In “When Harry Met Sally,” the Carrie Fisher character says: “Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they can’t all possibly be right.” Or does she?* I just wrote that off the top of my head natural, to use a favorite Baltimore-ism, as opposed to checking it on IMDB. When Nicholson Baker wrote “U and I,” one of my favorite books, he did the same thing, trusted his memory of John Updike’s novels, then used footnotes to confess, oh so cheerfully, where he got it wrong.
Now I happen to have excellent taste and a fabulous sense of humor. But I will cop to not having two things that most human beings insist they have: A good memory and crackerjack instincts about other people. I have a hit-and-miss memory. In fact, I find it rather appalling how much slips out. A friend recently reminded me that I once told our boss to “Grow some balls, Mr. X.” That’s funny. (See, I told you I had a sense of humor.) That is, well, ballsy. But, while it sounds vaguely familiar, I don’t really remember it. I don’t doubt it and I can almost conjure up the scene, but only by deduction. I would have been in the cramped office we used in the State House. I was clearly on the phone. Was it about the John Arnick story? Hmmm . . . maybe.
On the other hand, I’ll never forget the time that the top boss, the absolute Numero Uno boss, inadvertently spat in another friend’s beer while talking to him at a party — and my friend drank it! And I’m not sure I was there at that exact moment, but I feel as if I was. That scene I can conjure perfectly in my mind — spittle flinging from those patrician lips, flying in slow-motion into my friend’s glass, him lifting it without hesitation, delivering the all-important message: I will drink your spit, sir. Did I witness it, however? Dubious.
If you have more than two decades on this planet, you probably don’t have a perfect memory, either. There are things you think you remember with startling clarity, but they may never have happened. It’s all Rashomon all the time, baby.
(Okay, but what about the human ability to judge character? Some people can do that pretty well. Interestingly, in my experience, the people who do it best are those who like people the least. I also had a cat who was great at it. When I had evil dates, she would launch herself off my forearm, leaving little parallel claw marks.)
*Marie: Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.
Damn close, if you ask me. But not perfect.