My mind is a mix between dangerously empty and completely full. It’s overflowing with old, mostly useless information, like remembering the exact spot where I taped the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed poster to my bedroom ceiling when I was in high school. The fact that I haven’t lived in that room for over 40 years does not affect my knowledge of the exact location and importance of this poster, which was like my own personal mistletoe. I also know that Billy Bass was the evening DJ on WIXY 1260, and his favorite make-out song was “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which I haven’t heard played for decades, except for the first line, which frequently gets stuck on repeat inside my derelict brain.
My permanent memory cache is confused, constipated, and mostly outdated, but it’s the data that my mind seems to retain the best. That incident where I stole Randi Finkes’ scarf on the playground in third grade, and proceeded within seconds to split my head open on the steel bars of a jungle gym, is never going to be erased, and I have the scar to ensure that fact. On the other hand, the directions to find the house of the guy whose used car I might buy that he just repeated to me over the phone ten minutes ago are a blur. Was I supposed to turn right on First, or take the first right? Something like that, I’m sure. And I can’t call him back because I forgot where I put his phone number.
So this is the empty part of my brain, the part that is available but completely underutilized. Maybe the problem with my brain is that the part that remembers all the things that happened 40 years ago is prime real estate. It’s the Main Street of my cortex, the Times Square, the Oceanfront property. Unfortunately, all this valuable real estate was bought up years ago at pennies on the dollar. Often these pennies were earned by collecting pop bottles by going door-to-door in the neighborhood, and then returning them to Lou’s Mini Mart for a two-cents-a-piece refund. Except Lou would always say, “You didn’t buy that pop here, why should I give you back two cents? Go take them back to wherever they came from!”
The upside of having a brain full of obscure, dated information is that I tend to do really well at crossword puzzles and games like Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. I play these types of games a great deal, because they make me feel smart, as though all the obscure data that has collected in the central business district of my cerebellum is actually important. OK, maybe I’ll never be an Einstein, but I can often solve the Wednesday New York Times crossword puzzle, and sometimes even the Friday one (as long as I work in conjunction with my wife, who knows an equally impressive set of obscure information that tends to overlap and complement mine).
But the downside of the way my memory storage unit has been organized is that since the prime space was used up long ago to memorize the lyrics to “Rocky Raccoon,” and The Firesign Theater’s “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” album, I am forced to try to remember every recent, and often highly important, piece of new information by using dark twisty alleys and dusty backroads. These places are hard to get to, difficult to navigate, and are often unmarked by street signs. They quickly become obscured by overgrown bushes or blocked by other obstacles, like trying to remember the bar that I first met the deranged-looking man now approaching me, before I have any chance of remembering his name and why it is he has his hand out. Do I owe him money? Does he owe me money? Should I run away and hide or punch him in the nose? The synapses that might access the answers to any of these questions are all occupied remembering the name of the actor who played Dobie Gillis on TV. (Dwayne Hickman! Boy, are you smart!) Yes, every time I remember one of these obscure facts my body gives me a shot of serotonin, which only reinforces the feeling that I am engaged in some useful and important activity.
I could have spent my youth memorizing physics equations or Russian grammar. Then perhaps I would have become a rocket scientist or CIA spy. But would I be any better off today? I still wouldn’t be able to remember the name of my son’s new girlfriend, who he’s already introduced me to twice (both times I called her Jane, instead of her real name, which I still can’t remember). So I’ll just muddle along, forgetting where I parked my car, but remembering the parking lot where I had the radio stolen out of my first car, a 1961 Ford Econoline. But, hey, the joke was on the thief — it didn’t work anyway. Now if only some hacker could come and steal away the parts of my brain that no longer work …