Memory is forever
No, it isn’t, not if you’re old.
My beef about carrying a load of years — 80 and counting — is not about being vulnerable to health issues but about the decline of my memory power. Heck, it’s really irksome to try to switch on my power of recall and all I get is a blank. The vexation I feel is no different from the pique that engulfs me when, starting the car in the morning, all it will do in response is whirr, whirr, whirr, and then after a couple more tries, it goes completely dead. The blankety-blank battery had drained itself during the night without my knowledge, let alone my permission.
Trying instant recall of a fact and not being able to do it at the precise time I need it — tell an interviewer a complicated math quote from Einstein maybe — is not what I am grousing about. It’s being unable to bring out beyond the tip of my tongue a name, a word, a phrase, a punch line, or coax from the recesses of my mind a pretending-to-be-classified piece of information, like where I put down my reading glasses and my cell phone before I went to the bathroom — stuff like those, ordinary things that should stay put on my mental shelf where I can pick them up at will, but don’t.
It’s embarrassing and frustrating to be hit by memory malfunction. Basketball players complain about losing playing time; in my case I lose considerable talking time at the coffee group I regularly join because I also regularly exasperate my kapihan buddies with my forgetting the correct punch line of the joke I dish out.
One time at a dinner I attended, a fellow guest seated beside me cracked: “Wow, this chicken is great. It’s so tender the bones fall apart, reminding me of Bonaparte.” It elicited some chuckles around the table.
Hey, I told myself, that’s a winner. I resolved to use the bon mot at an appropriate occasion. I waited and waited for that occasion to come, and at long last it did. It was the birthday of one of our kapihan members, and he decided to treat us to a chicken lunch. Before attacking the chicken I went to the restroom and rehearsed my lines: “This chicken is so tender the bones fall apart. It reminds me of Bonaparte.”
Back at the table and after a couple of bites of my chicken, I cleared my throat and then launched into my spiel: “Wow, this chicken is great—so tender the bones fall apart. It reminds me of… of… NAPOLEON!”
Memory malfunction again.
Drawing a blank while trying to recall historical trivia—like the exact date Magellan sailed to an island in the Pacific when it was not yet a tourist haven, and got killed—does not bother me. What annoys me big-time is when I’m in the middle of relating a story and I get stuck there because, try as hard as I might, I can’t recall in a snap what the hell is the name of the guy whose funny misadventure is the story I’m telling.
“Remembering names is really problem of old people,” my Chinese friend Lee Hong told me one day. I was then struggling to recall the name of a politician who, I said, could help him if and when he runs afoul of the law. But I could manage was “Si kuwan, si kuwan,” all the while furiously snapping my fingers.
“I tell you Chinese technique for remembering names,” Lee Hong volunteered. “Chinese pair names hard recalling with names of common objects. I show you how technique works. Tell me, what name you can’t recall in an instant?”
“Well, there’s Tapales,” I said, “Tapales is a friend who had a hilarious accident but every time I tell the story his name escapes me, and the impact of the story gets lost.”
“Ah, here’s what you do. Next time you tell story and can’t recall Tapales name, think of object with similar-sounding name.”
“Like tamales, tapayan, tapakan?” I said. “Hey, it works! It triggers a recollection of Tapales!”
“Tell you another Chinese trick for easy recall of names,” added Lee Hong. “We use short names: Go, Sy, Tan, Ang, Lim, Yap, Lee, Ty… Easy to remember, ha?”
“Yeah,” I said. “More so if you pair the names with the word m-o-n-e-y.”
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Mart del Rosario ([email protected]), 84, is a retired advertising-PR consultant.
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