“How do you get your laundry so clean, Mr. Lee”?
“Ancient Chinese Secret”.
“My husband, some hot shot, here’s his Ancient Chinese Secret, Calgon”.
The reason I can remember this commercial is easy. I run the commercial in my head, focusing on the images. The young woman stands in front of a General Electric washing machine with the top removed, the lint filter missing, the recycling pump turned off, and pours a healthy chunk of powdered Calgon into the running washing machine. Why a commercial venture run by an Asian couple is using the washing machine typically found in the back of a mobile home with half its part missing is beyond me. It was the 1970s.
“How do you remember things like this”? I’ve been asked this more than once in my 53 years and it’s because I remember things visually. I think in pictures. I see the colors and the frame of the memory and the layout of the content and I tune in on small details that just imprint themselves into my memory. That’s the only explanation I have. I don’t remember words. I don’t remember stories. I remember things visually. If I can associate written content to the visuals, I’m good. Otherwise, I’m lost. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never tested well.
Back when I was 11 years old we were driving through the village and I said to my mom, “why are all the street corner signs gone”? It was 1979 and I was riding in the front seat next to my mom in our 1978 Chevy Impala. The sun was out. The car still smelled a little new. She hadn’t noticed the missing signs, but I instantly noticed the cast iron signs denoting the corner of Broad Street and Park Street or North Jefferson Street and Hubble Street were all missing. The change in scenery had struck me hard as soon as we had entered the area and I found it very disconcerting. A disturbance in the force, if you will. All the traffic lights and stop signs and guide signs to Interstate 81 were in place, just the signs denoting the street names were gone. My mother hadn’t noticed, asked why I noticed it and I couldn’t really tell her. I just noticed it. A few weeks later they were back, all repainted, by hand, in glorious black and white.
I think in pictures and I think in patterns. I think (that’s three ‘thinks’ in less than a dozen words) I’m really good at my job as a programmer and troubleshooter because I can instantly identify breaks in patterns. When an application or a server or something at work goes off the rails, I can see the pattern, or lack there of, as bright as day in front of me. The solution may still be off in another direction, but the break in the pattern usually leads me somewhere towards the solution. It’s an asset.
When we were in elementary school we learned about autonomous actions of the body. For example, we didn’t have to concentrate to lift our arm, we just knew to lift our arm and we did. I remember Miss Kania (my first grade teacher) saying, “now tell yourself to lift your arm”. When I did that I pictured my arm moving up. I didn’t think, “lift my arm”. I remember asking a classmate named Martin, “did you think the words”? He thought I was crazy as he said “yes”. I didn’t think the words. I saw my arm lifting. This made me think I was doing it wrong.
Thinking and remembering visually, or in pictures, probably lends to what others say is my uncanny memory. I don’t know what it’s like to not remember what I had for lunch on a Friday in second grade in elementary school (square cheese pizza, green beans, a small dixie cup of unsalted peanuts, and apple crisp, arranged on my tray with the pizza in the middle, green beans on the upper left, apple crisp on the upper right, a half pint of Byrne Dairy white milk in a red and white carton under the green beans, and the unsalted peanuts under the apple crisp, all on a light brown tray because I thumbed through the older dark trays to get one of the newer lighter ones). The cashier, Mrs. Stevens, wore a white sweater like a shawl over her shoulders that day. I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you what it looked like as easily as I can describe what our cat Truman looks like right now. (He’s cranky that he hasn’t had a treat in two hours).
I know I’m a little off the beam. I know my bubble isn’t in the center and there’s probably test scores floating around in too many places that proves this out. I know my numbers. I learned long ago how to fade into the background a little bit and not draw too much attention to myself by barking out “hey you shaved off your mustache!”1 when I ran into my high school art teacher out in public during summer break.
I wouldn’t change a thing about how I think or how or what I remember from my days past. It’s just part of me being me.
1 He responded, “you are the only person that noticed!”. I’ve heard that a lot in 53 1/2 years.