Ever Wonder Why We Remember Unimportant Things So Well? Part Ii

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Last week I wondered why we remember some unimportant things so well. I swear! I remember some things that any sane person would forget. But I forgot to mention something: There are other things I remember that seem equally unimportant, but I know why I remember them. They only seem unimportant. They really aren’t. I thought it might help if I mentioned a couple of them to you and let you sort things out.

I’ve given up trying.

Take something that happened one morning on Sheppard AFB, Texas. There I was, happily brushing my teeth when the whole world shook to a teeth-rattling GUH-DUH sort of sound! It was so loud that windows rattled. I stopped brushing and listened, wondering what in the world could have made such a loud noise. I didn’t have long to wait for an answer. Seconds later came a booming voice with a strong Texas accent.

“Sergeant Garrett!” the voice of Master Sergeant Tracy Baile, my boss in the basic training squadron, boomed. “Quit brushing your teeth, Sergeant Garrett. Get on over to operations. We need you over here.” I must have jumped a foot in the air. It was so loud he might just as well have been standing right beside me.

I was on my way to operations in minutes. Why? I wasn’t in one of the barracks when I heard that incredibly loud voice. I was brushing my teeth in my house trailer in the base trailer park, a good mile and a half from operations. Which meant that the public address system I was listening to was just a tad loud. The loud GUH-DUH I had heard was the sound of it being switched on.

“So what?” you may ask.

Guess who had stayed after work the day before to “peak the output” on the PA system? And guess who never got a chance to test it because by the time he finished it was after dark and we were not allowed to use the PA system except in daylight hours?

“Why couldn’t we use it after dark?” you ask.

It might ... uh, disturb 18,000 sleeping troops.

The amplifier in our PA system was a dud. You could barely hear it in the barracks. We’d call people for fatigue duty, but no one ever showed. The troops were no dummies. They knew that a call from operations meant work. They also knew that the PA system was lousy. As a result, a man could dive out of the barracks when his name was called because no one could ever prove he had done it.

So the day before I had told Sergeant Baile I’d see what I could do to “peak” that lousy old amplifier. That evening I had worked on the doggone antique for three hours with no luck until I noticed there was an identical old amplifier on the shelf.

“Hm-m-m,” I said — a comment that often gets me into trouble.

What did I do? I took the output lead from one amplifier and wired it into the input circuit of the other amplifier. And then — unable to test the results — I went home, to be woken up the next day by a PA system that would juice oranges at a hundred yards.

See what I’m getting at, Johnny? Peaking an audio system is not exactly memorable, but I think you will understand why I have every reason to remember that morning.

Why not? Everybody else who was on the base that day does.

Then there was the day I came to work at the school one day and saw some small white spiders walking on the window above the door to someone else’s classroom.

Not exactly an earthshaking incident, right?

Well no, but ...

I taught in a room I had turned into a computer lab. In one corner of the room was a door that led to a teacher’s office which served four classrooms that came together at their corners. One of the other classrooms was a second computer lab, a writing lab I set up and maintained for the rest of the teachers and their kids.

In the third classroom was a teaching buddy. I’d been in her room many times. But in the fourth room was a teacher for whom I had as little love as I have for a root canal. She was always out sick, and she always managed to find some way to tee me off when she wasn’t. Needless to say, I had never been in her classroom.

I was usually the first one on campus. I came in through the main office each day and turned off the security system. On the day in question, one of the clerks met me at the door as I entered. As I passed through the office she handed me a note and asked me to give it to Madam Root Canal.

I knew that Madam Canal would not be on campus yet — she never arrived until 10 seconds before the late bell — so I took the note, intending to leave it on her desk. It being a little shorter to go that way, I entered through her still-darkened classroom, and for some reason happened to look up at the window above her door. Why I looked I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I did. I’d been having trouble with black widows in my lab. About a dozen of them had shown up that year, the only year we ever had them. The %$#@! things worked at night, making huge webs. I hope they enjoyed it because it was the last thing they ever did. I also killed a dozen or so of the %$#@! things in the writing lab I ran for the school, and my teaching buddy had killed several too.

Anyway, looking up at that window over the door of classroom four, I saw something that really grabbed my attention — maybe 50 to 60 small, white, juvenile black widows. I stopped dead in my tracks, staring up at them as I realized where all the %$#@! black widows in the building were coming from.

Later, after people began arriving on campus, I went over to her room and asked Madam Canal about the spiders.

The answer — while chewing gum — “Huh? Oh, those little bugs are always up there. I have no time for them with these junior high kids driving me nuts all day. Just ignore them.”

So I strolled over to the office, spoke to the principal, and left it to him to get the district to do something about the black widow problem. And no, I never bothered to tell the teacher that the probable cause of her many sick-outs were bites by juvenile black widows, which won’t kill you, but often clamber up a leg, take a bite out of it to see if it’s worth eating, and send you to bed for a while.

Was that morning particularly important? No. I wouldn’t say it was. But I think you can understand why I remember it so well.

Wouldn’t you?

But that stuff I told you about last week, Johnny?

Especially the part about hitting Mussolini in the eye?

What’s so memorable about that?

Comments

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