A common malady of those over 40 is known technically among medical professionals as ``having a brain cluttered up with useless stuff left over from 30 years ago.'' Can you sing the theme song from ``The Beverly Hillbillies''? We rest our case! The last of five parts excerpted from ``Dave Barry Turns 40.''
As you get older, you've probably noticed that you tend to forget things. You'll be talking with somebody at a party, and you'll know that you know this person, but no matter how hard you try, you can't remember his or her name. This can be very embarrassing, especially if he or she turns out to be your spouse.
he first few times you commit this kind of ``faux pas'' (literally, ``hors d'oeuvre''), you tend to gloss it over. But eventually you start to worry, to wonder if maybe you could be coming down with Whatshisname's Disease. Well, let me offer you these kind words of gentle reassurance: Don't be such a moron. The odds are that you're merely suffering from a very common middle-aged-person condition known technically to medical professionals as ``having a brain cluttered up with useless stuff left over from 30 years ago.'' For example, to this very day I can remember the words and tune to an incredibly irritating song sung long ago by Annette Funicello called ``Pineapple Princess.'' The chorus goes:
Pineapple Princess, he calls me
Pineapple Princess, all day
As he plays his ukulele
On the hill above the bay
Pineapple Princess, I love you
You're the cutest girl I've seen
And some day we're gonna marry
And you'll be my Pineapple Queen!
I hated this song when it came out. I still hate this song. I favor the death penalty for whoever wrote it. So naturally my brain has assigned it Priority One Status and placed it on a special E-Z Access Memory Circuit, which means that whenever I'm trying desperately to remember the name of the party hostess, or where I left my car keys, or how old I am, there's old Annette, yammering away in the forefront of my brain lobes:
I saw a boy on Oahu Isle
Floating down the bay on a crocodile . . .
And if I manage to mentally shove ``Pineapple Princess'' out of the way, my memory, always looking to help me out, alertly provides me with: a cigarette commercial jingle from 1959. Of course! The very thing I need! While I'm nearing panic at the shopping mall, wracking my brain, trying to remember whether I had my son with me when I left home, it is very convenient that my brain is shrieking:
Every Parliament gives you . . .
The filter's recessed and made to stay
A neat, clean quarter-inch away!
Of course, your brain doesn't remember everything from your youth. Your brain shrewdly elects to remember only the truly useless things. This is why you can no longer do long division, but you remember the name of the kid who ate the worm in third grade (Charlie Ringwold). When I was in high school I read large wads of Shakespeare, but all I can quote is:
To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Whether 9 `tis something something, etc.
And alas poor Yorick doesn't look so good either. Whereas I will go to my grave being able to flawlessly recite:
I'm a choice M&Ms peanut
Fresh-roasted to a golden tan,
Drenched in creamy milk chocolate,
And covered with a thin candy shell.
Is that pathetic, or what? And I'm not alone. If you surveyed 100 typical middle-aged Americans, I bet you'd find that only two of them could tell you their blood types, but every last one would know the theme song from ``The Beverly Hillbillies.'' Right? Even as you read these words, your brain, which cannot remember more than two words of your wedding vows, is cheerfully singing:
Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer barely kept his fam'ly fed . . .
What can you do about this useless brain clutter? Unfortunately the only known cure is a painful medical procedure wherein doctors drill a hole in your skull so the stored-up information can escape. If the patient is a middle-aged man, the doctors have to leap out of the way to avoid being hit by a high-pressure blast of numbers such as the batting averages for the entire Toronto Blue Jays lineup for 1979 and all the other vital pieces of information that guys tend to remember in lieu of trivia such as the full names of their children. The main drawback with this procedure is that if the doctors don't plug up your skull hole in time, you can lose your entire brain contents and wind up as a pathetic drooling cretin with no hope for meaningful employment outside of the state legislature.
POLITICS AFTER 40
Like most everybody in my generation except Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower, I used to be a left-wing anti-establishment protest-oriented march-on-Washington type of individual. Once, back in college, I even participated in a hunger strike to end the Vietnam War. By not eating, I was supposedly enabling myself to focus my consciousness on peace. What actually happened was that I became absolutely obsessed with cheeseburgers, although if I really, really forced myself to concentrate on the tragedy in Southeast Asia, I could also visualize French fries. I kept this up for several days, but failed to have much of an impact on Washington. At no point, as far as I know, did a White House aid burst into the Oval Office and shout with alarm, ``Some students at Haverford College have been refusing to eat for several days!'' followed by Lyndon Johnson saying, ``Mah God! Ah got to change mah foreign policy!''
But the point is, at least I was trying, in my own naive and painfully earnest way, to do what I thought was the right thing. Whereas these days I never seem to get involved in causes. The last time I remember protesting anything with any real passion was when I was at a professional basketball game and the arena management decided to stop selling beer in the fourth quarter.
Sometimes I think I'd like to get more involved politically, but I get depressed when I look at the two major name-brand political parties. Both of them seem to be dominated by the kind of aggressively annoying individuals who always came in third for sophomore class president. Which is not to say that there are no differences between the parties. The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery. They're the kind of people who'd stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy. The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn't bother to stop because they'd want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club. Also the Republicans have a high Beady-Eyed Self-Righteous Scary Borderline Loon Quotient, as evidenced by Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson, the entire state of Utah, etc.
It's very common for people reaching middle age to turn into Republicans. It can happen overnight. You go to bed as your regular old T-shirt-wearing self, and you wake up the next morning with Ralph Lauren clothing and friends named ``Muffy.'' Here are some other signs to watch for:
HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE TURNING INTO A REPUBLICAN
- You find yourself judging political candidates solely on the basis of whether or not they'd raise your taxes. ``Well,'' you say, ``he was convicted in those machete slayings, but at least he won't raise my taxes.''
- You assign a lower priority to ending world hunger than to finding a cleaning lady.
- You start clapping wrong to music. This is something I've noticed about Republicans at their conventions. The band will start playing something vaguely upbeat - a real GOP rocker such as ``Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown'' - and the delegates will decide to get funky and clap along, and it immediately becomes clear that they all suffer from a tragic Rhythm Deficiency, possibly caused by years of dancing the Bunny Hop to bands with names like ``Leon Wudge and His Sounds of Clinical Depression.'' To determine whether Republican Rhythm Impairment Syndrome is afflicting you, you should take the Ray Charles Clapping Test. All you do is hum the song ``Hit the Road, Jack'' and clap along. A rhythmically normal person will clap as follows:
``Hit the road, (CLAP) Jack (CLAP).''
Whereas a Republican will clap this way:
``Hit the (CLAP), (CLAP).''
(By the way, if you don't even know the song ``Hit the Road, Jack,'' then not only are you a Republican, but you might even be Cabinet material.)
I'll tell you what's weird. Not only is our generation turning into Republicans, but we also have a whole generation coming after us that's starting out as Republicans. With the exception of a few dozen spittle-emitting radicals I saw at the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, the younger generations today are already so conservative they make William F. Buckley Jr. look like Ho Chi Minh. What I'm wondering is, what will they be like when they're our age? Will they, too, change their political philosophy? Will millions of young urban professionals turn 40 and all of a sudden start turning into left-wing anti-establishment hippies, smoking pot on the racquetball court and putting Che Guevara posters up in the conference room and pasting flower decals all over their cellular telephones? It will be an exciting time to look forward to. I plan to be dead.
(From ``Dave Barry Turns 40,'' by Dave Barry. To be published in June 1990 by Crown Publishers, Inc. Copyright, 1990 by Dave Barry. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.)
Dave Barry appears Mondays on the editorial pages of The Seattle Times.