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Below the Beltway

When I am writing and suddenly think of a new topic, I hit Ctrl-T, which opens up a fresh window on the computer. This operation requires two fingers and takes three seconds, max, but to my brain it sometimes presents an insuperable distraction. My face becomes as blank as the screen I am looking at. The new idea, whatever it was, is gone. This is the modern equivalent of the classic old-fogeyism of walking into a room and immediately forgetting why you went there. I do that, too.

I'm not complaining, really. If you can banish your terror over it, short-term memory deficit can be a source of entertainment, especially when two similarly afflicted people engage each other, which happens almost every time I am on the phone with my editor, Tom the Butcher. I am 59. Tom is 56. Our conversations go like this:

Tom: We need to write a headline for your column.

Me: Which column?

Tom: The one you sent me yesterday.

Me: Oh.

Embarrassed silence.

Me: What was it about?

Embarrassed silence.

Tom: I was hoping you'd remember.

At this point, Tom and I try to work in concert to refresh our memories. It is an awkward, pathetic dance, like two turtles trying to mate with a rock.

Me: Was it about Jews?

Tom: I think it might have had the word "paradigm" in it.

Me: I think I wrote a lot of it in the bathroom.

Tom: I hate that word.

Me: "Bathroom"?

Tom: No. The, uh, one I just said.

Embarrassed silence.

I was thinking about this the other day as I watched an old "60 Minutes" segment about people who never forget anything. One of them was Marilu Henner, who I think may have starred in a 1980s sitcom whose name I can't recall but I believe I used to watch. If you give Marilu a random date from, say, 17 years ago, she can tell you what day of the week it was, what event was on the news, what she wore, what she ate, etc. She and the others with super-memory seemed pretty smug about their powers, but I'm glad I don't have them. They scare me.

Sometimes, it's good to forget things. Tom agrees that it's probably preferable to live in our constant state of semi-senescence than in the alternative:

Tom: We have to write a headline for your column.

Me: Let's just go with the same one we used on Sept. 4, 1986, when I last wrote about squid.

Tom: OK, done. Hey, remember the bikini ad that ran next to that column?

Me: I'll say! That's back when my prostate wasn't the size of a baked potato, and I could admire hot women without experiencing searing crotch pain.

Tom: Right. As I recall, on that day I still had 52,509 functioning hair follicles.

Me: I remember. You actually owned a comb. It was black.

Tom: The third tooth from the end was broken off.

Me: I know.

Tom: Hey, I just saw a rerun of "Taxi," with Marilu Henner. Remember her?

Me: OW!

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