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Memory? What Memory?

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Sue Misao’s writings in a recent edition of the Methow Valley News sparked a note of recognition and failure on my part. She wrote a sort of open letter telling the world that she would not remember peoples’ names, even her next door neighbor’s.

The failure part of this equation comes from my having the same malady. If she is afflicted, it is obviously not just a sign of aging, as the old farts I see every morning at the store tell me. (This in an effort of reassurance, probably more for them than for me.)

For years already I have had this problem. At first, I met it head on with embarrassment, mind racing to make a connection, scuffing my toes in the snow, floor or dirt depending on the location of the encounter and failing. So a “Hi”, or “How’r ya doing?” had to suffice.

This first came to my attention when I passed (retired) president Gerald Ford at a golf conclave. It may have been a good thing, because now what he was out of office, would he still be “Mister President?” I scrambled as I ambled past to remember his first name---we were all golf brethren, after all---and could not come up with either Jerry or Gerald. So going by his chair I simply said something vapid, like “How’re you hittin’ em?” Ex President Ford smiled wanly and nodded.

That nod was the greatest triumph I have had in the world of golf and one I treasure. It is in my bio in the several golf publications for which I write. I’ve interviewed many big stars (of bygone days) and will not drop any names because I don’t want to be mistaken for Bob Cram, who has elevated name dropping to an art form.

Actually, I am cheating here because I got that phrase from the Master Cram his own self when one day he proclaimed, “Spiwak, you have elevated living in squalor to an art form.” I felt it high praise indeed. But I digress.

From embarrassment I graduated to “Oh well...” and would simply chat without worrying about the first name. I might remember the name of a spouse and could sling that out like a Newt Gingrich lie, and the recipient I was sure would know that I know him. Wiser people adopted a quote such as “So wife says to me, John you have to...” letting me off the hook because the name bloomed like herbal tobacco in a tomato patch. John, of course. This could elicit from me a response such as, “Well, John” yatta yatta yatta as though I was REALLY a buddy.

Over the years my technique has evolved to really not caring. The simplest form of this is right off the top asking, “Who ARE you?” or its derivative, “Who are YOU?”

This approach is especially helpful when people approach wearing a bicycle helmet and goggles, looking for all the world like an actor in what has been proclaimed “The Worst Movie Ever Made,” (that being ‘Plan Nine From Outer Space.’) How the hell can you recognize anyone clad in such a manner? Granted, and pardon me feminists, there are some people with bustular endowments that are memorable without a face. But that is another matter, even if I remember most of these persons’ names.

So I offer thanks to Ms. Misao for alerting me with her admission that younger people have the same problems of those of us far longer in the tooth. This has fortified my attitude to reflect that of another hero, Alfred P. Newman of Mad Magazine. ”What? Me worry?”


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