The fact that I can remember Boolean algebra, binary-coded decimal, the names of obscure passers-by in James Joyce's "Ulysses," large swaths of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," members of Elvis Presley's and Johnny Cash's original backup bands, Hack Wilson's single-season RBI record and Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average, but can't seem to recall a name to attach to a familiar face has long intrigued me.
Now I'm quite aware that age plays a role in memory. Lord knows I've personally witnessed, at very close range, ongoing episodes of this nature. Is it a capacity issue? As an avid reader and music buff, certainly there is a somewhat continuous flow of data into my, admittedly, early-generation hard drive. Or, of course, it could well be a glitch in the retrieval mechanism.
Once, as a favor to a longtime friend and imaging technologist at a local hospital, I agreed to a Computerized Tomography (CT) brain scan on the new state-of-the-art machine her department had recently acquired. Understandably, she wanted to assess her "chops" on the new technology and maybe, while she was at it, acquire a hint or two as to my long-acknowledged neurotic behavior.
As I lay there with the X-ray beam circling my noggin, I must admit to a smattering of anxiety. You could almost watch the ill-gotten detailed information concerning my deteriorating brain tissue and structure sneak through the shadows into the next room. There, its cohort, the computer, would lay bare my neural circuitry for all to see.
Interpreting the axial images, of course, is the purview of radiologists, who get the big bucks to assess and diagnose these two-dimensional "slices." Had they been called in on this particular case, however, they might well have run screaming from the room. This is alien territory even for the well-schooled.
In that the CT scan looks at physical reality from a variety of vantage points at the same time, it was no surprise that, to my untrained eye, the scans brought to mind not only Picasso's cubist period but also the "drip" paintings of Jackson Pollock.
The fact that she mentioned that my brain looked like it might be undergoing "the normal shrinkage of age" was of little consequence. As Kid Shelleen remarked to Jackson Two-Bears in the film "Cat Ballou" when discussing his bloodshot eyes, "You ought to see 'em from my side!"
OK, now where were we? Oh yeah. Discussing memory and the lack thereof. There are those who continually lavish praise upon my mental retention capabilities, but, for the most part, that is mostly within the realm of trivia, which I concur is, as they say, well within my wheelhouse.
In other words, when it comes to hanging on to useless information, I have credentials. However, when I'm standing in the produce section of the local market with a glazed-over lost-in-the-ozone expression carrying on a one-sided conversation with an eggplant it matters little that I know who played piano on the Miles Davis studio recording of "Freddy the Freeloader."
Or when I catch myself all dressed up with nowhere to go on an as yet undetermined mission standing in front of my refrigerator with the door wide open and no readily available reason for being there, the fact that I could name the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers late season batting order doesn't provide much relief.
My default fallback position when I'm in the company of a fellow humanoid and, to little or no avail, have begun the process of memory extraction, is to nip the embarrassment in the bud with a shrug of the shoulders and the half-hearted promise that "it will come to me." Seldom, if ever, is that the case, however. I've learned to just move on to whatever subsequent cognitive incompetence awaits in the wings.
In the meantime, there is still the job of uploading literature and music and sports data into that which I laughingly refer to as my storage unit. There is no stopping or even slowing down the process. It's a dirty job and somebody's got to do it! Whether or not any of it ever gets downloaded is problematic, of course.
My memory lapses have long been a running gag within my inner circle of family and close friends. For me, it's gotten to the point where it's almost part of my comfort zone. We probably wouldn't know what to do without each other. If, for whatever reason, my memory one day ceased to give me the slip on a regular basis, I'm not sure what I'd do. No worries, though. I'm sure it'll come to me.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.