Tag Archives: memory

Anyone know where I put my keys?

“Who was it that went to the piscine?”my wife asked the other day as she walked into our family room where I was sitting watching television.

I wasn’t sure what sparked the question, although conversations about the French language have recently been popping up in our home as my son is taking the class in middle school. It’s a story I’d shared with her before.

“Phillipe” I responded. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life!”

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When I started taking French classes in New York, in 7th grade of Junior High (that’s what us old people called “middle school” back in the day) we had a French textbook that we would read from.

“Open up to lesson one, we are going read aloud” the teacher would say. She would always read the lines first so we had at least some guidance as to how we should sound.

Speaker 1:  “Où est Sylvie?”

Speaker 2:  “Au lycée.”

Then she would point out some poor kid in the front row to start and one by one each student in class would read the two-line conversation, trying desperately not to mangle the words.

Once the last student had read, the teacher would continue.

“Please turn to the next page.”

Again she would read first before asking each student to read aloud.

Speaker 1: “Où est Phillipe?”

Speaker 2: “À la piscine.”

Some kids would get it right, some would get it sort of right. Some kids, especially those with the thickest Long Island, New York accents, would read the text and the teacher would follow-up with a long dissertation on tongue placement, including lots of nasally sounds and exaggerated lip formations.

During that one year of 7th grade French class I’d estimate each student read those four lines somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,726,864 times. Who says rote school lessons don’t work?

I never really learned much French even after taking four years in secondary school and another two semesters in college. I just was never very interested, I guess. But, I’ll tell you this… when I’m on my deathbed someday, I’ll still know where the hell both Sylvie and Phillipe were!

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In my junior high school there was this kid named Peter Curto. He was an eighth grader when I was a seventh grader. Peter was a tough kid, with long, sandy brown hair and always dressed in jeans, heavy black boots, a t-shirt and even while inside the school he’d be sporting one of several denim jackets he owned that were decorated on the back with full-size appliqués of rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult. Our school called these kids “heads” back then or “dirtbags” if you really wanted to pull out a derogatory description for someone.

Peter was not a mean guy, at least not that I remember. He wasn’t necessarily intimidating like some of the kids in junior high that looked like they were thirty-five years old with beards and muscles and thick silver chains connecting their wallets to their belts, while I was working my hardest to just barely sprout out a few pubic and armpit hairs.

I knew Peter smoked cigarettes and assumed he was involved in plenty of other illicit activities. I sometimes wondered what his home life was like, but in reality I didn’t really know him very well. But for whatever reason he would often sit at the same lunch table with me and my posse of unbelievably dorky friends. There we would be, clustered around a table in the cafeteria, my friends and I dressed in khakis and Izod polo shirts and eating Wonder Bread Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches that our Mom’s had made and packed up in a brown paper bags for us to bring to school. And there would be Peter Curto, in the middle of all of us, perhaps like a bouncer or security guard, but more likely standing out like a Biker at a Mensa convention.

One day during lunch, Peter came to the table a little bit late, carrying a banana. He sat across from me and I watched as he cracked the stem of the banana and started tearing its yellow peel off. He didn’t say anything to the group, just worked on peeling that banana until he was holding the bottom like a handle with three or four sections of peel hanging over his hand. Then he took a big bite, chewed it up and swallowed it, looked over at me and said “man, I fucking love bananas!”

That’s it…that’s the story.

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I don’t know why I remember that day or more specifically that five or so minutes of my life. Or those four lines from my 7th grade French textbook. It’s really not information that needs to be socked away in my brain like some important document or cherished family heirloom tightly secured in a lock-box at the bank. There are many other seemingly irrelevant moments in my life that I clearly remember as well, to the point where I have this mental list in my memory of minor events, conversations, passing happenings, that frankly I shouldn’t be remembering but likely always will. Remembering each one, of course, reinforces it even stronger.

Sometime as I get older and more forgetful, I wonder how much brainpower and space this stuff is taking up.

If I could get rid of some of these memories, maybe I wouldn’t have such a hard time remembering where I put my keys.

Perhaps I left them “á la piscine.”

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Language of the 10 Year Old

Today was a good “spend time with my kid” day.  This morning my son J and I got up early and spent the morning helping some nice folks at the local historical museum move some boxes and tables and displays they had set up for the Christmas holiday.  I am a Scout leader and we and another family had volunteered to help out for about an hour.  J and I had breakfast beforehand at the local eatery and then went and did our work.  Later in the day we started working on building our pinewood derby cars, another scout activity, for the race that will be held next weekend.  Finally, this evening  J had a flag football game which my wife and I went and watched (and which they won).  So now I sit here, at the keyboard, a glass of wine by my side, feeling like I did, at least in some part, my fatherly duties today and I’m ready to blog a little.

In the truck on the way home tonight, after commending my son for playing a great game, throwing in a little constructive criticism, and talking about football, I mentioned to him that I would need to use the computer tonight when we got home.  He said, “that’s ok Dad, I can watch the two shows that M (sister) recorded for me on the DVR today.  “What are those”, I asked.  He said some word that I didn’t understand, and I just chalked it up to him speaking “language of the 10-year-old” which is some kind of ancient mysterious mythological Japanese influenced futuristic video game language.  I haven’t learned to speak it but there is a lot of talk about Bakugan’s and Pokemon’s and G-Power and battles and HP and dragonoids and other stuff that I haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce or spell.  He speaks it a lot and often because I don’t have any remote clue as to what he is talking about, I stare at him like some kind of simpleton and repeat the following  phrases over and over;  “uh-huh, okay, yeah, uh-huh, that’s really cool.”  Regardless, we drove home, grabbed a bite to eat, I fired up the laptop, he fired up the TV.

Shortly after getting settled I glanced up at the TV and saw these Lego ninja guys running around on the TV screen.  You know those little Lego guys with the yellow heads that are shaped like the propane tanks that are hooked to your gas grill, but whose popped-on hair rivals the best styled guys at a hollywood awards show.  Those little guys whose hands are just a “C” shaped curve so they can carry their little Lego tools. Those guys with their big square legs.  Those guys that hurt like a son-of-a-bitch when you step on them!  There they were, little ninja versions, alive on the screen, moving around with elbows and knees and their mouths moving and their eyes blinking.  I’m gonna tell you, right here, right now, it was a little creepy! It was like some kind of nightmare you might have on a Christmas night, after drinking too much wine and rum-soaked egg-nog and after helping your son build the five or six, 800 piece Lego kits that Santa Claus brought down the chimney.  It was like a 2011 version of the classic Nutcracker Suite, with Lego characters coming to life and battling their enemies with knives and swords rather than the little German girl dreaming of her Nutcracker Prince coming to life and winning that epic battle against the Seven-Headed Mouse King.  Okay, yeah, you’re right, that’s tons more creepy and demented……..

In any case, as I looked over I asked, “Hey, are those Lego guys?”  “Yeah, Dad” he said, why else would it be called Lego Ninjago you dumbass?”  Ah ha!  There was that word that I heard in the truck on the way home, that “language of the 10-year-old” word that I hadn’t understood. Of course he didn’t really say “dumbass” although the intentions were clearly there.  I wanted to say “sorry I don’t speak ‘language of the 10-year-old’ and I didn’t really understand you in the truck, but I didn’t want to make you repeat it like 10-12 times cause I was pretty sure I still wouldn’t understand it and then we would have had one of those conversations where I say, ‘uh-huh, okay, yeah, uh-huh, that’s really cool’.”  But I pretended that it all made perfect sense to me and that I wasn’t creeped out by the little Lego Ninja characters and that I wouldn’t have nightmares about them climbing up the stairs tonight and tying me up like the Lilliputians restraining their giant Gulliver.

When the show ended, J looked over at me and asked, “Hey Dad, you know those Ninjago Spinners that I told you about that if you lose, the guy loses his weapon?”  “OK Steve”, I thought, “don’t panic, search the memory archives, where it is, where’s that conversation, I know it’s in there somewhere, filed along with all the other eight million things you’re trying to remember, filed under “N” for Ninjago Spinners, c’mon buddy, you can do it, it’s  right there, it’s right there….. ”  I visualized my little green “loading” bar, just stuck there, not moving, no longer processing….  “Oh shit, the connection is down….. no it’s not there, it’s lost, its mis-filed, it’s been fed through the early onset memory loss shredder!!!!”  “Uh, yeah, okay buddy, yeah I know, what about that?” I anxiously replied.  “Well” he said, “if you ever buy that for me, get me the red one.”  “Okay buddy, cool” I said, and J walked away satisfied with my response.  Phew!  That was a close call, I was almost discovered as being ignorant and uneducated in “language of the 10 year old”.  That must have been one of those conversations that ended in “uh-huh, okay, yeah, uh-huh, that’s really cool.” 

A few minutes later I turned back to the TV and an episode of Sponge Bob was on.  “Much better”, I thought, “I love Sponge Bob, he speaks English, he makes me laugh and he doesn’t give me nightmares!”

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