prompt: jar, title: to catch a phrase in misc. flash fiction

  • April 26, 2023, 8:16 p.m.
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  • Public

Folks are huge on the concept of The Memory Palace, these days. It isn’t anything new, some earliest version goes back to proto-Greek philosophizers who believed if you wrote everything down, you’d ruin your ability to recall information. It’s the same way every generation’s new technology is considered dereliction of duty to some presumably-eternal intellectual tradition. From cuneiform tablet to Samsung tablet-phone, the song remains predictably the same.

The Memory Palace has become so popular, they’ve retroactively grafted it onto the psyches of damn-near every fictive “genius”. Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter. Big Bang Theory Guy? I wouldn’t know, I can’t get through an episode of that drek. A cartoon brainiac imagines a palace with countless rooms, they associate the items within with whatever they wish to remember, and there it is. The place-settings for a sumptuous feast as the periodic table. Every book-spine in the grand library, an American vice-president. Every flower in the window’s vase, a great composer.

I know folks who say they can do The Memory Palace, but it’s beyond me. I might well know a panoply of fifty-dollar words but I’ve the medium-term memory of a heavily-concussed trout. I can off the top of my head recite BIG’s verse from “All About the Benjamins” but I have a note in my wallet reminding me of the ATM code I’ve had for twenty years. I can describe my junior high crush down to the freckle but while writing this I honestly could not remember yesterday’s lunch. It’s a damn mess in here. I can get at my information eventually, but no faithful mansion of ideas to fall back upon. I just finally remembered Big Bang Theory Guy is named “Sheldon Cooper”. That name took two hours of draft-editing to recall.

I don’t so much have a “memory palace” as a “memory disorganized thrift store”. I don’t scroll past opulent ivory gate into a meticulously laid-out estates, more glass doors with rusted hinges, covered in faded vinyl ads from twenty years ago, for junk that hasn’t existed in fifteen. Bonkers candy. Crystal Pepsi. Ponderosa Steakhouse. Floors, not Tuscan marble, rather stained linoleum tiles, radiating lime-green reflections from the outdated fluorescent lighting above.

Like a raven, I’ve lined rickety wire-rack shelves willy-nilly with ten million little shinies I stole into my nest. Brick-a-brac, souvenirs from tourist traps, Mason jars amateurishly converted into candles, mismatched dishware from wedding showers that ended in divorce, that’s where all my thoughts go. I’ll run my hands across tissue-thin used tee-shirts in the half-priced aisles, jerseys for teams that changed cities twice since, but there in the beautiful wreckage of a weirdly awful culture’s detritus, I can slowly find a way to some particular desired piece in the collected freak ephemera that constitutes my consciousness. Sometimes dingy, sometimes buried beneath piles of similar peculiarities, I’ll get there eventually, in that thrift store of my memories

It’s no palace, sure, but I never have to say goddamn “Bazinga!” so I’m good with what I got.

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