Hooked on Mnemonics

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 23, 2013

Her name is Gloria.

But I’m so preoccupied with the freckle above her lip, I only grasp her name for a half second, the length of real-time it takes three syllables to get lost in the serpentine chutes of my ear canals instead of arriving at the consecrated memory centers of my brain where they ought to be latching on like barnacles. I’d even settle for a spaghetti-latching-onto-a-ceiling sort of feeling, frankly, in the moniker department.

I know I should remember her name: I’ve shaken her hand and asked her where she’s from and why she’s visiting and I’ve met her soft and shaggy sweetheart of a dog, Velvet. How hard is it to remember someone’s name, for Pete’s sake? Glore-ee-uh. She looks like a Gloria, sounds like a Gloria. She stands there rooted in all her Gloria-ness, in the name she’s presumably had since birth. Her given name. She’s memorable in every way, because she has as many details per square inch as anybody else does. She is unequivocally memorable, in fact: it’s my memory, my ceiling of memory — that is not giving purchase to the spaghetti byte of information. Bummer.

“Memory,” I am about to say the memory affirmation as I stare in the mirror. “By the grace of god, grant me access to you.” A sigh escapes my lips but I trudge on. “Everything I see is being recorded somewhere in the mystery of my gray matter. All the details are mine to access. For the higher good.” And the higher good includes remembering people’s names, please god.

Unfortunately, the next encounter with whatever her name is is a travesty of recall. “Hi Velvet,” I say ridiculously to the dog, as if it were as familiar to me as the name of a favorite uncle. No problem there. Because evidently I can remember dog names! Dog names are not a problem. As for hers — not even letters are coming to me, no clues, no feeling that it might be a round name like Nora or a or a slender one like Jill. No b-b-b-b at the front of my lips or t-t-t.

I do recall she’s from Alexandria, Va. And I recognize the freckle and even remember having thought to myself on the last go-round that the freckle would be at seven o’clock if her face were an analog watch. I remember thinking she had the kind of face that would look good framed in chic and mannish collars, like Katherine Hepburn’s, and then I even remember wondering why waists were so much smaller in the ‘40s. And why life seemed so much more straightforward, happy, and good back then; and for an iota of time I’m sad. Really sad.

At this point, fully extended in a chaise-lounge moment of mental searching and drifting and avoidance, I catch myself, redden, fold up the metaphor chair, and then say offhandedly, as if hers were the only name I’d ever managed to forget: What was your name again??? And then — probably because I’ve just reached my limit of blanking on names — I do what I’ve categorically resisted my whole life, which is what they, the pep talk people, have told us to do all along.
I grasp for a mnemonic device — anything, something, the first thing that comes to mind; and low and behold, it’s a morning glory.

Gloria: she’s a pink morning glory — with a single freckle — spiraling her vine-y way towards her last name, which she tells me now is Campbell. A morning glory wending its time-lapse way toward a summer camp bell being rung for a dinner of chili and corn bread and green beans and ice cream sandwiches under a rising moon. I love the sound of camp bells, even though I’ve never been to summer camp. Even now I love the idea of summer camp. What a beautiful thought. Gloria. Campbell. A tough little delicate flower with a freckle — in the middle of the Adirondacks. It works. It’s a cinch!

The next time, and the time after that her name is rock solid, it’s not going anywhere. Seems like it might work forever, that I’ll never forget this woman, ever again. How is this possible? I couldn’t remember her name and now I’ll never forget it.

It opens up a gigantic world of possibility for me, a world of people who are flowers with faces like clocks, people who are doing any variety of silly things, just as their names imply. Over the next week, I test out my theory and sure enough every name is indelibly barnacled on the pier of memory. I guess my only question now is this: What if I need to forget them?

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