83: The Age of Forgetfullness

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a continuation of previous essays about the affect of ageing on me published on this web site.

Submitted: January 10, 2019

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Submitted: January 10, 2019

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83: The Age of Forgetfulness

Next week I’ll be 83. I’ll have to renew my drivers license for another five years, which California allows its senior citizens to do. The California driver’s handbook (English version) has 113 pages! I am sure that my computer has enough memory to store all that information, but I know that my brain doesn’t. I have been driving for 67 years and haven’t had an accident or a ticket in the past 40 or so. So why should I be concerned? Because many of the questions on the written test have nothing to do with actually driving a car.  For example: You have been involved in a minor traffic collision with a parked vehicle and you can't find the owner. You must: the correct answer is: leave a note on the vehicle and report the accident without delay to city police or in unincorporated areas to the CHP. I’ll have to write that on the cuff of my shirt sleeve, if it will fit. Another cute one is: To avoid last minute moves, you should be looking down the road to where your vehicle will be in about:the correct answer is 10 to 15 seconds. I know that 60 mph equals a mile a minute, and 15 seconds is one quarter of a minute so I should look where I will be in one quarter of a mile. What does a quarter of a mile look like? Well, one mile is 5,280 feet, divided by three equals 440 yards, divided by four equals 110 yards, a little bit longer than a football field. I haven’t been to a football game in about fifty years, so I can’t easily visualize that. I’ll just have to use common sense.

In any case, taking the test is only a minor inconvenience that I probably will not have to deal with again. It is the everyday irritation of dealing with memory loss that is really annoying. Forgetting where you put things, forgetting people’s names, forgetting to do things that you’ve done all of your life. It is as if your brain is running out of memory the way your computer can (in the old days of the Apple 2e). It would be nice if we could delete unneeded memories from our brains the way we can delete them from our I pads and computers. I mean delete them voluntarily, not by shock . 

Fortunately, my reasoning abilities and eye and hand coordination seem to be intact. I can still type reasonably well and play a respectful game of pool. For some reason I often misspell words by reversing the order of the letters. When I typed “game” the first time I typed gaem and “time” just came out itme. I often leave out a letter in a word or duplicate one. Spelling correction soft where was made for people like me.

While playing pool I still can make the basic shots and some of the harder ones. I recently made a 3 rail “kick” shot. The game is basically plane geometry in motion. It is all about angles. A bank shot is the mental creation of an isosceles triangle (angle in = angle out). That is what the diamond marks on the pool table are for. A cut shot requires visualizing the angle between the object ball and the pocket.  When I was in grade school we had to memorize multiplication tables (8 X 8 = 64) etc., which I still remember. I can still do many math calculations in my head, because they don’t require a lot of memory, just the application of thing I already know. Now they allow student to use calculators, and when they graduate from school, they can’t figure out how to make change in their head. That is unfortunate, because learning math teaches you how to think logically.

Driving a car is getting to be more of a challenge, especially at night. I stay in the right-hand lane as often as possible. Most people are in a hurry to get somewhere, I am not. I drive within the speed limits, but this is California, so cars go whizzing by me all the time. That is not a criticism, it is just a fact of life. When I was young and single, I used to drive close to 100 mph thru the dessert on the way to Las Vegas. Everyone did. That’s how Sammy Davis Jr. lost an eye and Jane Mansifield lost her head. Sinatra was smart, he took a helicopter. “Vegas” was much different in those days. Five dollars bought you a quality breakfast buffet, and you could see top name performers like Louis Prima and Kelly Smith for the price (3$) of a cocktail. The headline performers would be seen on the casino floor, not holed up in their hotel rooms. One night I walked into the Sands casino (it is no longer there) at about 2 a.m. and was surprised to see a large crowd standing around one black jack table. Curious, I walked over there and saw Frank Sinatra dealing blackjack. It was like a scene from out of his movie, “The Man with the Golden Arm”. Another time I was playing black jack sitting in the last seat to the dealers right. I was looking down at my cards when I became aware of someone standing to my left. While I was still looking at my cards, I saw a hand reach into the dealer’s chip tray and pull out a hand full of black chips. I was shocked, I thought this guy was going to be shot. Everything came to a halt. I looked up and Lou Costello was standing beside me with the chips in his hand. The pit boss came over and greeted him and counted out the chips. He wrote up a marker and Lou signed it and the game resumed, with him still standing besides me. That was strange, because players were not allowed to do that and there wasn’t any place marked on the table for him to get his cards. But things were about to get stranger. He bet the $500 maximum on every hand, doubling down whenever possible. When he wanted to take a card, he would slam his fist down the table and yell “hit me!”  My chips would jump in the air. This went on for about ten minutes, after which Lou had more than doubled his chips. The floor man came over and gave him his marker and he walked away. I don’t remember him saying a word to anyone.

That was “way back when”. Back when my reflexes were fast, and my eyes were sharp. Which brings me back to driving. It is true that driving is the only practical way go anywhere in California. If you can’t drive, you are essentially confined to your home or dependent upon someone else to take you where you want to go. I will not drive anywhere that takes me more than about an hour to get there. My car and me are to old to attempt anything more than that. With more than 170,000 miles on it my little Honda del Sol is still in fairly good shape, sort of like me. I change its oil every 3000 miles and I go to the gym twice a week. I recently found out what the lineage of my car is. I was having dinner with my son and some of his friends in the Bay area when the conversation turned to cars. One of them had just bought a Tesla and my son and I had gone out to admire it, a great looking and performing car. I mentioned that I drove a Triumph TR3 when I was younger, and he said that he used to own one too. Then my son said that he was the original owner of the Del Sol, he had bought it from him. My son then sold it to his younger brother, who traded it to me for my car. The relationship between my oldest son, my youngest son, and cars goes back about thirtry-five years. He is seventeen years older than his brother. One day the three of us were playing “around the world” on a basketball court, when his brother was seven years old. To our amazement, he was making shots one after another. As he moved around the circle his brother would say “If you make this I’ll give you…” (I forget what each item was). When he got to the farthest distance from the basket, I didn’t think he could even reach it. His brother was very cocky, he said, “OK, if you make this, I’ll buy you a car!” A one-handed heave sent it thru the center of the hoop. When he graduated from high school his brother bought him a car!

These events illustrate the unpredictable nature of memory loss. I can clearly remember things that happened thirty or more years ago while forgetting something I did five minutes ago. It is as though my sub-conscious is making instant decisions about what is important and what is not. I do not have any deliberate choice in the matter. Sometimes the results are good, there are many things that I do not care to consciously remember, but sometimes they are not all that good. Losing things, forgetting how to get somewhere, remembering words. However, I have always thought of life as a balancing effort. When things are bad you try to improve them, when they are good you try to maintain them.  I take notes from the driver’s handbook on my I phone. I know about eighty percent of the answers from experience, so I only note the problematic things. I review them frequently. I am confident that I can answer the questions without getting more than three wrong. I have always been an optimist, I have no reason to change that attitude now.

The tradeoff that nature gives me seem to be something like this. I can remember many of the good things in life, mentioned above, in exchange for forgetting many of the everyday things in life. That seems like a good deal to me, because those old memories are what give value to my life, and the newer ones are just for convenience.

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