Thursday, September 27, 2012
Clutter, Part 2
I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life, which is how I accumulated all that clutter in the house to begin with. When I’m not reading, I’m watching TV. I don’t watch as much as I used to, but with 80+ channels available and a public library full of DVDs right up the street from me, I know I’m sure to find something. I don’t get out much.
The trouble is, far too much of what I crammed in there during my younger years stuck. My head is the equivalent of my book room. Book plots, movie plots, favorite lines, anecdotes about authors, and the words to more TV show theme songs than is probably healthy are sitting on the shelves in my brain, waiting for some neuron to trigger them. It’s scary.
Rattling off the names of the Seven Dwarfs is just the tip of the iceberg. I can recite Green Lantern’s oath. I know who Vivian Vance is. I remember the street address of the house I lived in when I was six. I can sing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island—opening and closing credits. Did you know the theme song from M*A*S*H has words? I know what they are. I know a verse to “La Bamba” that didn’t get onto Ritchie Valens’ recording. (“Para ser un gringo, se necessita una botella de cerveza y una gringita. Y arriba y arriba … ”) Thanks to a job at a second-run movie theater in the 1970s, I can still recite whole scenes from Jaws. I can name up to a dozen of Clint Eastwood’s movies, some of which I’ve actually seen. If pressed, I can also come up with a dozen synonyms for “ass,” including a couple in foreign languages.
What good is all this esoteric knowledge? Not much. Unless you’re going on Jeopardy or plan to be a writer, trivia is just that—trivial. A lot of the things rattling around in my head fall into the “worthless” category.
As my hero, Stephen King, once put it: “My head is full of shit.” God bless you, Stevie. At least I’m not alone.
Knowing lots of useless stuff does come in handy when you’re a writer. Anything at all can joggle a factoid, which in turn can trigger a character trait or a plot idea. Thanks to the Internet, I don’t even have to remember it all any more. I just have to know where to look it up. As long as I don’t get distracted and start reading up on stuff and shoving even more worthless knowledge into my head, it works out.
There are downsides to knowing all this crap, of course. Things get crowded out. For instance, I have no memory whatsoever of my high school graduation. I wasn’t drunk or high or anything like that. Apparently it just didn’t make that big of an impression on me. Not like, say, the theme song from Gilligan’s Island did. Sadly, my brain doesn’t pick and choose what it wants to remember. I just shake the box and see what drops out.
Since every good storage system should have a backup, I write things down, or keep research materials at hand. This leads to more clutter in the material world. I can’t get a bigger head. Maybe a bigger house?
With any luck, my trivial pursuits will help me accumulate more bits of printed paper, in particular little green slips with pictures of presidents on them. If not, I suppose I could try out for Jeopardy.
(For the record: that verse to “La Bamba” translates as: “To be a gringo, you need a bottle of beer and a girl.” I learned it in high school Spanish class. There was a verse that translated as, “To get to Heaven you need a really long ladder,” but I don’t remember the Spanish. I once heard a version of “Louie, Louie” where you could actually understand the words, but I don’t remember them now. There may be hope for me yet.)