Saturday, February 12, 2005

Strength in numbers

Tell me your number. I'll remember it.

One of the minor abilities that I seem to have been blessed with is the ability to remember phone numbers easily. David would say that the part of my brain that is busy remembering numbers is the same part of the brain that is customarily used to remember to close cabinet doors and turn off lights. Well, you can't have everything.

It's not some photographic memory thing; I don't remember every number I've ever seen, like some sort of Rainman. I have to consciously imprint it in my brain. Then, it stays there, stuck. I can still remember the phone number from our first house in Tucson, Arizona, where we lived from 1972 to 1975-ish. (602) 297-4891. We had an aqua colored telephone. I can see the typewritten number on the label in the middle of the rotary dial (And don't go ringing up that number. Come on.)

I resisted putting people's numbers into my cellphone's memory, because if I haven't dialed it, I won't remember it. Sometimes I remember the pattern that it makes on the phone keypad (my last apartment's phone number danced up and down the middle row, and ended with a little box in the right corner.) Other times I'll identify numerical patterns, or else make some other kind of connection. Living in New York, I will sometimes associate numbers with streets. For instance, a friend recently told me his cellphone number, which was [X]86-9423. My brain broke it down into the first digit (which I have oh-so-cleverly replaced with "X"); then 86th Street, which is a major cross street in Manhattan; 94th Street, where one of my favorite restaurants is; and 23rd Street, another major cross street (and the upper border of Chelsea. In case you're interested.) This just happens automatically in my brain. How fun to be me.

They say there is an association between math and music. Besides the fact that music is concerned with numbers (scale degrees, intervals, chord progressions, all reduced to numbers), I'd say that the connection lies in how you visualize things. When I sit down to write music, it's like seeing with x-ray vision or something. You see in another dimension. You understand things in a different way that is non-linear. Math is like that, too.

I was always good at math, but I could take it or leave it. My father made it fun; when I was ten or eleven he would sketch out basic algebra problems on a napkin and show me how to solve them. My father is a great teacher, and can get you interested in anything. By the time I got to junior high, I was all about solving for X.

I know I won a math award at some point - junior high? No, that was the science medal. Maybe freshman year of high school. Naturally, these are things one doesn't run around advertising ("Hey! Look at my math award! Hey, that hurts! Ow! Ow! Ow!") I found algebra and geometry interesting, but wasn't sufficiently thrilled with math to progress onward to calculus. And somehow in college, I believe I managed to sneak away with no math at all, or else a very basic algebra course.

As far as my idiot-savant-ness goes, the number memory occasionally extends to longer numbers, like phone card numbers or bank accounts, but not always. Just phone numbers. Oddly, my memory for numbers is in inverse proportion to the speed with which I manage to call people back. So, if I haven't returned your call, it's not that I forgot your number. I just forgot what day of the week it is, what city I'm in, and also my name.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

were you ever good at memory games? not just numbers? wait, there's something i just remembered, i'll get back to you... unless I forget.

6:33 AM  
Blogger David said...

I do suspect that this eerie number genius comes at the expense of a more mundane effectiveness. The same person who has never turned off a light, closed a cabinet, or put away an open packet of food since I have known him remembers every phone number he has ever heard once and every actor or actress who has ever been in every movie and play ever produced, along with whatever awards they won and for what. Meanwhile, I follow along behind him turning off the lights but I can't remember if I've even seen a movie, much less who was in it.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Zenchick said...

hmmm...(216) 921-6411. My phone number from age 5 to age 12. I can probaby remember all the ensuing ones as well.
And, in a three-room abode, I routinely cannot find my keys.
(perhaps this part of your brain also causes you to forget that you are fleeing the state just AFTER you offer me soup when I'm sick?)

9:11 PM  
Blogger jwer said...

I used to be able to do that, but then I became normal. Ahem.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Zenchick said...

oh, Jwer, honey...normal?
(hee hee hee hee...)

4:57 PM  
Blogger jwer said...

mumble something about the eye of the beholder mumble mumble...

6:41 PM  

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