Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Memory, Part 2

Recently, a small circle of friends and I were solving the problems of the world over champagne when the topic of discussion drifted to memory. After going around the table, we found that there existed a wide disparity in the area of memories related to childhood experiences. One of the group claimed that her memories of early childhood were vague at best and did not reach back much further than her early teens. My personal memories are of tastes, smells, sensations and impressions which occurred as early as the age of one and a half years. Although I constantly need to play games with myself to remember day to day things, my long term memory is prodigious.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the sandbox in the hof or the enclosed yard of my family's apartment house in Salzburg and gagging as my playmate, Wolfgang, shovelled sand into his mouth with an old dinner spoon. And I remember the smell of peppermint tea. My mother would take my brother and I to a lake in the summer. She would pack a picnic lunch and she would lay a wine bottle full of peppermint tea in the shallow water to cool. When I smell a peppermint tea bag even now I am right back at the shore of that lake. I was not yet two years old.

It seems that everyone has a large capacity for the storage of memory. I believe that the gift of a good memory or the curse of forgetfulness are not at all related to intelligence but are more symptomatic of our processing power. If something is tasted, smelled, seen, heard or felt, then it follows that the information was entered into our hard drive. The retrieval of that information is a processing issue unless, of course, a softball to the temple or a quick trip through the windshield has somehow caused a major data dump.

Some years ago, I embarked on a search to find out just exactly who the fuck I was. I called this search " Just exactly who the fuck am I?" In the early stages of this fact finding mission I developed an exercise that served as a sort of de-fragging mechanism. The early stages of Disk Warrior for want of a better description. I decided that to find out who I thought I am, it may be important to ascertain who I had been, or perhaps better stated, who I thought I had been.

My living room had a large window facing the street and I was in the habit of staring out at nothing in particular when I noticed that there were twelve panes in that window. It was three panes high and four across. For some unknown reason, the number twelve suddenly represented the twelve years I had spent in the hands of the educational system prepatory to higher education. Each pane represented a grade in school and I began to play a game in which the rules were very simple. Every morning, as I prayed at the altar of the caffeine gods, I would require myself to look through the twelve panes, one at a time, and remember a single impression, occurance or sensation related to that particular grade in school. In other words, I forced myself to remember. Watch, I'll do it right now.

First grade: Walking to school in the snow, I picked up a round mass the size of a football and took it to school. Somehow, the heat of the classroom turned it into a hornet's nest overnight.

Second grade: Because I was tall, I got to stand on the desks and put up the holiday decorations that went above the blackboard.

Third grade: Ate school food for the first time...Jesus!

fourth grade:Thought I saw a picture of a girl's thing. Actually, the kid sitting next to me drew a line and said that that's really all there was to it.

Fifth grade: My teacher, Miss Sherzer, had long, strawberry blond hair and after she married the seventh grade science teacher I almost failed to pass fifth grade.

Sixth Grade: Saw my first dirty movie at Karl Reitenbach's house on New year's Eve when our parents were out to a party.

Seventh grade:First became aware of basketball.

Eighth grade: Had Italian pizza for the first time.

Ninth grade: Pulled down twenty-five rebounds in a tournament game.

Tenth grade: Was invited to the senior prom by my friend Barbara whose boyfriend was in Viet Nam.

Eleventh grade: Broke into school with stolen keys and turned a window in the music department into an aquarium...really!

Twelfth grade: Realized that my father was dying.

You see? Its really simple and fun. If you do it often, amazing shit will percolate to the surface. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's tragic. But those memories are in there, they belong to you, and where they may take you is so much better than cable...because it's your life that you are living and you have an inalienable right to reap the rewards of syndication.

Enjoy the reruns.

1 comment:

boulejazz said...

Thirteenth Grade: Shaved your head when everyone else was trying to look like Jim Morrison.

If you really want to get nostalgic, take a little trip back to your home town. Last summer I drove through Claremont and every street triggered dozens of childhood memories. I even drove my old paper route and recalled where the "dead beats" and the big tippers lived.