Everyone experiences memory lapses
April 7, 2009 · Updated 8:47 AM
My byline appears, accompanied by a photograph, with this essay. It’s also the name that’s on all my important papers and cards: birth certificate, driver’s license and Costco. But it’s not the name my family calls me. No, that would be “Mr. Rump Roast.”
It stems from an incident long ago when I was asked to take a large cut of meat to our freezer down in the basement. Somehow, I temporarily placed it instead into a desk drawer where it remained for weeks until it began to smell like a bloated cow carcass. In case you have not recently smelled a bloated cow carcass, it’s not good.
Absent-minded professors are generally considered brilliant and lovable. But I’m not a professor. At least I don’t remember being one.
Sewall Wright was a famous professor who loved doing his calculations on a chalkboard. It is reported that he was once so focused on his work, that he accidentally used a guinea pig for an eraser. Bad idea. Rabbits work much better and cover more surface area.
Albert Einstein, Issac Newton and other genius-types all had their moments of absent-mindedness, too. But, in the end, they did remarkable things. For the rest of us, memory lapses are just plain annoying, embarrassing and annoying. Oops. I forgot I had already used the word “annoying” earlier.
Experts say the phenomenon comes in three different forms:
1 - A low level of attention. This happens when someone, say, doesn’t notice a sign on a door reading “Not an Exit” and steps through it anyway, plunging several hundred feet off a cliff.
2) Intense attention to a single object of focus that makes a person oblivious to events around them. For example, being so focused on getting a good seat at the movies, that one doesn’t notice forgetting to wear pants to the cineplex.
3) Distraction of attention by irrelevant thoughts or environmental events. My nephew once bonked himself badly on the head when he threw a rock into the air and then got distracted by thinking about French fries. True.
For years my mother was convinced that someone had sneaked into her house and stolen her heirloom silverware. Shortly after she passed away, we found the silverware in a box she had hidden in her closet. At least it wasn’t meat.
Nearly two years ago, my wife and I spent a night at a very nice downtown Seattle hotel. A couple of days later she came to me very upset. “I can’t find my diamond ring,” she said. It was one I had given her on our 25th wedding anniversary - a very expensive ring and much treasured. We called to the hotel thinking she might have left it there. Nothing had been turned in. She was broken-hearted.
Almost a month later, she burst into my office with tears in her eyes and a big smile. “I found it!” she announced, holding her ring aloft triumphantly. “I found it way back on the floor of the closet.” It seemed like a miracle.
I immediately determined that the ring would never turn up missing again; so, one night while we were watching TV, I suddenly jumped up and ran out of the room. A few minutes later, I returned with a self-satisfied look. “Where were you?” my wife asked. I told her I had just hidden her diamond ring in a place where it would always be safe and no burglar or petty thief could ever find it. I was very pleased.
Perhaps a month later, my wife decided she wanted to wear the ring for an upcoming occasion. “Where did you hide it?” she asked. I looked at her and just blinked. I could not remember. The location of the ring had left my mind as completely as a Mariners’ box score from two seasons ago.
I tore the house apart, looking up high on bookshelves and down low inside of heating grates. I checked inside of light fixtures, behind picture frames, the back of an antique radio and under the mattress. The search went on for weeks, months - and indeed these past two years. I’d lie in bed at night trying to think of new places I might have missed. Nothing. I gave up.
Three days ago, my wife called me on my cell phone. “I found my ring,” she mentioned, almost in passing. “It was sitting in my jewelry box where I always kept it.” We had never thought to look there. But why would I have looked there? I thought I had hidden the ring in a place no burglar or petty thief would ever think to look.
I just decided to re-write the ending of this column for a better story. Here goes. Three days ago, my wife and I sat down to enjoy a rump roast she had just cooked. As she took a bite, she felt something hard in her teeth. It was the diamond ring that had disappeared two years ago!
I like that ending. At least it makes more sense than the real one.