Thursday, April 15, 2010

#132 - Past Life Regression

Past Life Regression

4/15/10 (#132)

There are two kinds of bad memory: The first is like having a great collection of photographs that have faded over time, yellows and whites merging, crisp edges of foreground objects slowly assimilating into the background. The other is more like a great collection of photographs all categorized in folders in a cabinet, and over time, folders inexplicably disappear. The latter describes my memory.

For instance, I can recall hundreds of mundane moments of my high school English classes, ridiculous minutia that has no value to warrant such long-term storage; yet I can't recall the name of a single science teacher in my high school. Not one. I'm not confident I could even pick one out of a multiple choice list. That file folder is gone. Maybe I took it out to make room in the cabinet for something more valuable - but of course, I don't recall.

The joy of this type of memory loss is that I can't remember the things I've forgotten, so it hardly seems like I've forgotten anything at all. The downside is that people with better memories than I can make me feel like an amnesia victim --"So the Emily you're talking about went to our high school? That doesn't ring a bell. And she was in my Biology class? Huh, I don't remember her - or Biology, for that matter. And you're sure I went to the junior prom with her?")

I've long acknowledged the particular inefficiencies of my memory, and accepted them. So I don't remember my Science teachers - big deal. I can't think of any reason why I need to remember them. (Of course I can't.) But that inefficiency is becoming a problem because of one fairly recent addition to my life: Facebook.

As Facebook users know, the social networking site is uncannily adept at dredging up ghosts of people who had, for all intents and purposes, died to me over 25 years ago. Every few months there is a new wave of Friend requests from people who went to my high school - sometimes identifiable because I remember their name, and sometimes only because Facebook has anticipated the massive holes in my memory and added a version of, "Seriously, you went to high school with him" in the thumbnail caption.

One person sent a "Friend request" that included a personalized note that clearly made reference to some inside joke we had shared in the early 80s - but I couldn't remember the joke. I couldn't even remember the person. It would have seemed like a hoax if we didn't share a couple of dozen common friends. Apparently, the referenced inside joke was something we shared in a Science class.

My failure to remember her makes me feel bad - what kind of unsentimental monster can't remember the people he shared the socially formative years of his life with? But the day before her note, when I didn't even remember that I had forgotten her, I didn't feel bad about it at all. Then she sent a note, and suddenly I felt guilty. I have enough shortcomings in my psyche without virtual strangers reminding me of more.

I still have a handful of folks from my high school in my closest circle of friends, though our bonds were forged after graduation. I've kept in touch with these people because they are friends - as the dictionary defines friend, not as Facebook defines it. As for the other people in my high school, we've gotten along fine without each other for more than 25 years - I expected we'd get along fine without each other for the next 25, too.

I'm sure a lot of folks from my high school are wonderful people today, and if we were randomly seated next to each other on a plane, I'd enjoy reminiscing from Cleveland to Boston. But high school was eons ago, and these people have no context in my life. And I have no context in theirs. (My favorite absurdity is hearing from a senior year acquaintance whose note, in its entirety, read, "Hey Bill, what have you been up to?" Seriously? I'm supposed to document the most essential quarter century of my life, my marriage, the birth of my daughter, my many career changes, all because you pecked out an eight word question on a web portal?)

I admit, there are some wonderful exceptions. I heard from Scott, and as you might by now guess, I had to wrack my brain to recall him. As I looked for clues on his Facebook page, I was completely impressed with the person he is today, felt a kinship in how he wrote about his family, and enjoyed comparing the cardboard castle he built for his daughter with the one I built for mine. (They're both awesome.) Then there's Rob, who I actually remembered (!) but like even more now. There are a few other examples, too. That I knew these people in the 1980s is irrelevant to me - I like who they are now.

I don't presume that old high school acquaintances have been waiting 25 years for the opportunity to get in touch with me. Most folks are just curious, doing the personal version of "Where are they now?", and reconnection rarely involves more than a couple of quick exchanges. Heck, maybe they don't even remember me, and they're just requesting friendship from everyone who is listed in our graduating class, hoping to revive some of the color in the faded photographs of their memory.

I wish I could help. But in most cases, I lost the file with those pictures.

©2010 wpreagan

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

#131 - Girl Scouts and Greed

Girl Scouts and Greed

4/7/10 (#131)

I pause with the refrigerator door propped open, eyeing the visible portion of the colorful box. Its hastily torn end-flaps are tucked into each other, as if a 1/4" tab of cardboard is sufficient security to repel co-workers from helping themselves to a sample. Apparently aware that the vague existential state of the box (Is it really closed, or did the initial opening change the box forever?) might not be sufficient protection, the owner had deployed additional defenses, including the writing of their initials in black Sharpie on two sides of the package, and the strategic placement of a tub of cream cheese atop the box – not exactly disguised, but clearly an effort was made to make them less inviting.

Of course, the words "less inviting" are only used in the same sentence as Girl Scout Cookies if the phrase is, "Eating those nine boxes of Girl Scout Cookies this week has made my physique less inviting."

While many treats are tempting, the irresistibly of Girl Scout cookies is uniquely intense. Sure, there are a few lamas in Asia who have the willpower to resist the allure of the Do-si-do, but in my home, the time between the opening of the box and the deposit of the empty packaging into the recycling bin defies the physics of cookie consumption. That's why it's essential to place them in a hard-to-reach area, so that later (and by later, I mean in six minutes) when I've justified "finishing off the row" in the interest of symmetry and find myself kneeling on the kitchen counter to retrieve them from their "hiding" spot behind the breakfast cereal boxes, the effort to reach them makes me feel that I have earned them. Maybe even one from the next row, too.

But this isn't home, and in the office, different rules apply. Rule #1 in the corporate lunchroom: Do not eat other people's food. I have no trouble abiding when it comes to tuna sandwiches, leftover pizza, or yogurts flavored with weird fruits, but does the expectation of culinary privacy extend to Thin Mints? Of course it does – or at least, it should. But seeing that broken-seal box on the fridge shelf, the lawyer for the committee in my head begins looking for a loophole.

Technically, a loophole isn't necessary. The owner's initials were on the box, so I could easy visit their desk and ask permission. But they didn't scribble their initials on the box as an instruction for how to properly acquire a taste of the contents – the subtext of that all-caps identifier was, "These are mine. Your cookie train doesn't stop at this station."

Besides, one can't ask for a Girl Scout Cookie. They're sacred snacks. If someone has a big bowl of Tootsie Rolls on their desk, sure, ask away. Take three, it will barely show, and there's more where those came from, which is the Safeway just a few blocks from the office. Girl Scout cookies come around only once a year, delivered by pony-tailed pixies who are visible strictly during the cookie season. Plus, thanks to the elaborate structure of the packaging materials, they are in short supply the moment you open the box. (I'm talking about Samoas and Tag-Alongs, which come packed with a care usually reserved for diamond rings, the noisy plastic tray keeping the cookies a safe distance from each other as if science is unsure what will happen if they touch. Compare that to the Thin Mints, which come stuffed like poker chips in dual cellophane tubes. Why the caste system, Scouts? Why are the mints allowed to mingle while the coconuts get solitary confinement?) All the initials do is identify the exact person who will tell me they're sorry, but they "have plans" for the cookies. (Plans? Are you going to take them to an art museum? Bowling?)

There are a few folks in my office who would offer up a hearty "help yourself" if I asked for a cookie, and they'd sound plausibly sincere in doing so – but that's because those people are nice people and they wouldn't dream of calling me on the audacity of my inquiry, which means if I ate one of the cookies, it would taste like a mix of butter, sugar, and shame. No one enthusiastically shares Samoas, because it isn't sharing, it's giving away – and who gives away Girl Scout cookies? Someone might bring in a box with the intention of sharing it with their coworkers, but that's different than writing your name on the box and disguising them amid a refrigerator of packed lunches. Once the initials are on the box, those cookies are off limits.

Which would be fine, if they were hidden up behind some cereal boxes in the break room like you're supposed to do with Girl Scout Cookies. But here they are in plain view between leftover Thai food and a bag of string cheeses, the sweetness dripping from my memory and into my ambition. Surely they can spare one. (Well, three, actually, because I may as well finish off the row.)

The refrigerator door remains propped open. What was I looking for? Oh, that's right – a loophole.

©2010 wpreagan