My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.
â€” Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes el memorioso”
“David, I’m in the car with two friends and we’re trying to settle a bet. Who wrote ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’?”1
“‘The fog comes on little cat feet” – was that written by Carl Sandburg or Robert Frost?”2
“What’s the name of the toxin produced by poisonous toads?”3
“Who plays the clarinet part on the recording of ‘High Society’ by Kid Rena?”4
I used to get phone calls like this all the time, all the way through the mid-’90s. Friends considered meÂ the fastest way to get a fact or settle a bet. More often than not I would have the answer, because I was, as Dad always called me, “a veritable storehouse of useless information.” My parents had a saying (much to my siblings’ chagrin): “Let’s ask David, he knows everything.”
I’ve always had a good memory, not just for what I read, but what I saw and heard as well. I can describe the layout of the first house I lived in, even though we moved out of it when I was only two. Dad would play something from his jazz album collection and I could hum along with the solo – even if he hadn’t played that record in ten years. While I certainly didn’t have the total recall of Borges’ fictional Ireneo Funes, I did have a large midden of information lodged in my brain.
I still do, but I am not called upon to search it nearly as frequently as I once was. I blame the internet and the advent of search engines. If you plot a graph of the frequency of my info requests against the popularity of search engines, you’ll see the two curves display an inverse relationship.
I don’t mind, because I’ve figured out how to reposition my odd talent. If a question comes up in a conversation, I’ll answer it before anyone can start a Google search. I even use Google myself to verify my accuracy; something that has become easier now that I carry an iPhone.
So, I’ll ride out my “faster than Google” claim until a new technology renders that skill obsolete. And when that day comes, I’ll still have a fallback with trivia contests:
(From “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett,” the pilot (and only) episode of Welcome to Eltingville by Evan Dworkin. Before watching this, I only knew about a third of the answers.)
And if you’re wondering:
- John Denver
- Carl Sandburg
- Alphonse Picou
For years, I was a font of obscure information too. My brother used to call me and fire off a question ( like, “Mel, what do you call that itty-bitty bit of facial hair right under the lower lip?”) and I’d give a one-or-two word answer (like, “soul-patch”). and hang up the phone. Maybe Google is replacing me too. I’d better start coming up with some more obscure info-nibblits.
The trick is maintaining the air of authority. Anyone can look something up, but few can just toss of facts on demand.