A Trip Down Memory Lane

Posted on July 18, 2011


If you ask for directions to my home I’ll always tell you to turn onto my street from the main road on the east.   I would never tell you to take the road from the west because I can’t remember the street name, even though I’ve lived here for six years.

Scientists believe Internet search engines are causing poor memory.  I can’t remember which scientists.  And although I read the article, I’m a bit hazy on the details.  The study suggests a so-called “Google effect”, when people who frequently look up information online increasingly have trouble retaining info because the mind only needs to remember where the information can be found and starts using the Internet as a form of external memory.

Many couples discover a similar phenomenon.  One partner remembers the addresses of favorite restaurants and the other remembers dal hariyali is the dish you both like on garlic nan.  If your spouse leaves you, you may find yourself scratching your head to remember the address or even the name of Delhi Darbar, the restaurant you visited once a month for years, which is in fact the place where you met the woman who caused your wife to walk out.

This is why I can’t remember street names: I’m responsible for a sense of direction, and my wife remembers the streets.  I actually have a very good memory for useless trivia, but certain categories of my mind seem to have declined since marriage, and I assume those categories are my wife’s responsibility in our collective memory.  This is my theory for why I can’t remember my theater company’s street, even though I’ve been there dozens of times.  If someone says they want to come to my play and they ask for directions I answer, “It’s on the west side of the river, north of the freeway, east of the park, and south of the train station.”  Then I give them my wife’s number.

My wife is good at remembering our friends’ occupations, so she can nudge me if I start making fun of travel agents.

I’m good at remembering the title of movies my wife has seen five times.  You may find it odd to hear my wife ask me, “What’s my favorite movie?” and I answer, “Strictly Ballroom.”  Perhaps you wonder why she wouldn’t know the name of her favorite movie, and it may even seem like she was asking because she wanted me to choose one for her.

My wife is terrible with faces but great with names.  I’m great with faces but terrible with names.

If we see you approaching us at a restaurant, we’re probably whispering:

ME: That guy over there.  We know him from some place.
WIFE: He doesn’t look familiar.
ME: I’m sure he used to have a beard, and maybe he was wearing glasses last time.  His wife is tall and has red hair.  They have two kids but I don’t remember the names.
WIFE: Oh, his name is Brian.  That’s my brother.

Although she’s great and I’m terrible with names of people we know, I’m great and she’s terrible when it comes to names of celebrities or historical figures.  Last week she was watching TV in another room and shouted to me:

Not Richard Branson, Charles Manson, or Marilyn Manson.

WIFE: What’s that cowboy movie with Richard Branson when he has the harmonica?
ME: I don’t think you mean Richard Branson.  He’s the billionaire tycoon who owns the Virgin businesses.
WIFE: I must be thinking of Charles Manson.
ME: He’s the Helter Skelter killings guy.
WIFE: I thought that was Marilyn Manson.
ME: Marilyn Manson took his last name from Charles Manson and doesn’t seem a likely candidate for a western.  Are you thinking of Charles Bronson?  If so, the movie is Once Upon a Time in the West.
WIFE: That’s the one!

I can always remember her face, although I sometimes forget her name.  She remembers my name, although she often appears confused when looking at my face.  I’m sure we could help each other fill in the blanks–if only I could remember where she was.

Posted in: Family