the thoughts or behavior of a happy person, and I’m a happy person, so let’s just say I went a little nuts.
I reached out to Peter-the-Branding-Expert before leaving Westwood to see if we could still get together, but by then it was 4:00 and he didn’t have time to meet, and wouldn’t have time the rest of this week and was going out of town next week, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe that I actually was at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and had actually had a meeting with a branding expert named Peter and I could see where this was going. I don’t blame him. I have a hard time believing it myself.
I called my husband from the car to tell him what had happened, and in typical male fashion, he tried to help me see all the things I could have done differently, so I got off that call right away and called my best friend in New York, who responded with the appropriate amount of sympathy, then said the greatest thing ever: “Well, that set of circumstances will never happen again, so you can check that one off the list.”
When I got home, I called Peter Hyoguchi to tell him what happened and ask what he thought was going on when I sat down and started grilling him about branding, and why he showed me his movie poster as soon as I sat down, and if he thought it was strange that I was there for an hour. As it turns out, he didn’t think it was strange at all. He figured we were just catching up like old friends and that I really was passionate about my project and needed help, and he was glad I had the time to hang out. He did find it a bit unreal that I thought he was someone else the entire time, but in a good-natured way.
And then, in our laughter, I recapped the incredible events of the day by saying:
“How crazy is that? You had the same name and the same expertise as the person I was supposed to meet with.”
And he replied:
“That means I am the person you were supposed to meet with.”
My thoughts exactly!
Thursday Morning Update: Normally, I would not go back in and edit a blog post after it’s published, but this one just took such a turn for the unbelievable that I have to include it here.
This morning, I sent another email to Peter-the-Branding-Expert to apologize and ask if we could reschedule, and I included a link to this post, just so he knew I wasn’t insane. This was his reply:
“No worries Valerie! Nice post. Glad the other Peter was a valuable connect. Did he, btw, have a killer laptop cover? Looked like an old book? If so, I almost approached while I was waiting to see where he got it.”
Are you KIDDING me?!! That means he almost approached the other Peter while he was meeting with ME! Just goes to show what context can do. Why would Peter-the-Branding-Expert have any reason to think that the woman actively engaged in a conversation with the guy with the awesome laptop cover could be the wife of his wife’s college friend who he was there to give branding advice to, since she clearly wasn’t looking around for anyone she was supposed to be meeting with?
And this is why life is awesome. Everyone involved has found this nothing short of hilarious, I reconnected with an old friend who has an expertise I never knew about, and Peter-the-Branding-Expert is going to meet with me when he gets back from traveling, so I get two rounds of masterful advice in the area where I need it most. What can I say? Huzzah!