"Did you see that movie last night on TV?" asked Harry.
"The one with that one guy in it. He's married to that woman -- the one with the neck. It was on Channel 7. Or Channel 9. It was about this monk in a little village in China -- no, not a monk, oh, what do you call them ..."
"A priest? A brother? A minister?"
"No, but something like that."
"Was Marlon Brando married? I mean, to a woman with a neck?"
I was pretty sure Brando was married to a woman with a neck.
"Marlon Brando. Wasn't he in 'Teahouse of the August Moon'?"
"Yeah, but he wasn't a monk. Besides, that was in Japan, not China."
Harry is still trying to come up with the actor's name that is eluding him. We were playing our daily round of what I've come to call "Senior Jeopardy."
I used to worry every time that I drew a blank on something that I knew, but couldn't seem to instantly retrieve from my aging memory. At first, I thought it was the sign of something really serious -- it was happening more and more often.
But then I went to lunch with about eight friends, and they were all doing it. None of us could come up with some famous actor's name, even though we could name several of his movies, plus the women he'd been married to -- and one person at the table had seen him on television that very morning. We couldn't all be getting Alzheimer's.
I think what's really happening is that what's important to us is changing. What's worth remembering changes as we get older. A 5-year-old can tell you every single thing he did yesterday in complete detail, because to him, everything's important. Me, I can't remember what I had for breakfast. Or where. It's simply not worth remembering.
Teenagers have very selective memories. The tiniest social slight, they will remember into their 40s. "He looked at me funny." That, they'll remember for years. Algebra, not so much.
We elders can't remember actors' names because we simply don't care enough anymore. But Harry is relentless.
"He was in that other movie, where he was a pilot. In the Civil War."
"I don't think they had pilots during the Civil War."
"I remember now!" said Harry. "It was 'The African Queen.'"
"You said it was about a monk in China. 'The African Queen' is about a drunk in Africa. How could anyone figure that out? The only thing you got right was that it starred a guy who was married to that woman with the neck! You know, what's-her-name!"
Still, he won "Senior Jeopardy." He eventually came up with the name of the person he was thinking of: Humphrey Bogart.
On the real "Jeopardy!", if the answer is "He's the star of 'The Andy Griffith Show'" and you say "Who is Andy Griffith," you would win the square. But in "Senior Jeopardy," if you replied with, "Who is the guy who played Matlock," you would win. The judges would also accept "Who is the guy who played Opie's dad." But "Who is the guy married to the woman with the neck" would get the buzzer.
It's odd, but there are still things I can remember effortlessly: the lyrics of songs, and who sang them and wrote them; trips I've taken; books I've read. And then there are things I can't remember at all, and never could, even when I was young. It has nothing to do with age; I simply didn't care enough, then or now.
Back then, no one thought I had a memory problem. They all thought I had a drinking problem.