Remember that early post about the human brain being rather dismissively described as “a mouse-brain with extra toppings”? Nice turn of phrase, but it’s funny what those extra toppings can conjure up, forming odd associations and links from one time and place to another, hopscotching through time.
It’s hard to capture how these synaptic chains work, but I thought I’d give it a try:
A few days ago I took a break for lunch. I got my food and sat down at the kitchen table. Immediately our Westie, Genevieve, took up her usual position at my feet, sitting up, ears pointed to the ceiling, completely still, waiting for a snack.
I was leafing through the newspaper as I ate, and as nearly as I can reconstruct it, this is what went through my mind over the next few minutes:
1. I saw an item in the paper about a new documentary on Marlon Brando.
2. That made me think of The Godfather, which made me think of the theme song from the movie, which was called, uh, something like “Speak softly, love and….something…something…”
3. Suddenly I was thinking about my student teaching in a Denton middle school more than 30 years ago. But what had drawn me back there? Then I remembered: Each day after the kids went to lunch, I’d pack up my stuff and go over a few things for the next day. As I did, I’d hear a girl’s choir somewhere in the building, singing the Godfather theme, which would have been a hot new song at the time.
The sound was high, beautiful and somehow ghostly, I guess because I never saw any of the students or knew from where the voices came.
(If this whets your appetite, come back and listen to the song here, live from Tuscany.)
4. Thinking of the song and the kids, I remembered that, by coincidence, one of the girls in my class was the daughter of an English professor at North Texas whose linguistics class I was taking at the time.
5. Years later, I would realize that the professor, as I remembered him, bore an eerie resemblance to Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who hunted Bill Clinton and his White House paramour, “That Woman” Lewinski. Whenever I saw Starr on TV, I’d think of Dr. Rich.
6. That, in turn, brought back a sour memory of a botched book deal. During MonicaGate, I was hired to write one of those instabooks, a Ken Starr bio, to ride the wave of prurient interest in the whole shoddy affair. I had about six weeks to write the blasted book, which I knew was insane, but the money was so good I foolishly took the deal, which then proceeded to fall apart after I spent three hellish weeks calling people like Ken Starr’s 8th-grade math teacher and then finding she’d already spilled everything she recalled to Newsweek, and besides, she couldn’t talk because it was bridge night at the retirement home.
I had to give back part of the advance, while the agent who’d brokered the whole deal kept his chunk for doing nothing but giving a publisher my phone number. I still clench my teeth.
7. I came out of my reverie, teeth clenched, to find my salad half-eaten and Genevieve still poised exactly where she was before my detour, ears erect, ready for a treat.
That was what my mouse-topping brain produced over several minutes. I wondered about the canine brain nearby.
“What are you thinking, girl?” I asked.
As usual, no response. Perhaps she was thinking, “Here you sit with a bowl of food just one big leap out of my reach, and you have to ask what I’m thinking?
The conversation was going nowhere, so I just looked at her and said, “Stella….STEEEELLLLAAAAAA!”
I don’t think she got it.