This morning I was trying to explain to my husband how difficult I found it to get over the giant ice ridge plowed into the end of our driveway. “It’s like driving over a railroad tie” I explained. “No, a track.” Then my brain did that thing that it does. “Like if the tie was a bow-tie, like Sherman’s soldiers made on their march to the sea.” He looked at me uncertainly, accustomed to living with The Repository of Useless Knowledge, but always vigilant for signs that I have crossed over into full-blown psychosis.
I remember everything, and as a voracious reader for 48 years I have picked up a catalogue of factoids that often give me the air of a moderately idiotic savant. I know all about Eddie Fischer, Liz Taylor and Debbie Reynolds, the uses of the Coca leave in Peru, Japanese Zeroes, Hadrian’s Wall, Broadway song lyrics, ballet scores and the deaths of everyone from Aristotle to Brittany Murphy. I watch Jeopardy and our local high school Quiz Bowl telecasts with tense avidity, calling out the answers I know, mumbling to myself after I get one wrong, and tuning out all living persons in my immediate orbit.
I grew up in a family of know-it-alls; a father with three degrees from Harvard, a mother who was a Quiz Kid, and a brother who competed in the same Quiz Bowl league that I watch to this day. Things moved fast, and it was essential to know stuff or be left in the dust. In that crowd, my family of origin, I am the weakest link, the one who knows more about celebrities and pop music than about Euclidean Geometry or Aeschylus. I am the flake.
It has been suggested many times that I should try out for Jeopardy, and while that massages my ego, there are several reasons that I will never follow through. First and foremost, I know that I would never be assertive enough to “ring in” quickly. I would think I knew the answer, doubt that I knew the answer, worry about whether I knew the answer, and decide that I reallydid know the answer around the time that Todd, a Computer Programmer from Des Moines answered the question and watched his score increase by $1,000.00. I am also utterly incapable of doing that math thing they do that involves figuring out how to wager enough that if someone else bet all their money and got it right, I would still win by a dollar. I just don’t get it.
Which brings me to the last thing standing between me and recognition of my status as Greatest Living Repository of Useless Knowledge. As some kind of cosmic counterbalance to the things I do know, there are areas in which I am as blank as a five-year-old raised in a cave on an island in the Pacific. I know nothing about sports, except that there are some. I know nothing about geography, cannot identify the states on a map, and do not know the capital of anything. I am, as I have mentioned, innumerate, and also have a hole where my knowledge of science should be. I can identify a Shakespearian tragedy at twenty paces based on the name of a minor character, but I don’t know an Au from a Fe.
So it’s not happening, the Jeopardy thing; I’ll just sit on my couch like Rain Man, calling out answers and ignoring ringing phones and burning soup as my family indulges me with Community Mental Health on the speed dial. It’s all for me, this vast body of useless data, but in the most secret reaches of my mind I cherish the possibility that I will some day be in a situation in which I will save the day, the country or the planet because I can name the only venomous snakes living in North America. Until then, ask me anything…almost.