Perhaps the Nerdiest Celebrity Sighting Possible


Last night Dr. M and I had dinner at a reasonably nice restaurant on University Avenue in Palo Alto. Sitting at the table next to us was a woman who I'm about 92% sure was Suzanne Mikawa, who used to be on Bill Nye the Science Guy. (Suzanne can be seen here doing one of my favorite scientific demonstrations -- one that I used as a trivia question in the weekly newsletter I used to send out in college.)

Now, I have an extremely good, some might say inhuman, recollection for faces, including faces that have aged several years since the last time I saw them. A few months ago, for example, I was at a bar with some friends in San Francisco and realized that our waiter was a guy I had gone to high school with and hadn't seen in like twelve years. As such, I was reasonably confident last night in my hypothesis that the woman was indeed the smart alecky girl from Bill Nye, a hypothesis that was further supported by the woman's voice.

Unfortunately, this superpower of mine often leads to awkward situations, because I always feel the need to verify my guesses. The waiter from my high school seemed most displeased at me bringing up high school. I've also had a number of incidents where I'll recognize someone that I met once several years earlier, and am able not only to remember the meeting but also what we talked about, which I then go on to explain to them for no good reason. The people that I do this to don't realize that I do this with a lot of people, so they always assume that I've been unhealthily fixated on them as an individual for several years.

As such, I was very hesitant to verify my Mikawa hypothesis last night, and didn't end up doing so. Really, there was very little upside to trying. Imagine the following four possible scenarios, in order of increasing awkwardness:

Scenario 1: Incorrect assumption + name-based inquiry

Me: Excuse me, is your name Suzanne?
Her: Uhhh... No.
Me: Oh, sorry. You look just like someone I went to high school with. Enjoy your oysters.

This scenario has a tolerable amount of awkwardness, but the rest of the meal would still be uncomfortable.

Scenario 2: Correct assumption + show-based inquiry

Me: Excuse me, I know this is going to sound weird, but did you used to be on Bill Nye the Science Guy?
Her: Yes, actually.
Me: Ah. I'm a big fan. I mean, I was, when I was in high school. I mean, when I was a kid. You know, young enough to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy. I certainly didn't watch it every afternoon when I was seventeen, if that's what you're thinking.

This scenario has the benefit of me being correct, but I would then be left with the inevitable problem of what to do after you meet a celebrity and then confirm his or her celebrity status. The last time I ran into this issue was on a flight back from Boston when I walked past the guy who played Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld sitting in first class. Fortunately, since I was walking past him, I simply said "Nice job" after he confirmed that he was Lloyd Braun, continued toward my seat in steerage, and that was the end of it. At a restaurant, though, awkward.

Scenario 3: Incorrect assumption + show-based inquiry

Me: Excuse me, I know this is going to sound weird, but did you used to be on Bill Nye the Science Guy?
Her: Uhhh... No.
Me: Ah. Sorry. You look a lot like someone who used to be on that show.

While this scenario might not actually be as awkward as scenario 2, the woman would nonetheless be left with the impression that I'm obsessed not only with Bill Nye the Science Guy, but also its cast members, so much so that I'm willing to ask perfect strangers if they were on the show. Fortunately, this isn't true (as evidenced by the fact that I didn't ask her), but I did have to fight the temptation, so it's sort of true.

Scenario 4: Correct assumption + name-based inquiry

Me: Excuse me, is your name Suzanne?
Her: Yes.
Me: Suzanne Mikawa?
Her: [Suspicious.] Yes.
Me: From Bill Nye the Science Guy?
Her: Uh-huh...
Me: I'm a big fan.
Her: Clearly.
Me: Of the show, I mean.
Her: Riiiiiight.

In this situation, I've not only expressed my obsession with the show, but also with her as an individual, so much so that I remember her name after not having watched the show in ten years. At this point explaining my super-human recall powers would be useless. As a woman of science, she would be duly skeptical.


Wow! It WAS you, last night. I was almost positive it was - you know, from all the fan mail you sent me when you were in high school - but I couldn't be sure


So, the post really left me thinking "How the hell did he know her name?" At the very least, it does mean that *at some point* you looked it up. And then committed it to memory. All of which is at least a bit odd.

But that comment, that made it all worth it. I snorted laughing.

Best comment ever.

you are wasted on the law.

Hmm. Your hunches are so much better than mine.

i saw Bill Nye the other day at The Alcove Cafe in Los Feliz---- he has the fattest face lift ever, but still cool.

Hey Suzanne it's Kathryn. e-mail me sometime.

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This page contains a single entry by hb published on January 26, 2008 10:47 AM.

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