Memory: It’s a Blessing and a Curse

Part of my profile description on social media includes, “Sick memory for movie, TV lines and what you said.” This is not an exaggeration. I even remember what employers said from the last century, first date dialogues, song lyrics and useless stuff I hear from passersby. Movie and TV lines are my constant, mental accompaniment.

Recently, I was plagued with my inability to identify the source of a TV line that kept popping into my head. I knew it was from a well-written sitcom because those are the lines that linger. I knew the character was slightly frightened and slightly defensive when he or she said it but I just couldn’t put my finger on the character or the show. The line was, “Sure, Mac, sure, sure.” Now if you’re not like me and you don’t suffer from tens of thousands of lines and phrases freely floating through your mind, at the ready with any association with the present moment – or not – you might not understand. If I’d had anyone around me when this, “Sure, Mac, sure, sure,” wafted to the top of my inner circle of thought and I’d ask, “What’s that from?” And most would reply, “I don’t know,” and move on. Noooooo! I can’t. I mean, I don’t stop everything and obsess about it, other than a quick internet (- as of June 1, AP Style book announced the word “internet” is now lowercase -) search to see if it will appear, but my brain will keep retrieving it for days, if necessary, until the puzzle is solved. And yes, I am single.

A lot of times, those memorable lines are from “I Love Lucy,” if it’s a sitcom. That show has been on every day of everyone’s lifetime and is so much a part of our culture that, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining’ to do,” is part of our vernacular. But I tried plugging in that line to Lucy and nothing surfaced. Any show with tight, clean, smart dialogue was a contender so it could have been from “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “M.A.S.H.” :Frasier,” or “Seinfeld.” “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” I just heard Steven Tyler say on “Ellen” the other day. It’s from Frank Burns on “M.A.S.H.” Out of the blue, Charlie Pierce contributor to “Esquire Magazine” said in an interview, “Happy and peppy and bursting with love,” which is from the original sitcom “The Odd Couple.” Neither had to attribute the lines for me nor did they. But I knew. For people like us, its like a secret language. And now I have two more fellow dialogue-memory, freak friends. It’s not surprising we all work with words in one form or another.

But I do the same thing they do. I interject lines from these shows, as well as movies, on a daily basis. I don’t need anyone to get the reference. But what a delight when someone does. So off the top of my cluttered head, here are some of my favorites. If you know the show, jot me a line below:

[In response to a sneeze] “You’re so good looking.” No? Sadly, that never caught on. How about, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Or “Ahh, Bach!” “Citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest.” “We are psychiatristsnot pugilists!” (That’s a gimme.) “But you are, Blanche, you are in a chair!” “Oh, no, it’s completely baked.” “Fasten your safety belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.” “Keep going, teacher lady.” “I’m not going to be ignored!” “Tick tock, Arnie.” “You mean it’s in the house!?” “Grey Flannel… I don’t know why!” [Sobbing] “She came all the way from O-HI-O!” I will offer extra credit for the other lines I’ve peppered into this post and in the title.

But back to the ear worm that prompted this writing, the line that bugged me for days. Eureka! I was just getting into bed the other night experiencing that mental transition between tasks and shutting down the mind for sleep, perchance to dream, when it suddenly came to me! It was Barney Fife! You, know, Don Knotts’ character from the 1960s’ “Andy Griffith Show.” That’s a show more seamless in plot, character and dialogue than most to have followed the fifty years since it aired. Barney said the line in “Barney and the Governor,” where the governor plans to congratulate Deputy Fife in person for the nerve to issue the governor’s car a parking ticket. But poor Barney becomes an inadvertent drunk, victim of town drunk Otis who disposed his remaining moonshine in the jail’s water crock.

Exactly like it was looping inside my head. Relief at last.