ON MEMORY, ON 9/11

I have a pretty good memory.  I think.  In any event, my memories are usually visual, like being in a certain place.  For example, since it’s 9/11, when living in Manhattan I used to roller blade all over the place for exercise, sometimes up to Central Park, but most often the route would go from my place in the Village across town to the Hudson River, and then down to the World Trade Center, where I would skate circles around the fountain with the towers above me so tall they seemed to be leaning in toward the center of the plaza.  It was breathtaking, even after seeing it a hundred times.

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photo: http://gwot.sid-hill.us/before911/before911.htm

Anyway, that kind of sense memory, visual, feelings, sounds, smells, is what I remember.  This is great for writing because these memories are a source of material for both story and character development.  Memory also sucks because it comes with regret.  Remembering things that you did or could have done differently.

I am an attorney, which means I went to law school and took the bar exam. Unfortunately, my sense, sight, smell, and sound memories were absolutely useless in that milieu.  Useless.  Sure, it helped me make some great jokes in Civil Procedure I, but that only helps the grade so much.  What one needs to succeed in this environment is a memory for facts and formulae.  Yes, legal formulas, meaning that you can look at a scenario and figure out the legal issues and know what the outcome will be.  If you have this kind of memory, Law Review, clerkships and job offers from large firms await you upon completion of your Bar Exam.

I didn’t have that.  I earned every tenth of a point in law school.  I fought teachers about grades.  I stayed up all night.  Sure, the people with the great memories worked hard too, but because of their talents, they had better results.

Which brings me to the story of Yuske Taniguchi, a young Japanese man who authorities say memorized credit card information of 1,300 customers at his part-time job in a Tokyo mall and then used it basically as extra income.  A lot of extra income.

My question is: can you tell me the number, expiration date and CVV code for even one of your credit cards?  I can’t.  I think I know some of the last 4 digits.  I used to know a lot of phone numbers, until cell phones.  Now, I remember a bean and cheese burrito I ate in Buffalo in 1976, but not the last 4 of my kids’ social security numbers.

Mr. Taniguchi should have gone to law school.  He has a photographic memory, you see, and this is how he remembers every damn thing he sees.  This is a great ability that could be used for good, but I’m not sure I want it.  If you’ve ever been to the beach these days and seen what some people are wearing, well, would you want to not be able to un-see that?  That alone is reason to not want a photographic memory.

The people of Japan admire the ability shown by this embezzler and fraudster, but they also think that his great talent should be used for good. So maybe he shouldn’t go to law school?  Whatever he does next, he’ll have time to decide during his stay in prison.

Memories are good and bad and everything in between.  Sometimes we need to remember things differently to overcome things from the past, or to stop feeling guilty, or regret, or any of the other bad feelings one seeks to avoid.  So even though you can make good money on your memory, be careful what you wish for.

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Pepperdine University flag installation in memory of 9/11. Each flag represents a person who died on 9/11, and includes the flags of dozens of countries.  I like this picture because it looks like a scale-model replica, but it is the view from the bluffs across PCH from the University.

Which brings me back to 9/11.  This is a blog that leans toward the humorous and there’s nothing humorous about 9/11.  It’s one of those things that it will probably always be “too soon” for humor.  Of course, Mel Brooks made hilarious fun of Hitler and Nazis, so you never know.

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The late, great Dick Shawn as “Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ classic comedy, The Producers.               Photo: Embassy Pictures

Meanwhile, until then, every year I remember skating around the plaza, circling the inventively named “Sphere for Plaza Fountain,” by Fritz Koenig.  It’s kind of cool that this is my memory, because that sphere somehow survived 9/11, though damaged, and was eventually returned in late 2017 to the Freedom Tower site through the efforts of a guy who lost his firefighter brother in 9/11. Mr. Koenig died earlier that year at age 92.

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Picture stolen from story that stole it from story about cops looking for something in the fountain, God knows what. Not my picture.

I know, not funny, but it’s nice to have a memory of skating around this sculpture that has become a symbol of NYC’s resilience, and another memorial to make sure we always remember those who were lost and the first responders who gave their lives to try to save others.  Here’s hoping we don’t have to keep erecting such memorials.

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The Koenig Sphere after 9/11.  photo: Ted Warren for the NY Times

And speaking of our strong and brave first responders, that’s another talent that can be used for good or evil, like a photographic memory. All the donut jokes aside, have you seen cops these days? They are ripped.  And some of these guys are huge. The women too! They can take you down like that! Thank goodness they’re on our side.  They could be working for the bad guys, but no, they work for us!  So let’s hear it for their service, and also for the fact that these good people use their talents for the common good.

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The Sphere today in Liberty Park on the southern edge of the 9/11 Memorial.                      Credit: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn for The New York Times

I didn’t know about the sphere until researching for this piece.  I remembered skating around it.   I didn’t think much of it as a sculpture then, but it was large and a good landmark.  You know, “meet me at the Sphere” was probably a pretty common thing to say downtown.

Funny thing though, my novel, Smoking in Bed: dreams of love, sex and terrorism, is a response to the events of 9/11, and in it, there is a sculpture in a plaza that has a big, cast iron head that survives a terrorist attack.  That head has become my own Koenig sphere.  Maybe I knew about it, subconsciously?  Could be.  The book is funny, though.  Too soon?  Read it and let me know.

A lot of the rest of the novel is inspired by real dreams.  Sometimes, you write from memories, sometimes the memories write themselves.  And sometimes the memories suck.

But today, and every year, never forget.

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