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Lament of the Mnemonopath


I only know the lyrics to two songs. The first is ‘Happy Birthday To You’ and the other is ‘Thunderball’, from the movie of the same name. Why I know the lyrics to ‘Thunderball’ but not to “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Smoke On The Water” is unclear to me, and to medical science. My memory is faulty, that’s all. But not completely faulty. If it was, I could live in happy oblivion, like that guy in ‘Memento’.

Although I remember very little for more than six or seven seconds, but I do remember faces with near-eidetic clarity. Not just some faces, but every face I’ve ever set eyes on. This makes my memory troubles in all other areas fairly embarrassing. For example I run into two guys in the men’s room of O’Hare airport. Recognize both of them. If I greet both men (always at the sink, never at the urinal, I have limits) it will invariably turn out I was on an elevator with one of them for two floors in 1978. He has no idea he’s ever seen me before and thinks I’m making a pass at him. But if I don’t greet either of them, it will turn out the other guy was my college roommate for three years. In either case, trying to explain I have undiagnosed brain cancer just doesn’t coupez la moutarde. You know what I say to this problem? I say: he knows the meaning of success/ his needs are more so he gives less/ they call him the winner who takes all/ and he strikes like Thunderball.

Aside from the social discomfort of a bad memory, there is actual danger involved. Before I dropped LSD with my college roommate (just kidding, son, I never touched drugs) I still had a bad memory, although I could at least remember my phone number. Me and my childhood chums did all that typical kid stuff, like making bear traps out of old Ford truck leaf springs and placing them in the woods under a thin covering of leaves. My pals could remember where the bear traps were located. I could not. I’d get as far as “it’s under a pine tree”, but which of the 300 million pine trees in New Hampshire, I couldn’t recall. One near my house, unfortunately, and off I’d go to the hospital to get my ankles pinned back together. The bears thought it was hilarious. Oddly enough, however, I never lose my keys.

Keys, wallets, glasses: I can always remember where they are. Like the back seat of the taxi I was in an hour earlier, or a hotel room in Brussels. But at least I remember. Also, a wealth of useless trivia is at my mental fingertips, and is probably the reason people invite me to so many parties and things. It’s not my juggling, so it must be the trivia. Did you know coffee trees are self-pollinating, or that Itzhak Perlman contracted polio at age 4? I do, and I also know that tarantula blood is called ‘hemolymph’, and it’s light blue. This is the kind of stuff I cling to because I can’t remember the alphabet without reciting it like on Sesame Street, and because although I’ve lived in the same place for fifteen years I can’t remember the streets that make up the nearest major intersection. I’m scared. I need somebody to hold me, but I can’t remember who. Are you my mother? Are we friends? And who wrote the preceding paragraph?

A person doesn’t have a memory like mine and not learn a few mnemonic tricks to help him through that thing I just forgot the word for. So here are some little exercises to help even the most absent-minded among us do whatever it was I was talking about.

1. Write it down on a piece of paper. Then all you have to do is remember the piece of paper. For this reason, I wear paper pants. Because 9 times out of 10, I remember my pants.

2. Practice word association. Say you need to remember someone’s name is Reginald. Merely come up with a little rhyme that incorporates the name, like so: “I once knew a hamster named Reginald/ That thought Jayson Blair was original”. See? Now you remember Jayson Blair’s name.

3. Habits. Always put things in the same place and you will always know where to look for them. This is why they don’t move the Eiffel Tower around France, even though it’s portable. The Eiffel Tower requires 50 tons of paint every 7 years.

BEN TRIPP can be reached at

His book, ‘Square In The Nuts’, has been held up at the printers by thugs but will be released as soon as hostage negotiations conclude.

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