Blog: Memory Maven

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Burt Ross

Once upon a time (meaning I don’t have the foggiest recollection of when), I was in the parking lot next to Pavilions when I met a man whose name I have forgotten. He told me he was an expert on retaining facts and figures. He had been on many television shows — the names of which escape me — and also wrote a book, but I couldn’t remember its title if my life depended on it. The man gave me a business card, which I will retrieve if I can ever figure out where I put it.

The man gathered several high school students around him smack in the middle of the parking lot and challenged them to give him numbers which he would recite back either in the same or reverse order of the way they were given to him. And he did exactly what he promised. If the kids collectively rattled off the numbers 10, 72, 53, 49, 91, the man recited them forward and backward without missing a beat.

I have given a great deal of thought to whether I could benefit from some memory assistance, and have concluded counterintuitively that any loss of memory is most welcome on my part. You see, I keep getting more and more input than I can handle. There are emails, texts, phone calls, newspapers, television shows, and so on and so on. Like my computer, my brain has only so much storage capacity, and so it is important — make that mandatory — that I delete some information once in awhile to make room for the incoming data.

I am simply delighted to forget most of the things that depart my brain and, quite frankly, wish they had left me earlier. As for remembering numbers in any order — why bother? Life is way too short for that kind of mental exercise in my demented condition.

I do recall one thing about this entire episode — asking the man if he had any tricks for forgetting things. People always write books about remembering things, but isn’t it more important to be able to forget things? The man was silent. I think I stumped him.

I would love to forget the time I left a Harvard-Yale game with less than two minutes to go and Yale leading by 16 points. Naturally, Harvard tied the game while I was somewhere in the parking lot trying to beat the exodus. I would also prefer to forget the time in college I told the Princess of Sweden that Copenhagen was my favorite city in Europe. 

I saw the man not too long ago, again in the same parking lot. I said “hello” to him, but he had no memory of ever meeting me before.