Brain storage space in jeopardy

The longer we live, the more history we have to learn.

This is the reason our founders were smarter than we are today. At least we often think this is true, based on things like the admissions standards for Harvard in the 1700s that included Greek and Latin. People back then had more room in their brains for classical languages because they had 300 fewer years of history to cram in their heads.

A history class I took in college was to cover U.S. History since 1877. It was an overview that turned into a partial view, like cheap mini-blinds that won’t fully open. We made it through World War II on fumes and ran out of gas near the 58th Parallel.

Age has a great advantage over youth when it comes to history. The older you are, the more history you’ve experienced. Been there, seen that.

We used to enjoy watching my father-in-law, who lived to be 97, watch Jeopardy. He rarely missed a history question because he was nearly a century old. It also didn’t hurt that he had a photographic memory.

My father-in-law would have been indignant over the recent Teen Jeopardy winner. Leonard Cooper won $75,000, but didn’t know the answer to the final question, “Who said, ‘The eyes of the world are upon you?’ June 6, 1944.”

“Who is some guy in Normandy?” was Cooper’s answer.

I could identify with Cooper. Let he who is without a memory lapse cast the first brain cell. Cooper illustrated my point that the younger you are, the more history you have to learn. I subscribe to the theory that we all have fixed memory storage. If only we could add a few megabytes with the swipe of a credit card.

But we can’t. So there are days when our brains are packed, the wheels struggle to turn and recall grows foggy . . . somebody said . . . I read somewhere . . . weren’t you the one who told me . . . I can’t remember where I heard this. . . I might have the numbers wrong.

We have a firm but slippery grasp of the facts. We are certain what we are saying is true, or reasonably true, we just have no memory of where we heard it, read it or saw it. Consequently, the conversation we are repeating may have come from a completely different setting, the chronology could be off by a decade or two, and the quote from Normandy might have been from Patton.

A lot of my memory storage was regrettably squandered on things like the theme song to Gilligan’s island and the lyrics to “Wild Thing.” Let this be a lesson to you young people lip syncing with Lady Gaga. Use your storage wisely. Save some for later when you will learn important things on your own once you are out of school and have more time to watch Jeopardy.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The guy in Normandy.

Organized crime in the kitchen cabinet

There are some things most men simply should not do.

Messing with a woman’s kitchen is one of them.

In an unprecedented move, the husband recently attempted to relocate my waffle maker. He said the cupboard he put it in made more sense than the cupboard I had it in for years.

He claims the look I gave him left burn marks.

When our oldest daughter and her husband recently moved, our son-in-law went ahead of the family and received delivery from the moving van. Since it was going to be several weeks before the family arrived, he unpacked everything — everything except the kitchen.

He’s a smart guy. Aside from the fact that his own mother says he could starve to death in front of a fully loaded ‘fridge, he is intelligent, capable, resourceful, reliable and appreciative of a good meal. He knows that a woman’s kitchen is her domain. He knows that a woman likes to organize cookware and tools for accessibility, workflow and convenience. He knows a woman likes to set up her own kitchen so that she can find her paring knife, zester and jar of whole nutmeg with her eyes closed.

All of which makes the following hard to explain. For some reason, he changed his mind and decided to unpack the kitchen.

“You’ll like it,” he told his wife by phone.

“I don’t want criticism, only praise,” he said.

“How hard is it to set up a kitchen?” he said.

If my better half had assumed the task of setting up the kitchen in my absence, I know exactly where he would put everything. Coffee, coffee filters, crackers, chips, all foods salty and or crunchy, would go in the most easily accessible cabinet. He would keep the second most accessible cabinet clear for the Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper and mac and cheese in the blue box, which he would later buy by the case.

He’d take one look at boxes of dishes cradling dinnerware, china, pedestal plates, serving pieces, tea pots, demitasse spoons and miniature trifle bowls, and put two forks, two coffee mugs and two plates in a cupboard and move everything else to the garage.

Men and women both organize by logic and convenience, but logic and convenience can look very different in different brains.

Our son-in-law set up the kitchen by – drum roll, please – color.

It made perfect sense. He opened boxes, saw red dishes and white dishes. He put all the red dishes in one cabinet and the white dishes in another. White 9x13s, white square baking pans, white serving bowls joined the white dinner plates, salad plates and bowls. Anything clear glass —drinking glasses, juice glasses, measuring cups, glass bakeware — went in another cabinet. Everything dark or metal, including cookie sheets, soup pot, muffin tin, cast iron skillets and a black salad bowl, went in another cabinet.

What did he consider the most frequently used item needing prime real estate?

Quesadilla maker — front and center.

Four steps to the life of the party

For men, the most terrifying aspect of a wedding is that the ceremony is followed by food which is often followed by dancing. Many men would rather rivet their own thumbs to plywood with a nail gun rather than be dragged onto a dance floor.

We had precisely such a male in our circle recently, who happened to be doing double duty as the groom.

After expressing concern several times about making an idiot out of himself on the dance floor, a soon-to-be sister-in-law of the groom jumped up and announced she could teach anyone to dance. This was a shock to those of us who know her because (a) she can’t dance and (b) she can’t dance. After a brief demonstration it was clear that we had been wrong. She can teach anyone to dance. Here it is, straight from our bad-dancer dance instructor, four easy steps that will put anyone at ease on the dance floor.

Step one is to take up as much space as possible. Our dance instructor demonstrated by flailing her arms in large circles. Picture a wind turbine crossed with an airline worker waving orange sticks marshalling a jet to the gate and you’ve got it.

“Don’t worry about finding the beat,” she instructed. “Just move your legs as well as your arms.” She scissor stepped to the front, back, side, and gave a small jump. “The more limbs you move,” she said, arms and legs now propelling in opposite directions, “the greater your chance one of them will hit the beat.” Someone leaned over to the groom, nodded toward the instructor, and said, “It only takes one loon like that on the dance floor to get the party moving. No one will even notice you’re out there.”

The second step, our instructor advised, is to add interest to your flailing arms and legs. Unfortunately, this is often the place where men divide themselves into two categories: the-easily-intimidated and the don’t-know-when-to-quit. The first group cautiously rocks back and forth without so much as lifting a foot looking like both shoes have been gummed to the floor. The latter group overdoes it by bouncing up and down resembling a trick poodle jumping for a treat.

The dance instructor advised keeping your moves real using movements from real life. Like cleaning your ear with a Q-tip, or working out a crick in your shoulder, or virtually anything having to do with lawn maintenance. She mimicked an oscillating sprinkler, pushing a lawn mower, shoveling dirt, and the best one, rolling an imaginary power cord onto a reel.

“If you run out of everyday moves,” she gasped, “throw in a few steps from a workout video.” She inserted some Billy Blanks Tae Bo moves, followed by basic Pilates and several reps with imaginary hand weights.

“The third step,” she wheezed, “is to use a microphone.” She grabbed an invisible microphone and proceeded to lip sync. It was like Beyonce at the inauguration.

“My last piece of advice,” she panted, “and the most important piece of advice is this: If you are on the dance floor and you sense a large circle forming – get in the middle of it!”

Don’t look for her on “Dancing With the Stars” anytime soon.

Mark my words (yours, too)

If people who love technology are called techies, and people who love food are called foodies, then people who enjoy words must be wordies. I’m a wordie.

Words are not only intriguing but revealing. Words and phrases are to language what bread crumbs were to Hansel and Gretel. They say something about where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

A new phrase getting a lot of traffic these days is “low-information voter.” I like it. But I always wonder exactly who they are and whether they know who they are. This could be a case of everybody thinking it is everybody else.

Artisanal is a very trendy word right now, too. It means anything made by hand using a traditional method. Various cheeses and wines are touted as artisanal. Artisanal sounds earthy, warm and inviting. Artisanal bread can elicit audible gasps. It can be plain old white bread, but if it has an artisanal label, you can expect foodies to pay a couple bucks more.

An awkward phrase gaining momentum is “Shop this outfit.” It used to be people would shop the stores or shop the mall, but now we shop the outfit. It hints of aggressive tactics and reckless credit card use.

Another newbie that is rapidly becoming engrained is BOGO. It means buy one, get one (free). There’s something about it that prevents instant processing. Whenever I see BOGO on a reader board, my first thought is that someone misspelled POGO.

The phrase “have a good day” is long gone (thankfully), having been replaced by “have a good one.” An even newer greeting, or farewell rather, is, “Be well.” Clerks at a particular chain drugstore routinely say it. The first time I was told to be well, it seemed sincere and thoughtful. Two hundred times later it approached grating. I keep hearing “be well” because I keep going to the drugstore to pick up medications for family members who haven’t been well. To keep telling me to be well is nearly a taunt.

“Be well.”

“You be well! If we were well, we couldn’t keep coming to the pharmacy.”

The standout newcomer to our ever-changing lexicon, bar none, is “health sinner.” A health sinner is someone who smokes, is obese or overweight, or eats any sort of food the food police have condemned. Health sinners are about to be flogged in the public square as the new health care plan takes hold.

Clearly, the health righteous are eager and willing to berate the health sinners. All of which leads me to ask the following: If you’re not certain such labels are helpful, does that make you a health agnostic?

We’ll see. In the meantime, be well.