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14 December 2009
10 December 2009
THE MEMORY SPECIALIST
“This isn’t a mallet in my hand, I’m just glad to see you.”
The guy behind the counter didn’t laugh. This was unfortunate because I did laugh, hysterically, so then it just looked like I was losing my mind. And then I snorted. Thus, my credibility was in shambles.
The reason I was trying to gain credibility in the first place was because the dude behind the counter was a whack job and I was trying to prove it to him. In the real world, he would be called a “carnie.” In the world I’m describing to you now, though, he was called a “memory specialist.” I know this because not only did he introduce himself as such, he also had a blazing red fireball on the front of his booth and inside the fireball, in yellow cursive letters, was, “TOM. MEMORY SPECIALIST.” I told him I thought he might try to snazz up the “Tom” part of that sign. He told me “Kim” wasn’t much on the snazz, so what did I know?
I thought he was a carnie because he stood inside a booth with stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling, most of them poultry, and he frequently called out, “Three tries, one dollar!” to the passersby. Occasionally, a loud beep would ring out and the lights on the back wall of the booth would erupt in primary colors. There was a water spout, set up to look like Buckingham Fountain, but it was broken.
Tom didn’t consider himself a carnie. Tom considered himself a memory specialist. At the time I met him, I just so happened to need a memory specialist. The week before, NASA erased my memories, on account of all the top secret secrets I knew and also because I kept crank calling NASA HQ and belching the alphabet.
So after a week without memories, I was kinda wondering who I was. I ended up at the carnival, where everyone should go when they can’t figure out who they are. I was at the fried-pickle-dipped-in-chocolate-and-sprinkled-with-powdered-sugar-on-a-stick booth. When I turned around, there was Tom, leaning out of his booth, waving me over. Or maybe he was swatting mosquitoes.
“Three tries for what?” I asked. Then I took a huge bite of chocolate-covered fried pickle. Then I gagged. Those things are gross, but they’re on a stick, so how can you not love them?
“One dollar, three tries for all the memories you can handle,” Tom said, in a voice that sounded strangely similar to Mr. Roark’s from Fantasy Island.
“I’ll take that deal,” and then I took another bite of fried chocolate pickle on a stick. That bite also made me gag. Tom pointed to the yellow square on the counter in front of me. “When I say go, this square will light up. You will see nine holes. Each hole has a trajectory of your memories that will manifest themselves into the shape of a basketball. It will be a clear basketball, you will be able to see inside it. The basketballs will pop out of the holes, you get to decide if you want to look at it, or whack it. Got it?”
I took another bite of fried chocolate pickle on a stick. I think the trick with those things is you gotta get to the middle, then it gets good. I mean, it’s fried and it’s covered in chocolate, you really can’t lose with that combo. Anyway, a bunch of chocolate ended up oozing off the stick and onto my shirt and perhaps there might have been a bit of powdered sugar on my chin and maybe I was talking with my mouth full. “You can’t herd my memories into basketballs and then play Whack-A-Mole with them,” I said to Tom. “You can’t eat politely, but you’re still eating,” he said.
The man made a good point. I gave him a dollar. He handed me an oversized mallet with a large foam head. This is when I made my extraordinarily funny joke about how there wasn’t a mallet in my hand, I was just happy to see him.
It was A MALLET with a LARGE FOAM HEAD. I’m sure you understand how difficult it was for me to refrain from punning.
Tom slipped the dollar into a tray on his left and then he whistled. Suddenly, the poultry hanging from the ceiling started doing a kick line, much like the Rockettes, but I could only really see their webbed feet and their knobby knees, so I’m not sure they were all smiley like the Rockettes, but they were in sync. The fountain in the back of the booth started sprouting water, which I think was really a leak from the shoot-the-boat booth on the other side of Tom’s.
And then the square in the counter in front of me lit up, just like Tom said it would. A basketball-like object popped out of the center hole and inside it there I was, in Monaco, sitting on a throne next to some prince-looking dude. I smashed the memory with the mallet. “That’s not mine,” I told Tom. I took a bite of pickle stick.
“Yes. I’ve never been the princess of Monaco.”
Tom looked at the chocolate blob on my shirt. “No, I suppose you haven’t. Ready?”
He pressed a button and basketballs started popping up all over the place—the top right corner of the square in front of me, the bottom left corner, each one filled with very vivid images: me in a green dress accepting an Academy Award; me at the United Nations delivering a speech; me at the top of Mount Everest. I whacked each basketball and down they went into the black holes in the counter.
“Hey, man,” I said to Tom, “gimme my dollar back.” Pickle sticks were a dollar.
“You got one more round,” Tom said.
“Bring it,” I told him. I chomped down on the last bite of pickle chocolate stick goo, flipped the stick into the air, and readied my mallet. Out of the center hole, a basketball popped up and immediately, I smashed it because I have cat-like reflexes.
“Sure about that?” Tom asked.
I watched the basketball I had just smashed. It was slowly disintegrating and when I really looked at it, I could see the house I grew up in—Christmas morning, I was little, my Mom and Dad were holding an orange banana seat bike between them, both of them smiling. I could see myself in front of the bike, bouncing from foot to foot. If I remember correctly, the discussion I was having with my parents included but was not limited to how awesome it would be to ride my new bike down the sledding hill. I remember my Dad’s contagious, booming laugh; I remember how my Mom smelled like cinnamon when she hugged me. I remember being blissfully oblivious to how precious that moment really was.
And then it was gone. The memory disappeared down the center hole.
“I want that one,” I told Tom.
“Already gone. Sorry. Three more tries for a buck.”
“But I want that memory—the bike memory, Christmas, my parents, home, it was snowing that day, I rode my bike in the garage, we had ham sandwiches and watched parades on TV. I want that memory back.” I remember the snow on the gym set in the backyard—how it was piled in triangles along the monkey bars. I remember reminding myself not to put my tongue on a cold door/window/telephone pole.
I pulled another dollar out of my pocket. I remember summers with dandelions scattered like confetti, piles of orange leaves dancing around tree trunks, snow forts. The smell of pollen in the air. “Pickle sticks a dollar,” I said to Tom. “You want one?” Tom looked at my chin. I suspect he was wondering how to tell me about the line of powdered sugar draped there. “Yup,” he said.