"Good morning, Elaine," she said. The tall, dark-haired woman was standing at her locker in the woman's dressing area, smiling in anticipation of my returned greeting.
"Good morning, um..." And there I stood, silent and stomped as to hername as well as the celebrity's name I had glued to my gym mate, which I had believed to be a helpful clue. Sadly, neither the identity of the star, or the woman, had yet emerged from my brain.
Fortunately, she accepted my partial response and rushed off to an aerobics class. I instead sunk to a padded footstool to await and berate myself for failing to retrieve her name. I felt as foolish as a tennis pro watching a lobbed ball fall at my feet.
Who was the celebrity that was my clue? Refusing to leave my perch -- despite the surety I would lose out on an unoccupied swimming lane -- I started with the alphabet. "A, B, C -- Cheryl!" I shouted as others in the area swiveled in mid-dress at my declaration. "Cheryl Hines," I explained, "the actress on the Larry David show. Her name, the woman who just left? Her name is Cheryl!" I was as giddy as a contestant about to win the grand prize.
This slow recall -- which I now compare to the buffering that occurs when my streaming channels are downloading -- frightened me. Along with other inconsiderate invaders of my 81-year-old body, like arthritis and age spots, the most worrisome is Alzheimer's. But I was mollified when I read in the April/May 2019 issue of the AARP magazine that reported, "Age-related cognitive decline shows in things like a word that's on the tip of your tongue and you remember it later. With Alzheimer's, you'll forget the word and it'll never come back. "
Gratefully, "Cheryl" came back and my method -- tricky when the celebrity is less well known -- eventually worked. But I challenge the magazine when it claims, "age-related" because friends younger than I admit to buffering brains.
Instead of age, we agree the cause is over-stuffed mental file cabinets. Of course, the older one is, the accumulation is that more jammed. How can I, or you, easily pluck the correct folder from that tangled mess.
Other than the occasional buffering, I'm showoff-y about my memory and I credit several things I deliberately do to polish it daily:
*I play piano; poorly. But the effort of remembering chords, finger placement, and rhythm surely strengthen muscle memory, as if it were calisthenics rather than Rodgers and Hart.
*I am learning Spanish; in fact I've been doing this for decades. But now, I write my daily thoughts in that lovely language. By regularly recording my humdrum-to-lively life, vocabulary has fastened itself to my brain. Often, I can converse with a delighted Lyft driver and still arrive at my designated destination.
*I've taken a technique similar to the Memory Palace, where words/faces are located in various rooms in a favorite house, or um, palaces, thus making locating things you wish to remember easier, rather than floating around in your brain's cerebrospinal fluid.
Somehow, my brain has switched Palace to a Memory Columnar Pad where rows and blocks contain names and things I want to recall. Every morning, after I wake, and before I allow myself to rise, I recite a prayer of gratitude and blessings. Because I have been doing this for more than 10 years, my lists of friends and loved ones, doctors and helpers, homes and neighborhoods, appliances and devices, have ballooned.
Also, my column that includes names of people needing prayers for good health often sadly switch to the column of blessed memories. The recitation now takes 10 minutes to recite in my head. (If I'm unable to get through the prayer that means I need to return to sleep. More knitting up of the raveled sleeve of care.)
The next time I saw Cheryl in the locker room, before she could jumpstart our greetings, I blurted out, "Good Morning, Larry!"
I was close.