Though I have one of the best active vocabularies of anybody I know, I am nonetheless a terrible Scrabble player. I suspect this is because I am flummoxed by the limitations of the seven letters provided me. In most areas of my life I crave limitations like I crave chocolate, but this appears not to be one of them. I use the word “perforce” in casual conversation, and yet if confronted with an open e on the board and the letters prfrcoe in my tray, I guarantee you that the absolute best I’d be able to come up with would be “fore,” or, if I were feeling particularly inspired, “crepe.”
Similarly, though in general I have a superb long-term memory, this faculty fails when it comes to women’s ages. No matter how many times a woman tells me her age, I will never, ever be able to remember it. For this I blame not the terror of limitations but an incident from my childhood. Once, when I was five, my family went out to dinner; I suspect it was to a fine dining establishment like Red Lobster. At some point during the meal, I turned to my mother and asked, in my loudest five-year-old voice, “Mommy, how old are you?”
Without missing a beat, she turned to me and said, “Seventy-six.”
Now, even I, a cognitive work in progress as it were, could tell that my mother was not seventy-six years old. And yet somehow my brain accepted that as the truth, just as it had accepted her explanation the week before that the expression “colder than a witch’s brass tit” came from the olden days, before modern weather-measuring equipment, when people put brass witches out on their back porches and felt their tits in the morning to see if it would be a cold day.
At any rate, I date my inability to remember women’s ages from that moment at Red Lobster.
It is occurring to me that my problem is not that I am cognitively deficient but that my mother was a pathological liar.