They say that we humans remember stories and experiences much more readily than we do facts. On this point I must agree completely and here’s why.
I used to spend hundreds of hours memorizing facts and figures for classes in high school and college. Even when invested enough time in studying, I could never quite memorize all the material, and as a result, I rarely achieved a perfect score on such tests.
Experiences on the other hand were just the opposite. After climbing a mountain or going on a bike ride, seeing a movie or witnessing an accident; I could recall every detail of the experience, both immediately after and for years to come.
In fact, without my ability to recall the details of my life experiences, this blog would be… well, boring.
Modern life has become very predictable.
For the most part, everything (at least the important stuff) works well, pretty much all the time. From our smartphones, to our appliances, to things as complex as the modern car, we have grown accustomed to a level of reliability that is unprecedented in human history. Even the computers that people constantly complain about work pretty damn well.
The problem with predictability is that it is boring. I dare say that the hum of reliability in which we daily swim, is as dull (and unmemorable) as the lists of vocabulary words, math formulas and the periodic table I once tried to cram into my modest cranium.
It is when things are a little less dependable, that memories are made, and we are reminded of the beauty and joy that comes with imperfection.
In the spring of 1969, my parents moved into their first house in Penfield, NY. My brother was two, I was less than a year and my sister was still more than two years away.
Although the house was small, we didn’t have enough furniture to fill it. At one end of the living room was an indent that was referred to (at least by real estate professionals) as a “dining corner.”
A corner is was not, it was really just a little alcove, and since we had no table to place into it, very little, if any dining ever took place in the space. My mother was eager to obtain a dining room table, but my pragmatic father said that they needed to start saving for college before we purchased anything material for the “dining corner.”
Looking at her toddler (my brother) and a drooling infant (me) sitting in her empty dining corner, my father’s need to save, seemed a bit long-sighted to my mother. However, as he has a habit of doing, my father was ahead of his time.
We lived in that house from 1969 until 1973.
Some time in the latter half of our time at 170 Pleasant Way, my mother finally got her dining room table, and in the spring of 1973 she got an actual dining room into which she could place it.
As irony would have it, growing up in our new house (where my parents reside to this day) we rarely ate in the dining room. Instead the dining room was reserved for special occasions: birthdays, holidays, honored guests and that sort of thing.
The table itself is a long, sort of oval-shaped thing, with a chair and either end, and two chairs along each side. The table can be made about three feet longer through the use of two, eighteen inch wide leaves. Of course when those were in use, more chairs had to be brought in from the kitchen.
The dining room chairs themselves are tall, with these plum-sized wooden balls at the top. I believe the technical term for what I am describing is a “finial” but to a boy (of pretty much any age) “wooden ball” is a more fitting description.
The form of the chairs is such that when you go to pull one out from the table or move it, you naturally put your hands on each of the aforementioned wooden balls.
By design, the balls are affixed to the uprights of the chair back via a half-inch wooden dowel and glue. With six chairs, the dining room is home to a full dozen of the wooden balls, and they are all solidly affixed to their respective chairs, except for one.
Some time in the early 1980s, one of the balls came loose.
At first it was sort of funny, and we children loved the idea that something in the ostensibly perfect dining room was sort of broken. For some reason the chairs seemed to move position quite a bit, so that one chair was never in the same position for long. At every opportunity, we kids would walk by a chair and grab at one of the balls to see if it was the one that would come off. If it didn’t you simply moved on, you never searched for the loose ball, you took your chances, like a Manhattan street game of Three-card monte.
At any point in the last thirty-five or so years, anybody could have fixed the broken finial with some white glue and 5 minutes of time, yet nobody did.
As we all got older and began to have friends at events in the dining room, it was fun to watch an unsuspecting guest accidentally pull the ball off the chair.
As the years went by the stakes got higher, with the guests becoming boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancées, and the like. However, not even the Nazarian to whom the guest was attached would issue a warning.
Uninitiated dinner guests would come into the dining room, and we would all wait for the inevitable wooden ball removal. Of course when it happened, we would all flip out and crow about how upset my mother was going to be. In time, even my mother got in on the joke a little, but we never made anyone suffer too long.
Of course once someone was “in the know” about the ball, they became part of the team hunting the next victim.
My brother, sister and I are long since married and my parents have ten grandchildren, all of which know about the ball. Even though we rarely have new victims to abuse, it is still fun to grab a chair in the dining room and end up with a ball of wood in your hand.
I do know this; if anyone ever fixes it… they’re dead.
Around the same time the ball came off the dining room chair, my parents bought a new car.
When it comes to cars, my dad has always been a man of practicality – he is all substance with little to no style. So, when he went to the local Ford dealer to purchase a 1980 Ford Pinto, all of the models on the lot were too fully loaded.
Let me say that again, the Ford Pintos were too fancy and heavily optioned for my Dad. He ordered one from the factory.
The thing we all call the “sticker” in the window of a new car is actually called (officially) the “Monroney sticker.” When our Pinto arrived from the factory, the Monroney sticker listed two things:
- Base Ford Pinto
- Rear defroster (required by law for delivery in New York State)
That was it, no other options. The final price… $4,000. Even in 1980, that was really cheap for a new car. Where the radio would have been, there was a dark, rectangular hole. Where the cigarette lighter would have been there was a black plastic cap.
This car was a four seat, four cylinder, four speed (manual) car with power nothing. Don’t even ask about air conditioning.
My dad’s plan all along was to purchase and install an aftermarket stereo, which he did not long after we got the car. While he was monkeying around with the install, he discovered that the folks at Ford had installed a speaker in the center of the dash, even though they did not install a radio… bonus, free speaker.
The radio he purchased was in fact an actual stereo unit, complete with a cassette player, so dad needed to find another speaker. The local Radio Shack had a single, surface mount speaker on the closeout shelf. $20, and two hours later, that speaker was installed on the sidewall of the hatchback in the rear of the car.
So, the Nazarians finally had a car with a proper stereo, and we might have enjoyed it just like anyone else, if our ears were mounted between our eyebrows and the back of our heads. Simply put, to listen to the stereo with left and right channels (as God and Alan Blumlein intended it to be) the driver had to be looking straight out the passenger side window, left ear to the windshield.
It would be more than a quarter century before texting would be the leading cause of distracted driving, but back in 1980 the Nazarian Pinto was doing it’s part with the only “front to back” stereo on the road.
To this day, I see friends from high school who recall, “Remember how we had to turn our heads to properly rock out in your dad’s Pinto?”
Good times my friends, good times.
I did not write this to illustrate that my parents had shoddy dining room chairs and cheap-ass cars. Those are facts that nobody will dispute. The point is that because things weren’t perfect, they were memorable, they were fun, and they were meaningful.
Sure there are things in your life that are less than perfect, perhaps even downright dangerous. Embrace them! They are the stuff of great experiences, long lasting stories and imperfect memories that nobody will ever have to study to remember.
Oh by the way, if you don’t recognize it, that picture at the top is George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, replacing the loose “wood ball” on his staircase. If you’ve seen the movie you remember that scene. See, I told you.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved. (Imperfect Memories)