If there is one thing I feel comfortable boasting about (and I don’t usually feel comfortable boasting), it’s that I have an incredible memory. I seem to be able to dredge up a never-ending stream of facts and bits of information that I’ve read about, heard or just bumped into over the years. Unfortunately, the only advantage this has given me in life is to make me a fearsome competitor at Trivial Pursuit and Pub Quizzes. It seems the kind of facts that stick in my head are excruciatingly archane. Things like why bird droppings are white, the nearest common relative the Tasmanian Wolf and the American wolf share, and when cement was invented*. Still, you never know when facts like these will come in handy.
This ability, such as it is, comes with an underlying fear. What if the brain is like a sponge? Perhaps it can only absorb so much, then the overflow of facts comes pouring out. That means that the odd, useless bits of information in my brain might start crowding out important stuff. Like my PIN number. And the Meaning of Life. So far, the leakage hasn’t started. But surely I can’t have too many years left of trivia-gathering before the good stuff starts spilling out.
So in recent years, I’ve started actively trying to block truly useless information from lodging in my brain. Now, this can be a dangerous path. How do you know what information will ultimately prove useless or useful? You never know when a seemingly insignificant fact will be the equivalent of the duct tape, toothbrush and lighter MacGyver can fashion into escape devices for any situation.
However, there are some things I just know I’ll never need to know. A lot of that, in spite of my MacGyver reference, involves Pop Culture. But, hey, just try to avoid it.
I’m probably the only person in America — or make that the greater English speaking world — who has never, ever, ever (not even on the treadmill) watched an episode of Friends or Seinfeld. Yet, to my horror, I can name all the characters, all the actors who play them, synopsize some of the episodes and parrot back some of the catch-phrases. How did this stuff seep in my brain? More importantly, what is it about to displace?
After discovering the Friends/Seinfeld assault on my cerebellum, I’ve turned up the vigilance in recent years. Especially when I realized that one thing in this world is true. It will never be of any lasting value to my life to know even the tiniest thing about American Idol. When, after never watching an episode, I suddenly found I knew the names of all the judges and the top two finalists of the first two seasons, I decided I really needed to build a Masada-like fortress around my threatened grey matter as the hysteria mounted this season. The first line of defense was to cut out all morning news shows which seemed to become All Idol All The Time. Yes, I’ve known for years that you can’t get ANY news on the Today Show, Good Morning America or CBS Morning. But you can get local weather and traffic reports. For that information, I now turned to my Yahoo page. But arrrrrrrg. All the top news stories from all my feeds threw American Idol at me. Even the British version was hurled at me from my BBC feed. So now I’m all up to date on Susan Boyle. God knows what crucial piece of data that info is displacing. Next, I stopped Twittering and only checked Facebook when I had a message or a reply since social media was full of Idol chatter. Then I stopped talking to acquaintances who were caught up in it. Finally, last night, I grabbed Andy and said we had to go out to dinner somewhere to get away from it. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Vans with bullhorns? Low-flying planes with banners announcing the results?
An Idol-less evening was not to be. An ill-advised foray to the web to check the specials at some local restaurants brought up my Yahoo page. And before it was aired on the West Coast, I knew that Kris Allen won over Adam Lambert in, apparently, the biggest politically rigged contest since Carrie Prejean lost the Miss USA title. (And how did that trivia slip in? I’m sure it’s displacing my knowledge of the mating habits of the Blue Footed Boobie or something similarly important.)
If only my brain could be partitioned like a hard drive. And I could periodically erase the Pop Culture junk that sticks like bubblegum to the inside of my cranium.
When I can’t defuse a bomb in twenty years with Blu-tac, a ball point pen and a paper clip, I’m blaming Simon Cowell.
*Bird droppings are white because instead of urine birds produce uric acid. The Tasmanian Wolf and the American Wolf’s nearest common relative is the Blue Whale. Generally, the Romans get credit, if not for inventing cement, for being the first to use it widely. (But then the Romans seem to take credit for everything.)