Thursday, June 13, 2013

Memory is for Minutia

It's funny what the memory considers worth saving and what it tosses away, or loads only in random access that disappears every night during sleep.

When I was a kid my dad was a postman. He had a "letter case" in the basement that he practiced with when he was first taking his test to be a carrier. It's a pigeonhole box with streets assigned to each hole, and then the carrier or clerk would toss flash cards simulating addressed letters into the proper boxes.

Yes Virginia, this was in the dark ages before zip codes and total automation, though there's still some hand sorting of the mail today I'm sure.

In any case I was curious, and like most boys, I wanted to be daddy when I grew up; so I asked him to show me what he was doing. He showed me alright; he taught me the entire city, street by street. Each of 48 numbered Avenues, each name of four alphabets were burned into my brain over the course of perhaps a week of his practice, while verbally calling out the names for my benefit. I admit I reburned those names when I drove cab in my 20s, but it was less reinforcing the memories than taking advantage of them.

A few years ago, as I drove to apply for a job I thought about directions, then the city grid, and then for my "bored with driving entertainment" I named every street from east to west, from the Mississippi border through Minneapolis and two of its suburbs until my rememberance ran into later development that didn't exist way back then. I remembered them all save one; I was pretty happy with myself. It's in the vicinity of 125 streets I named, not a small feat.

When I reached my destination and received my application I sat in the lobby and began to fill it out. The first line, as you might imagine was for my name. So I printed it out...and left out a letter. I left out a letter. Hello? I left a fucking letter out of my own name!

I couldn't very well ask for another application, as if I'd gone outside for a minute and a passing raccoon had ripped my old one from my paw, assuming it to be a jar of peanut butter. And I could hardly tell the truth. "Umm, miss? I seemed to have misspelled my name, could I have a new sheet of paper?" Think about it. Ok, that's long enough.

I had to fudge as carefully as I could, adding in the letter as if I'm just a sloppy printer and not a blithering idiot. I'm not so sure it worked, the receptionist and I had a pleasant relationtionship thereafter but I could be sure she didn't pass that application around so a good laugh could be had by all. She's a nice woman, but I could see her talking to coworkers about the brain dead guy who filled out an application one time that must have smoked so much pot in his day he needs his name sewn into his underwear in case he takes them off somewhere and walks away humming Yankee Doodle.

Of course a page later as I was listing my employers, I made another massive blooper with the dates, and had to make fours into nines and sixes into eights. I could just as well have drawn stick figures between the lines with little blank spaces below as if I'd gotten bored with trying to get a job and decided to play solitaire hangman instead.

But dammit, I can remember every street from Mississippi River Boulevard to Zane. Is this what it's like to be a rain man? I wonder if I can remember the seat numbers of every concert ticket I've ever bought. Obviously I have the space for those numbers in my little brain...CUZ I HAVE AN EMPTY SPOT WHERE MY NAME'S SPOSED TO BE!

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