Monday, October 20, 2008

Refresh My Memory

I ran into an acquaintance of mine on the subway Thursday night.

Now if only I could remember his name.

Actually, it’s not just this man’s name that has escaped me. It’s his entire existence. I have no memory whatsoever of having met the gentleman prior to Thursday, yet he clearly knew me.

It was around 8:30 pm and I was minding my business on the Brooklyn-bound R train when a man on crutches got on at 34th Street with a young woman. He looked around the car and then his eyes fixed on me.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

I was the only person in this section of the car, so I assumed he was speaking to me. But I didn't recognize him at all, so he must have mistaken me for someone else.

“Rob, right?”

Oh, God—he knows me, but I don’t know him. What do I do now?

He told me his name, which I realize now I have since forgotten, and introduced me to his wife, whose name I couldn’t recall if you water-boarded me for three days straight in a bucket of rancid sauerkraut.

They sat across from me and we began talking about his injury, which at least gave me a chance to avoid any direct questions about his life and times. I can only thank God he mangled his leg or else I would have looked like a total idiot.

We had a rather pleasant conversation, though, especially considering I couldn’t begin to remember who this man was or how I knew him.

We talked about living in Bay Ridge, the scary job market, and the encroaching winter. Imagine if I actually knew who this guy was. We would have gotten along famously.

I felt the conversation slowing down after a short while, so I smiled weakly, held up my paper, and indicated I would read for the duration of what now seemed like an excruciatingly long ride. Can I change my mind of the water-boarding thing?

Forgetting someone’s name, while embarrassing, is not so terrible, given the sensory assault we are subjected to on a daily basis. But forgetting an entire person is terrifying. It’s like someone threw me a surprise lobotomy.

I was wondering if this was an elaborate practical joke. Or maybe I walked into a Hitchcock movie where a stranger approaches me and then all a sudden he’s dead on the ground and the cops are setting me up as a patsy to be the fall guy.

Or is it setting me up as a fall guy to be the patsy? Either way it sucks.

But this was no film noir episode. This felt more like a senior moment. My father suffered from dementia and every time I forget or misplace something, I start to get the nagging feeling that I’m heading down the same trail.

My dad used to laugh about a movie entitled “I'll Never Forget What's'isname.” He never actually saw the flick, or at least he didn’t remember seeing it, but he got a real out kick of the title. I used to think it was funny, too, up until Thursday night.

I suppose the subway story is yet another sign that I’m getting older, along with the various aches and pains and the gray hairs on the parts of my body that I don’t shave.

And the eyesight is fading. I prided myself that at 51 years of age, I still don’t wear glasses. But I fear I’ll have to cave in pretty soon.

I was out on Friday for sushi and when I got the bill, I squinted, cocked my head, turned the slip of paper at every possible angle in search of better lighting and I still couldn’t make out those ridiculously tiny numbers.

Are they just hoping we’ll hand over the plastic and not bother to look?

I finally showed the bill to my companion and asked her to tell me what it said. It was a little embarrassing, but at least I remember her name.

I’ve been watching this TV show, “Life on Mars” about a modern day New York cop who gets clobbered by a car and wakes up in…the Seventies.

This may be the first time I’ve ever seen a time travel story that goes back to a time when I was alive. I forgot how awful the clothing and the music from that time really were, so thank God someone created a show to remind me.

Do You Know Me?

Obviously I’m not the only one with memory problems in this world. Hell, if society didn’t have a collective amnesia, most politicians would never get elected.

I decided I should do something to help myself before I forgot what the problem was, so I did a Google search of the phrase “improve memory” and got 670,000 hits.

Regain a Young Brain, one sponsored link says, though it doesn’t specify whose young brain I should regain. I’ll work with mine, but if there’s a nicer one around I’m willing to take it around the block for a spin.

Memory Formula: $29.99, another proclaims, which is an easy number to remember.

Debilitating Brain Fog? You’re asking me? If I have brain fog, I wouldn’t know it and I’d be traveling on automatic pilot—which sounds like a large portion of my life.

I saw the word “Free” and I clicked onto another link about improving memory, but it turned out to be for computers, not people. Computers don't have to worry about forgetting something. If they do, it's probably your fault.

“Want To Improve Memory?” one headline asks and then answers: “Strengthen Your Synapses. Here's How.”

I thought this meant I had to make my synapses do push-ups and hoist barbells, but it’s really all in my head.

“Stress is a major cause of synapse dysfunction,” the article said. After a couple of rounds with Dell’s Tech Support it’s a wonder that I have any synapses left to snap.

And I was feeling awfully stressed in the subway car Thursday night sitting across from that guy on the crutches. I kept sneaking looks out the window to see how close we were to home.

Damn it, if only I had stayed on the No. 2 at Times Square I never would have run into Captain Crutches. I’m really starting to dislike that guy, whoever the hell he is.

The memory article advises people to reduce stress (good luck with that one), exercise regularly (I knew push-ups were going to be part of this.), do puzzles, and challenge your brain by breaking routine.

Can’t I just eat lots of fish instead? I thought they were good for memory, but then I ate three tons of raw fish at that sushi dinner and I still can’t remember that guy’s name.

I do recall a Three Stooges bit where Larry says “fish is good brain food.”

“You should catch a whale,” Moe says and smacks Larry upside the head—which can’t be good for your memory.

I tried googling “fish + memory” but the first few articles were about the fish’s memory.

One link asked the musical question, Do Fish Have Memories? Well, they keep getting reeled in—just like people during election time-so I guess not.

But there’s evidence to suggest otherwise, according to an article entitled “Three Second Fish Memory Myth”—a great name for an album--which says that a 10 year(?!) study of fish memory “concluded that fish can not only remember in the short term but also rely on long term memory.”

Oh, the poor bastards. You mean fish remember bad break-ups, traumatic childhoods, and the Bush administration? That three-second memory is starting to look pretty good.

You can forget something and then forget that you forgot it, so you won’t be embarrassed about forgetting it in the first place. I can forget Catholic school, freshman year, my last 20 relationships, root canal, the IRS, and anything my boss tells me to do.

You could even forget fact that you spent 10 years of your life trying to prove fish have long term memories.

I got up at Bay Ridge Avenue and my mystery companions got up with me, as this, too was their station. I wished them well, hoped his leg improved, and told him I’d see him around. Then I dashed the hell out of the car and up the stairs.

I’m going to the gym now so I can exercise my synapses and improve my three-second memory.

I'll work out hard and hope I won’t forget how to get home.

And if some stranger walks up and greets me by name, I’m going to slap him across the face with a 20-pound flounder.

He won’t forget my name anytime soon, that’s for sure.


Mrs. Motley said...

Two things: One, the words "encroaching winter" caused a feeling of dread to wash over me, followed closely by stubborn denial, and two, my parents let me watch "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at a much-too-young age and I used to make my Barbie and Ken dolls reenact that scene, with Skipper as the victim - I mean, patient. So your post about memory is bringing up bad ones for me! ;-)

Rob K said...

Wow, and I thought I was tough on my GI Joe!

I'm going through the winter denial routine, too.

...btw, do I know you?!?!

Mark said...

I was going to post a comment but forgot what I was going to say.

Rob K said...

Well, it couldn't have been important then, could it?!

Calamity Jen said...

Mr. Crutches can't have been important, either.

Rob K said...

Who?!?! (oh, yeah...)