Category Archives: Memory

Why Did I Come In This Room?

If even one person says “That’s never happened to me”, I swear I will hunt you down and hide your car key(s).  Notice that late model cars only have one key that does everything.  You used to have one ignition key and another to open the doors and the trunk. Perhaps I will only hide one of your keys.

The occasion is that this morning, I moved from the computer room to the living room because I was looking for…what was it I was looking for?  I was standing in front of the couch, and suddenly my brain went blank.  I had all the memory of an embryo.  If I needed two neurons to fire at the same time to come up with a thought, apparently one of them was asleep.  I stared at the couch, the coffee table, the armchair, the lamp.  I’m convinced they knew what I was looking for, but just weren’t saying.  Furniture is so cruel.

Suddenly that sleepy neuron woke up.  Oh yeah, it’s the Bluetooth.  I needed to charge it.

Another popular destination for “Why am I here?” is the refrigerator.  I once found my cellphone in the refrigerator, and the milk on the dining room table.

And then there is losing things.  In the last month I lost a makeup bag with $200 in it.  (I had cleverly concealed it in a non-wallet.)  I lost my car key (I’m using the spare).

I’d say that the most popular things to lose are eyeglasses (including sunglasses), cell phones, car keys,  and (drumroll) computer files.

But when you walk into a room where the furniture isn’t speaking to you and you can’t remember what you’re looking for, that’s a different story.

Backyard Oasis

I took this photo last Saturday while standing under the protective canopy outside the door, because I was so struck by the beauty of the scene.  It was absolutely pouring rain, which obscures the forest behind the trees you can see clearly.

Looks like a park, doesn’t it?

I live a half-mile north of the Interstate (I-10) and the city limits, and about two blocks from the major north-south highway (U.S. 27) through Tallahassee.  So how, you might ask, is such an urban forest of 11 acres allowed to stand?  That’s a long story.

But every day that I come home from work, I take U.S. 27 to a tiny street called Ray Road (one block long) into my neigborhood and the first thing I see when I turn onto that street is a wall of trees straight ahead.  A side view of the forest.  And no matter how stressful my day has been, I am instantly calmed down.  There is no medication that would work better, and anyhow, medication wears off.  The forest never does.

I then take another tiny street (Laris Drive), a two-block street, for one block and then I turn onto my own tiny street, which is an amazingly long four blocks.  And there I am, home to the oasis in the middle of an urban environment.  My neighborhood is basically a dead end neighborhood, though it is not a cul-de-sac.  There are four ways in and out, but you can only go so far.  You can go in from the west (U.S. 27) but you can’t go far east, for it dead ends.  You can only go in and out from the direction you came in.  It’s pretty funny.  We humans think when we’re lost, that if we keep going, we’ll come to somewhere else.  The last thing we think of is turning around and going back the way we came.

Because of its isolation, I’ve learned that many long-time residents of the area don’t even know my neighborhood exists.  Those who do, know you can’t get anywhere from here.    So it’s like a secret garden.  There is almost no traffic or noise.

Just to the left of center in the picture, you will see my tiny picnic table, which will comfortably accomodate two people, and in a pinch, four.  But mostly it’s just me–reading and thinking.  I have most of my best National Geographic moments here, all of which are not welcome.  Especially when insects are involved. I searched forever online for this table, because my primary requirement was that it have separate benches.  You can’t imagine how difficult that was to find.  I finally found, and ordered, this one from British Columbia.  I dread the day when it fails, because wood does not last forever.  Last year a carpenter bee drilled a hole in the end of the table and made it her home.  That was…Not Fun.  So natural weathering is not all there is to worry about.

Last week I had two National Geographic moments.  I went out and heard some kind of bird calling that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like somebody was strangling a baby duck.  Then, there was another.  Because the trees are so tall, I usually can’t see the birds, I can only hear them.  I finally decided they were baby hawks, practicing talking to each other.

The final NGM was, a kerfuffle developed almost right in front of me.  In the summer, I have a profusion of shrubs and vines that the Cardinals love to nest in.  The kerfuffle was a fight between a squirrel and a female Cardinal.  The only thing I could think of was that the squirrel was after the Cardinal’s eggs.  But wait..do squirrels eat bird eggs? (Yes.)  And wait again…I thought birds only had baby birds in the spring.  (No.  Cardinals have 3-4 broods per year.)  It turns out I was accidentally right.

But what a sight that was.  Initially there was a lot of rustling of leaves and squawks of various kinds, but it was all hidden from view.  Eventually the squirrel retreated, though not far, to a small branch right above the shrub, where he or she chattered quite aggressively.  Then the Cardinal emerged and hovered in the air, madly flapping her wings in his face and screaming.  She won.  The squirrel retreated further up the tree and gave up.  You go, Girl!

I guess it isn’t exactly like seeing a black rhino in the wild, or swimming with dolphins, but I long ago developed the ability to take great pleasure in small things.

One day I will have to give this up, because I simply won’t be able to afford it any more.  I hope that’s a long time coming.  In the meantime, I intend to etch it in my memory and wring every possible moment of joy from it that I can.

An Ode to Post-It Notes…and Greenies

A few words about book-reading.  To an extent, the Kindle has spoiled me.  You can highlight passages to remember for later, and in fact, you can write notes to yourself–which I don’t do, so I’m not even sure how that works.  So now I will reveal my method for remembering passages from library books.  It’s considered very bad form to dog-ear pages, or underline, or highlight in a library book.   Although I have gotten library books where people have, in pencil, corrected mis-prints by adding an insertion mark and the missing word, or crossing out unnecessary letters.  Every time I see this, I think, this person must have been an English teacher!  I’m pretty particular about words and language myself, but I am not that obsessive.

So my secret is–Post-It Notes. How did we ever live before Post-It Notes?  I consider them one of the finest achievements of mankind.  Forget the airplane and cell phones and the Internet.  Post-Its rank right up there with Greenies Pill Pockets.  These are yummy little dog and cat snacks with a hole in the middle.  They are very soft, so you can insert a pill into the hole, close it up, and feed it to the dog or cat without losing your hand.  Since my dog Troughton has to have thyroid pills twice a day, and since he’s a Doberman, I just can’t overemphasize how Greenies have changed my life.  And anyone who has ever tried to give a pill to a cat will grasp this even more.

There are a bunch of jokes out there about how to give a cat a bath, or how to give it a pill.  Most of them start with, “First, put on a suit of armor”.

You can get some cat antibiotics which come in liquid form.  I once had to give a cat liquid Ampicillin,and he loved it.  It was cherry-flavored. But every time before we got to the point of him loving it, I would have to hold him down and force his mouth open.  That was the Not Fun part.

But back to Post-Its.  What I do is put a Post-It on that first blank page just behind the front cover (there’s a name for that page, but…)  Then I write down page numbers on it when something in the book I really want to remember really jumps out at me.

This is not a foolproof system. One thing that happens is that I read a lot at my picnic table in the back yard, weather permitting.  Something will really stand out–a quote or a description, usually–and I won’t have a pen.  The other thing that happens is that after finishing the book, I’ll go back to one of those pages and not be able to find what I thought was so fascinating there.

I have to laugh at myself and my failures of memory.  On the other hand, when I think back, my memory is far more detailed now than when I was younger. In those days, while I read just as much,  many more issues and priorities intruded. Primarily what I will politely refer to as, hormonal issues.

So the book I just finished, “The Lost City of Z”–about which I intend to post more–was a two Post-It Note book.  The book was very rich.

9/11/11

Today, I’ve deliberately stayed away from the televising of the memorial service, but in the last two weeks, I’ve watched three programs about the event. 

One was actually a series of several episodes on the Discovery Channel called “Rising”, about the building of the 9/11 Memorial.  It’s an unbelievable feat of construction, architecture, design, art, human imagination and the human indomitable spirit.  It focuses primarily on the construction challenges, and I found these fascinating.  Plus focusing on the mechanical aspects allows you to temporarily put aside the emotional aspects of 9/11–but not entirely. 

In one episode, one of the construction supervisors is permitted to visit the plant where the names of the victims are being engraved on bronze plates.  These plates are on the edges of the two reflecting pools.  These two pools are squares which sit on the footprints of each tower, and waterfalls cascade down each side of the cube.  This supervisor was playing a critical role in getting the pools completed in time for today’s memorial service–and they were successful.  He is allowed to start the engraving machine, then watch while it engraves the name of…his little brother, who died on 9/11 and whose remains have never been found.  When the engraving is done, they wash the metal with water to cool it down.  He touches his brother’s name through the water and says, “This is my brother now”.

The second program I watched was on The Learning Channel, and was called “Heroes of the 88th Floor”.  It focuses primarily on the survivors, who are somewhat of a forgotten group.  The trauma they experienced was extreme.  In one scene, they interview a subway train driver (who to my surprise, are still called “motormen”).  His train was under the South Tower at the moment the plane hit, which he could feel–it shook the train.  At the next possible moment, he stopped the train and ordered everyone off.  Then he left himself, abandoning his train.  This is probably unprecedented.  He had no idea what was happening, but somehow he had a sense of doom.  Since that day, he has been unable to work, due to PTSD.  There are many varied stories on this note.    Firefighters who were blinded and insisted on returning to work as soon as they were medically cleared, and many others like the motorman.  I think it’s wrong to judge who is “braver”.

Finally I watched an overview special on NBC News Friday night, narrated by Tom Brokaw. 

One of the things these programs have in common is the inescapable video of the plane hitting the South Tower.  (To my knowledge, there is no video of the plane hitting the North Tower.  So at first, they didn’t even know what happened.  It may have been an internal explosion.)  Fortunately, although it was mentioned, there was no footage shown of people jumping from the towers.  Those photos, more than those of the planes hitting the South Tower, are etched in my memory as the the real horror of 9/11.  I can’t bear them. 

I asked my good friend who is a doctor whether he would have stayed or jumped.  He said he would have jumped.  I would have stayed.  That’s a very bizarre conversation to be having. 

That day, they shut down and evacuated the two tallest buildings in Tallahassee–the Capital and the Education building.  I thought, how silly.  What terrorist would want to target Tallahassee?  Then it dawned on me:  The governor (Jeb Bush at the time) is the President’s brother.  At the time, who knew what the motivation was, or who might be targeted?  You didn’t have to be in New York or Washington D.C. to be plunged into fear. 

All that said, the main reason I’ve avoided it today is that the emotional impact is high, but that isn’t the main reason.  It’s that the constant repetition tends to dull that impact.  You start to get numb.  It’s inevitable.  It’s like hearing that another suicide bomber or IED killed X number of people in…fill in the country.  And I don’t want to become numb. 

I Wonder Whatever Happened to Whatshisname?

There is apparently a very tiny storage area in my brain dedicated to remembering people I’ve lost touch with for years or even decades.  Normally it’s dormant, but once in a while a neuron fires or something and I suddenly recall one or more of those people.  And don’t try to kid me–you know you have the same tiny storage area. 

So today it was Don and Pat .  They were my next-door neighbors in Norfolk, where I only lived for a year.  The morning after our first night at the house, I let the dog out, and next thing I knew, there was a terrible braying racket from next door.  What the hell? I thought.  Do the neighbors have a donkey? 

It turned out to be a Basset Hound named Droopy.  Don and Pat were kind of apologetic about that, saying their grandchildren named him.  I thought it was perfect.  The long ears, the long drooly dewlaps. 

Droopy had only one major problem, which is that he weighed 90 pounds.  Now, Bassetts are pretty hefty dogs, but…still.  Pat told me that all three of them were on a diet, but they were having a lot of trouble with it.  When they were having snacks, Droopy wanted whatever they were having (of course), and they could not deny him.  He looked so sad if they tried to keep from it.  (A specialty of Bassett Hounds–looking sad.)  So they were feeding him peanut butter and chocolate. 

Diplomatically I said, “Chocolate?  Shit, Pat, you are killing your dog!”  And she said, “I know.  I just can’t help it.”  Damn.  After that, there is nothing left to say. 

My dog at the time, Troy Russell, was ever so glad to have a dog playmate.  He and Droopy would run the fence between our two yards and pose in mock-fighting stances and yak it up.  The only thing that could stop them was if one of the people came out.  It would be hard to overemphasize how fearful TR was of people. 

But Don, bless his heart, made it his mission to get TR to allow him to touch him.  Every day, Don would stand patiently by the fence.  That would scare TR away.  But he was torn between his desire to play with Droopy, and his fear of Don.  I am so lucky.  I was there the first time TR allowed Don to touch him.  I swear, it was a magical moment.  I don’t know how to describe it.  It was like the first video of men walking on the moon. 

After that, Don kept being there every day.  He would scratch TR behind the ears and say, “How you doin’, buddy?”.  It was an absolute turning point for TR.  He never got to the point where he was totally comfortable with strangers, but he stopped being sure that everyone was out to kill him.  He was willing to give strangers a chance. 

So then I moved away.  It was 1999.  After that, there were a couple of letters back and forth and a Christmas card or two (that’s before I had email) and then, it drifted off.  As things tend to do when you don’t have email or Facebook. 

Troy Russell was about six years old when we moved there.  Still young and full of life despite his fears.  He was a red Chow mix, fluffy all over with a great flag of a tail.  He lived to be 13, which shocked everyone who knew him (especially me).

Troy Russell resides in a different compartment from the “Whatever Happened…” one.  That one I really can’t access unless that random neuron fires.  TR is in the “I could remember this if I wanted to, I just don’t want to” compartment.