During the Punic Wars, my high school girlfriend and I went steady by telephone. A house full of teenagers placed demands on our phone, so my slot had to be early in the evening, lest I interfere with my three sisters’ more important calls.
One time, after having been on the line for an ungodly amount of time — six minutes — I mentioned something in Mad Magazine.
The word “mad” triggered something in Evelyn’s mind, prompting her to say, “That reminds me: I’m mad at you.” Sure enough, we’d had a silly quarrel the night before, and though the next night’s conversation started smoothly, my using the “m-word” triggered memories of many a quaint and curious series of long-forgotten chats and spats.
So why had she been friendly —even oblivious — until I reminded her of something? And soon, without there being a cause, she’d remind me and herself that she was mad.
People do that a lot. Something triggers a recollection, and that becomes paramount. In addition, we’ll spend the day nursing a feeling of unease but can’t identify the source. Often something bugs me, but I can’t figure out what. When I solve it, I wonder why something that trivial had upset me.
I got a taste of the “that reminds me” syndrome recently when I renewed acquaintance with a woman who shares my love for animals. A few years back she said my column about how my whippet had been mauled by a neighbor dog had moved her.
So unrepentant was the bigger dog that after he broke Moosa’s back, he dragged him into his yard for further modifications. Of course, the dog’s owner used the standard cop-out: my dog somehow just got loose. Not my fault.
But I digress. I can explain everything.
Over e-mails of commiseration, Rita and I discussed our love for animals. Meanwhile, my son Stan, living in Denmark, wrote a piece on an interesting couple he and I had met in Las Vegas. Because we believe that couple to be eccentric, my son correctly identified me as a “collector of strange personalities.” I am.
Because I liked and could readily identify with the subject matter my son wrote about, I used his composition as a guest column that week. Rita, my e-mail friend, surmised that the “strange personalities” allusion was about her, among others. It may have been, but that thought never occurred to Stan or me. Rita cited examples of her own supposed “strangeness,” but that’s all a matter of perception. I don’t and didn’t think Rita is strange.
“You could have censored your son; you could have taken out the ‘strange personalities’ part,” Rita said. Well, I hadn’t, and wouldn’t have anyway, I told her. She said she’d cancelled her subscription upon reading my son’s column and explained, “That reminds me, I’m mad at you.”
That makes me wonder whether some folks feed these festering feelings, or at least file them in the freezer for the future. You see, we’d been having a civil e-mail conversation, and she’d forgotten the reasons for being angry. The “strange personalities” remark occurred years before, so Rita must have held the anger in abeyance for a long time.
Well, Rita won that round. She wouldn’t be derailed. The reminder was stronger than the fact that she’d forgotten the original cause for her discomfiture. And if she’s ever reminded again of “strange personalities,” will the anger return?
Another such case happened once at Highlands after I had borrowed a three-hole puncher from a colleague. She wanted it back the next day, and I promised I’d return it then. Well, I forgot but again promised, “tomorrow for sure.”
She was so certain I’d forget the object a second time that she must have prepared precise, scolding words with which to flay me. On seeing me the next morning, she began a diatribe that enumerated all my shortcomings.
I obviated the need for her to say any more by inserting, “It’s on your desk; you were out of the office when I returned it.”
Once she saw the hole-puncher, what else was there to say? What was she going to do with the rehearsed invective? She didn’t let it go to waste. She’d bottled up a lot of anger, and it had to go somewhere. So she did the expected: She transferred the Trujillo-as-slob saga to somebody else.
“The real reason I’m mad,” she said, “is because of some other guy who never returned things,” and here she made up an implausible scenario to explain why she chided me and why it’s “other people who are the problem.”
We do this in everyday life. We brace ourselves for a confrontation with the person who’s crowding us in line, only to discover he or she is trying to return the wallet we left on a shelf. Or you refine a special gesture for the person in traffic who appears to be tailgating, when he’s trying to signal that you left your coffee mug on the roof of your car.
If Evelyn even remembers that “that reminds me” ritual, we’ll probably enjoy a good laugh. But as for Rita, I believe she’d like to hang on to the anger a bit longer, maybe a lot longer.
I’ll try not to write anything that reminds her she’s mad at me.
• • •
Alliteration: The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
I tried being alliterative in my recent “Miller Time” column, with “Pounds of the pesky polillas (moths) pounded into the recesses of the vacuum bag.”
Reader John Shuster of Las Vegas did even better, with his share of e-mailed alliterative flair: “Pounds of pesky polillas pounded past in vast proportion into the vacuum’s pulmonary ‘pretainer.’”