Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stop Me if You've Heard It

History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history. --Clarence Darrow

My father had an incredible capacity to tell the same story over and over.

Whether it was war stories, episodes from his life growing in New York during the Depression, or his life and times and as salesman for a meat wholesaler, my dad would tell us these stories over and over until the point where I had many of them memorized.

He geniunely didn't seem to realize he was repeating himself. Or if he did, it didn't seem to bother him.

This usually wasn't so bad, and, in fact, the army stories and the tales from the old neighborhood were very entertaining. It was like an old stereo player, where the thing automatically lifts the needle back to the beginning of the record.

When he talked about the horrors of the Depression, my father had a stock line that he'd always say.

"There were grown men selling apples in the street!" he'd say, still not believing it even after the passage of so many years.

Some of the jokes got worn out after repeated telling, but that wasn't so terrible. And I often told them to my friends.

Now if he started off a story with the words, “I think I’ve told you this before” that was a major red flag.

If my father was acknowledging a story's history, that meant you had already this particular story so many times that it had become part of your DNA. Zoning out was the only defense.

I mention this because the apple apparently doesn’t fall too far from the burning bush.

Guy Walks Into A Bar

In looking over my posts from June 2006, I saw one entitled “This Gentle Night,” which described a nightmare I had about my father and then went on tell about the time I took my mother to see The Exorcist.

I love telling that story and over the years it's become an amusing chapter in our family's history.

The only trouble here is that I posted an item the other week called “The Pea Soup Follies,” which, as you might have guessed from the title, was all about the time I took my mother to see The Exorcist.

I have absolutely no memory of writing the earlier post. True, it’s been a year, and I’ve had a lot on my mind, but still, that story is powerful enough that I think I should have remembered whether or not I posted it on the Web. But obviously I didn't.

Good Lord, this is so embarrassing. I sound like some old geezer outside a country store some place in the ass-end of nowhere.

One of my father's army buddies used to say his town was so remote, it was located "10 miles from where you could hear a train whistle." Got that quote down pat.

These memory slips seem to be happening a lot lately. I’m forgetting names and faces, the titles of movies and books. Is this normal or is the first step toward Alzheimer’s Disease?

My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's so I do worry about such things. In addition, studies apparently show that people who are depressed are more forgetful, and some of these people go on to develop Alzheimer's.

I'm hardly the most cheerful guy on the block, but I suspect worry won't help and might make the situation work.

Then I box a couple rounds with one of the instructors at the New York Sports Club. I am becoming punch drunk? Doesn't seem likely since I just started about a year ago and I don't do it that often. Still, I don't want to end up sound like Sylvester Stallone.

I was pretty upset about repeating my stories, thinking perhaps it was God's way of punishing me for mocking my father when I was a kid. But then I interpret every negative thing in my life as God's punishment.

It's a wonder God gets anything done, given all the time He spends zapping my sorry keester.

I went to meeting of Brooklyn bloggers on Sunday and hung out with some very cool people. It was great meeting these talent people in this funky little restaurant/performance space in Flatbush.

I wonder if any of those cool people ever had this problem?

I was getting pretty upset with myself. What kind of loser tells the same story over and over? I thought about deleting one of these posts--which I may do yet--but first I decided to handle it the only I knew how. I'd write about it.

I want to apologize for the repeat post. I have a lot more stories to tell, so there's no need to keep harping on the same on.

I haven't gone back over my other posts to see if there are more reruns somewhere in the mix and readers are encouraged to sound off if they catch one.

And for my part, I promise to be vigilant when I tell stories from my childhood.

Or did I tell you that already?


DirtyBitchSociety said...

God help us sweetheart. I do the same thing. I have become my father, my mother and my grandfather. I am the oratory historian. I get going about something or give me an audience and they'll probably end up either loving me to death or hating my guts. I am guilty of this too.
Now, my Exorcist story;
My Dad took me to Crystal City Underground, right there at Georgetown. My Dad always carried a 16oz.tupperware tumbler of whiskey 3 cube of ice with the lid on. We went in and came out, he was in rare form. We were on the below ground floor elevator, it's packed to capacity and we were the last ones on. He hits the button for the ground floor. Nothing happens. he hit s it again and then again. Nothing happens. he blurts out, "The damn things possessed. Stand back everybody. Do we have a priest on this elevator?" My Dad had that cop voice, cop tone and the elevator cracked up. Those were the good ol days. Now, as soon as you drive from Va., across the Key Bridge into Georgetown, there's a gas station, right ahead, on the left. Right next to it's right, are the stairs, those blindingly long, scary ass stairs, used in the filming. There is no actual window, as when the Priest jumps out. But the stairs are so steep, your hair blows back. There was a body paint silhouette at the bottom, for years, right where they filmed. You know, like homicide would either chalk or paint around the body? I had a pic of me, laying there, at the bottom of those stairs. It's gone, of course.

Now, let's see, if we can have a traditional telling, this time next year? Bye Sweets.

Calamity Jen said...

You're worried about telling the same story twice? My father relates the same stories again and again, and they only get better with age. I hope that he will write them down someday (since I couldn't possibly capture his tone if I tried to transcribe them); it would be sad if the stories were lost.

With my blog, I sometimes go back over my past posts to ensure that I'm not repeating myself or posting the same photo. (Photos of sleeping puppies do tend to look alike after a while.) I don't think I have Alzheimer's, I just have other things on my mind. I suspect it's the same with you.

As for God, he's not busy punishing you. He recruited all of those Catholic school nuns to condition you to punish yourself so He wouldn't have to.

Rob K said...

Gosh, I'm a lucky little bastard to have buds like you two.


Your dad sounds like quite the character. And I would love to see you in the body outline shot.

And Jen, you are dead on target with the nuns and their mind conditioning.

It's like automatic pilot--I do their work for them, so they don't have to come back from hell and do it themselves.

Oops! My head's starting to spin around--batton down the hatches, there's about to be a pea soup tsunami!

Thanks, guys, as always.

Claude Scales said...

I think that most of us, except those who operate on the level of, say, Henry Kissinger or Liz Smith, have a limited supply of anecdotes, based on our own experience, that we feel we can trot out to amuse friends or acquaintances. I got away with this for many years, usually managing not to tell something to someone who had already heard it, unless they were in the company of someone else who hadn't, and whom I was eager to share it with. In such instances, the person for whom it was not new, realizing I was telling it for the benefit of the other, wouldn't complain. Since I got married, however, this has changed. My wife will, if we're in the company of others and I tell a tale she's heard within the past five years, roll her eyes upward and, afterwards, say something like, "I just can't believe you repeated that stupid, disgusting story about ... ."

Now, like you, I'm starting to cycle my stories through my blog. My wife reads it regularly, but, so far, hasn't objected. Touch wood, I haven't repeated myself yet, at least not without acknowledging the fact. But, then, I'm relatively new at this game.

Richard said...

You might want to look at both versions of the story you've told and you'll find they're different; as a writer, you're probably refining and shaping good material.

My mother (76) has Alzheimer's, and in retrospect, she probably started acting weirdly at an age not much older than I am now (56), but she never repeated herself, whereas her parents, both of whom lived quite a bit older than she is and never had any mental deficits, would repeat their stories in the manner of your father.

The difference, I think, was that my mother never was a storyteller the way her parents were. Storytellers tell stories, and these stories have resonance for them for some particular reason, so they go back to them.

I've been embarrassed to discover I've inadvertantly appropriated the same "story" (mine or something I heard from a friend or relative) in short stories published decades apart. But they're always different versions of the story. Not to get too postmodern about it, but I think this is the part of the process of writers, just as standup comedians constantly refine and retest their material.

And those of us who shape our experiences into fiction are probably more guilty of repeating our "stories" than most people. To me, what you did sounds perfectly normal and healthy.

Rob K said...

Claude, Richard--thank you so much.

I felt like such a loser when I discovered my summer rerun.

Your comments are most helpful and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet you spewed more than pea soup.....Didn't you?

Rob K said...

Come a little closer...