I know too much. Not in the counter-espionage, “I’m afraid you know too much, Mr. Dane, so we will have to eliminate you” sense, but in the sense that I know too much random, pointless information. For example, I know that the plastic thingy at the end of a shoelace is called an aglet. How is this useful? Unless I were to land a job in the fast-paced shoelace manufacturing industry (“I need that shipment of aglets by tomorrow morning or heads are gonna roll!”), there is absolutely no reason for me to remember this. Yet there it is, sitting on a shelf inside my head, there for me to access whenever I need it. Which would be never. But when I need to remember, say, the phone number of someone I promised to call—no, those seven digits are lost in the murky, pot-addled crevices of my brain—hidden, no doubt by ‘aglet’ and six other tiny, meaningless facts.
I’ve been reading trivia books since I was eight years old, which means I’ve been annoying friends and strangers for about forty years. In that time, I’ve told people that the Utah state bird is the California seagull, pointed out that Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, and explained that Gerald Ford pardoned Robert E. Lee of treason. I know that Edison got a patent for a method of making concrete furniture, I know that Jethro Tull was a horticulturalist who invented the seed drill, and I know that White-Out was invented by the mother of one of the Monkees. I even know that Steven Stills auditioned to be IN the Monkees! It’s a sickness! Did you know a cricket’s ears are on its legs? Of course you didn’t—why would you need to?!
It would be different if I could turn this vast pile of scrap knowledge into something profitable. But it’s not like ‘smart guy’ is a job description. I don’t think you can be a professional Scrabble player. You might suggest I try out for Jeopardy, but the problem there is my personality. The first time Alex Trebek did one of his patronizing “no, sorry—we were looking for a Turkish naval battle—remember the category” comments, I would knock over my podium and kick his haughty Canuck ass.
So here’s my crackpot theory. Suppose, instead of using only ten percent of our brain’s capacity, there’s actually only a finite amount of storage on our cranial hard drives. I believe that the fact that I still remember my address from when I was in junior high and the name of the crazy waitress I had sex with in Omaha in 1987 means that I have two less places to store important things. How else to explain that, despite two years of college French, I can barely order a croissant, and yet I can tell you that the raised reflective markers on California freeways are called Bott’s Dots. Sure, I know that Al Capone’s business card said he was a used furniture dealer, but there’s apparently no room in my head for how to do basic plumbing, or even sew a button.
I understand that scientists are close to developing a drug that will allow you to erase certain memories. Well, I’ll be the first in line at Walgreen’s to fill my prescription. See, I think we’ve got artificial intelligence all wrong. Instead of trying to make machines think like people, we should be doing a little reverse engineering to make our brains more like computers. Specifically, we need a ‘delete’ key.
I’m not talking about some ‘Eternal Sunshine’/’Dollhouse’ total brain wipe, just the ability to selectively erase bits of information we don’t need anymore. At one time, it was important for me to know all the lyrics to “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero,” but now, not so much. With the brain delete key, you would be able to unclutter the space up there and make room for what you need now. It would be like defragging your head. That uncle tells you in way too much detail about his penile implant? Nod, smile, and then hit ‘delete’. Your best friend gets drunk and shares with you that he always thought your mom was hot? Delete! Delete! Delete!
I suppose knowing a bunch of random trivia isn’t the worst quirk a writer could have. Goethe could only write if he had a rotten apple in his desk, and Proust kept a pet swordfish. L. Frank Baum came up with the name ‘Oz’ when he was looking at a filing cabinet with —wait, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry.