Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What we remember

I have a book scout's visual memory of almost every book I've seen.
Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

Yesterday I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant I had not visited since last year. Usually a waitress serves me, but this time the manager came over. She not only addressed me by name but said, "You like chicken chop suey and tea, right?" She was right.

I am continually impressed when servers do this. During the winter I have breakfast twice a month with a group of guys, and the same woman serves us each time. One man had been missing for a couple of years taking care of his wife, who had dementia and eventually no memory at all. On his first morning back, the waitress said to him, "The usual?"

Former athletes, when they later become color commentators on television broadcasts, seem to remember details of games played years before. They recall who was pitching and what the count was when someone hit a particular home run or what the score was and what defense was being played when a quarterback threw a touchdown pass. I'm lucky if I can remember the score of a game I watched yesterday.

And then we have Larry McMurtry's claim that he remembers not just every book he has ever read but virtually every book he has ever seen. Besides being a writer, McMurtry buys and sells book, so like the waitress and the athlete he remembers what serves him well in his job. Similarly barbers may remember how each customer likes his hair cut and singers may recall the lyrics of hundreds of songs. I guess we can remember, some of us better than others, what we need to remember or what we want to remember. I don't know what it says about me that I remember so much trivia but forget the names of people I meet almost as soon as I hear them.

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