Sun Ra - Column for 8/4

Word Association

Memory is an odd thing. Over time, we forget most things - people we don't see, why Elmo was so engrossing, the quadratic formula - except, for some reason, certain moments. Many of them are Moments that Sucked, so of course we remember them to torment ourselves with later. Hell, I can remember a neighbor yelling at me (and I mean yelling, totally losing control) when I was seven. Then, there are Moments that Rocked. No, not your wedding. But, for instance, scoring the winning goal in a close game. And then there are those things we remember like they were yesterday, for no good reason at all.

My analogy for this, by the way, is: memory is like a city in a swamp. Individual memories are the buildings - if they are new, they are easy to find. If you refer to them often, they remain well maintained and easily accessible. But, if a memory is ignored, it will gradually sink away, leaving no trace. You can try to find it later to no avail. And then, every now and then, something will bubble up to the surface for no obvious reason. You'll be driving somewhere, and suddenly you'll remember the unusual ingredient in a recipe you haven't made for a decade. And lastly, there are those things that just happen to have been built on stable ground, and remain above the ground for years.

A substantial number of my randomly-permanent memories have to do with words; by which I mean a given word evokes a particular (random) memory, which then affects how I think about (and say) that word. So, for instance, whenever I say "master" (don't ask), I pronounce it mASter, very quickly, because I always flash on the scene from Monty Python's Meaning of Life wherein John Cleese says "you will play on the student side in the rugby game against the mASters this afternoon!". I don't know why I remember that. But, on those occasions where I use the word (as in, mASter of business administration), I always do.

I've got particular pronunciations for a number of other words as well: "fine" is always Fine!, strong F, because of a scene from one of the half-dozen pornographic movies I've seen. (If you ask, I'll tell you which one. It's not very good.) I usually drop the "is" from "is all", because of a scene in the animated version of Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, wherein the evil Duke, much put upon, mumbles "and my porridge all salty". So at home it's "my shirt all sweaty" or "my computer all making funny noises". I don't use that grammatical construction in public, for obvious reasons.

Anyhow. That's just memories that evoke certain pronunciations. But almost every word has a whole string of associated memories. So, for the rest of the column, I'm going to pick a random noun, and see what memories bubble up.

Aaaaand the word is... "beans".

First memory - "cool beans", as an expression. I think my sister introduced me to it, having picked it up in LA. I still use it.

Second memory - that scene in Blazing Saddles, where the outlaw gang is sitting around the campfire in stereotypical cowboy chow-wagon fashion, eating beans. And then farting. Ah, low humor.

Of course, then I get to the food item, and think of the wax beans I have right now in the refrigerator, waiting for me to cook them. I bought them at the Takoma Park farmer's market yesterday. I love wax beans. They are super yummy. Also, my grandparents grew them, before supermarkets ever carried them.

Next up is a can of Dennison's chili con carne without beans. In college, I started shopping for myself, and discovered that they made chili that was all meat. Entranced, I ate it regularly, for a while, while living in Albany with Jason Jones and Josh Levine. I still owe Josh Levine an apology for being such a terrible CS lab partner.

Then we get to the little "musical fruit" ditty. You know, "beans, beans, the musical fruit / the more you eat, the more you toot!" I remember riding in the van, up in the high Sierras on the way to or from fishing, and discovering that my mother sang that same song when she was a child. Ah, camping at Cherry Lake. That's a nostalgic space-time.

I'm still not sure what Java Beans are, but at some point while I was working at Cisco, they became all the rage.

There are also these little glass beads, like squashed marbles, that are used as "life counters" in collectible card games. They aren't called "beans", but for whatever reason, they are popping up in my memory. Sometime during college, I collected a whole scad of Vampire collectible card game cards, where your hit points were called "blood points", and you gained or lost them in, well, the obvious way. Anyway, I also had a bunch of little dark red glass beads for my "blood counters" that were really cool looking.

Okay, those were the easy ones. I'm having to think about it now, which rather defeats the purpose of the exercise. So I'm going to let my swamp rest, and hope you've enjoyed (or at least been perplexed by) this tiny glimpse into my head.

- Sun Ra

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