I remember / je me souviens
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For those limbic bursts of nostalgia, invented by Proust, miniaturized by Nicholson Baker, and freeze-dried by Joe Brainard in his I remember and by Georges Perec in his Je me souviens.

But there are no fractions, the world is an integer
Like us, and like us it can neither stand wholly apart nor disappear.
When one is young it seems like a very strange and safe place,
But now that I have changed it feels merely odd, cold
And full of interest.
          --John Ashbery, "A Wave"

Sometimes I sense that to put real confidence in my memory I have to get to the end of all rememberings. That seems to say that I forego remembering. And now that strikes me as an accurate description of what it is to have confidence in one's memory.
          --Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason


Thursday, June 06, 2019
I remember posting
this fourteen years ago.   I remember finding out more since, from my father about the death of his brother, two days before his birthday, which was D-Day, when he would have turned 19.  My father got home from school.  He was twelve.  The elevator operator in his building was horsing around with the kids there.  His hand had been mangled somehow, and he and the kids would play games: maybe he'd pretend to scare them, or they'd pretend to be scared.  My grandparents and their children (but Willy was off in the Pacific) lived on the ground floor, near the lobby (in an apartment I knew as a young child) so they didn't have occasion to use the elevator: they'd walk by it and up three stairs into a hallway where the mailboxes were.  The elevator operator flagged my father down to say that they'd received a telegram.  Everyone knew what that meant, but both my father and the elevator man pretended they didn't, and he went back to scaring the screaming children.  My father went to get my grandfather who was doing something a few blocks away -- I am not sure why he wasn't at work, down at the Empire State Building.  My grandfather came home, opened the telegram, and then took my father downtown and to the East Side, to the doctor's office where my grandmother had an appointment on East 81st street I think.  He said to her, "Willy je pao," Willy has fallen.  That's where the story ends, or maybe it isn't, since my grandmother mourned ferociously the rest of her life.  In his old age, my father thought more and more of his brother, who was I think the last person he thought still loved him completely, the last person who represented his memory of a hope for the future.  Not the future he lived and died in, where he was close to his grandsons and loved the rest of us still, even if not as much as when he could boss us around, a bossiness that was his way of presenting the world to us as a gift, a universe to enjoy while the enjoying was good.  But a future that was what the US must have meant to all of the when they escaped Europe and started a new life free from the murders then devouring the rest of their friends and family.  His brother was that older, new-world teenager, the good and protective big brother, and then he died and the latest born and first dead of the family that had escaped to America.  But his photo and his memory helped my father through his own last years and months, helped him sustain a tenderness which had disappeared everywhere else.


posted by William 4:13 PM
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Wednesday, June 05, 2019
I remember that we heard the news about RFK's shooting on TV, but went to bed not knowing whether he would live or die.  The Times was delivered the next morning -- I looked at it immediately -- and it said that he had been critically wounded.  (I remember that he said, "No, no, please don't move me."  I liked that he said "please.")  The Daily News, which I would often look at on the way to school (since
the prejudiced lady always had me buy it for her when I walked her dog), also said that he was in critical condition.  We heard in school that day that he had died -- I remember a look of concern on the face of a kid named Barry whom I have a sense of as a presence in sixth grade but have no other episodic memory of -- but there was a way in which I wasn't going to believe it till the Times confirmed it.  The next morning the Times had a banner headline about the aftermath of his death (and they must have had a story about Sirhan Sirhan).  But we never got the actual headline saying that he'd been killed.  This was a newspaper my father wouldn't be able to save.  RFK went from being critically wounded to having been dead since the previous day.  This made me think that newspapers were less authoritative then I had been thinking of them as being.  The sequence of headlines didn't tell the story.  Of course a later edition of the Times did say he'd been assassinated, but I didn't realize then that there was more than one edition.  I didn't like that either.  The world was not an orderly place, conforming to a sequence of facts that could be made into a coherent story with what would eventually be a happy ending.  Humphrey was a nobody, and our only hope.  And Nixon was elected.


posted by William 5:28 PM
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Monday, June 03, 2019
I remember my mother teaching me to play chess.  This was in
Stormville, so I was no older than seven, and probably five or six.  Like everyone, I was intrigued and surprised by the way the knight moved.  I was also surprised that the Queen had so much more power than the King.  Although in our house mother and father were pretty much equal, it was a novelty not to see the King acknowledged as the lord and master on the chess board.  The Kings were so different from Kings in checkers, a game my father taught me to play.

In fact he taught us all the games we played: he knew how to turn the rules, printed on the back of the top half of a game box, into an actual game.  He'd read the rules and understand them and turn them into something fun!  This was one of the traits that I most valued in him: how a new game could be something we were playing after just a few minutes.

I recognized immediately that chess was the superior game -- I think I may have already known this in fact, which was why I wanted to learn to play chess.  And my father didn't know how to play, but my mother did.  So that the Queen's superiority in chess seemed appropriate: my mother knew how to play chess and my father didn't, and the Queen could range the board, while the King was stuck (maybe a bit like my father on the toilet in his long morning monopolization of the bathroom).

And I remember in the very first game I played with my mother, one of probably less than a dozen games total, I took her Queen with my Knight!


posted by William 2:39 PM
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Thursday, May 30, 2019
I remember my mother explaining the concept of the lost-and-found to me.  I didn't understand it, but it seemed magical.


posted by William 11:04 AM
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Sunday, May 26, 2019
I remember that when I read To Kill a Mockingbird I admired Jem as a kind of young authority -- the older brother who was the most accurate pointer to who the good adults were.  That means I was considerably younger than him, so I must have read To Kill a Mockingbird at about age ten.  It's no wonder I missed so many literary allusions!


posted by William 12:00 PM
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Sunday, May 19, 2019
I remember that Marjorie Morningstar was the first novel for adults that I read. I remember how much I liked the line "Like a crooked arm," and how I argued that this was so much better than "Like Noel's crooked arm."  Then I read The Caine Mutiny, and my father told me Queeg's balls were shit (or maybe the psychologist in the book says that?).  Then Youngblood Hawk and The Winds of War, though I'm not sure I finished it. And This is my God, which (along with The Source and The Chosen) inspired a phase of religious mania. The last Herman Wouk I read was a novel about a guy who buys a Caribbean inn and thinks he's going  to live a life of  leisure and finally read Ulysses, "that difficult book." My father had a copy, I had seen, so I grabbed it, read the preface with Judge Woolsey's decision finding it not obscene, and started in. It was difficult. Dashes instead of quotation marks made it hard to say when speeched ended! I read it over the next year. About a hundred pages in, I asked my father whether Bloom was Jewish. Obviously a lot more difficult than Wouk!


posted by William 12:56 AM
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Saturday, May 11, 2019
I remember the first time I heard the phrase "hurry up" -- in the hallway outside our apartment. We were late for something. I remember the phrase was somehow thrilling to me, because I didn't quite know what it meant. But it was certainly urgent -- I knew what "hurry" meant -- so somehow I'd have to hurry to do whatever hurrying up meant. The only thing I could do was both run and button my coat at the same time. That seemed to be what was wanted.


posted by William 12:58 AM
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Wednesday, March 20, 2019
I remember we used to call it the measles.  And we used to think that we'd all had it or that our friends had, but in fact we'd all had the German measles instead, because thankfully the measles had been eliminated through vaccines.


posted by William 1:17 PM
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019
I remember the original host of Jeopardy, Art Fleming.  I love poor Alex Trebek, but I can never reconcile myself to him as true host.  Art Fleming always seemed a little surprised.  By right answers, by wrong answers, by the correct answers themselves.  (Or rather questions.)  His voice sounded ruddy, which made his face look ruddy even on our black and white portable, which I would watch in the kitchen on days that I was sick.  (Jeopardy was a daytime show back then.)

Maybe my parents' generation couldn't reconcile themselves to Johnny Carson.  Not that they ever watched the Tonight Show -- that was one of those things my classmates in middle school knew and talked about and sometimes regaled each other with, but it wasn't a part of our house.  It was as though TV habits, even back then, far from being a great unifier was a kind of very low intensity divider of households, a kind of analogue to religion but with very little at stake except the formation of wispy, ephemeral in-groups conglomerating every morning in twos and threes and dissipating as classes stared or people talked about gym or after-school activities or new desert books or tests or weekend plans.  As though the communion the hosts made possible (to use a Jeff Nunokawa pun), was more like a coffee break (though we didn't mostly drink coffee, though I supposed that might have been another gauzy shared activity among those who did) than the sipping of sacramental wine. 


posted by William 9:07 AM
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Saturday, March 09, 2019
I remember that sometimes my uptown grandparents -- when my downtown grandparents were sill on speaking terms with them -- would get rye bread for dinner when the downtowners came over, and that the rye bread they got was much better than the rye bread my downtown grandparents got for themselves, bakery, not bakery-section.  We never had rye at home, though sometimes I would get it at a restaurant -- my favorite sandwich being a BLT on rye, but not rye toast (which my father always wanted me to try).


posted by William 2:15 PM
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Thursday, March 07, 2019
I remember Petticoat Junction, and that later, when I heard of Peyton Place, I thought it was Petticoat Junction: I didn't bring the original title back to mind, even Peyton Place did bring the show I'd watched back to mind. This confusion made TV show seem more scandalous to me even as it sanitized the idea of Peyton Place, reducing it to an inoffensive American sitcom.


posted by William 12:47 AM
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Wednesday, January 30, 2019
I remember the direction that a cassette tape goes.  I remember that you rewind it to the start, with all the tape on one side in the window.  Because in the first cassette player we ever had you put the cassette in tape side up (so that the label is upside down),  I remember that all the tape has to be on the right side when the tape is upside down.  I still find this easier to remember than that it should all be on the left side when it's right side up.


posted by William 1:59 PM
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Thursday, January 24, 2019
I remember reading about Kennedy writing his inaugural address -- or touching it up -- in the limo.  This was in William Manchester's A Thousand Days.  I remember thinking that having to give an inaugural address might be a reason for me not to be president, since I hated the very idea of giving speeches.  Then a year or two later, I remember, we learned about the State of the Union address in a social studies class, and I realized that the president had to give a speech every year.  I thought that that was certainly too much.  I had an image of the president giving a speech -- I think it was Kennedy because I was still connecting it to his inaugural address -- and that president was definitely some highly competent adult and no version of me at all.


posted by William 1:41 PM
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Wednesday, January 23, 2019
I remember Russell Baker (who died today).  I remember my father reading him in the Times when I was a child and how my father would laugh out loud -- a rare thing for him to do when he was reading the news.  I remember that later, in high school, I looked forward to Russell Baker's twice- or thrice-weekly columns.  By then they'd moved to the op-ed page because by then there was an op-ed page.  I remember my high school English teacher reading aloud one of his columns about reading Proust, which Baker compared to climbing Everest, with Tenzing as his guide, promising him that there would be a cup of tea or a walk along the beach in the not too distant future if he could just hang on.  I remember that I would laugh out loud when I read his columns too.


posted by William 12:42 PM
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Sunday, January 20, 2019
I remember that my parents would often say "I knew you'd say that" to each other, with a kind of delight.  I liked it.  I liked the way it meant that they were sharing a good mood, and were appreciative of each other's wit and in synch in that appreciation.  I don't know that I ever knew it when they were about to say things, so there was something lovely about the way their agreement created a kind of reliable world -- if they were both thinking the same thing, and it was a happy thing that put them in good moods, all was obviously all right, and since I didn't know they'd say what they said, I was grateful to see that things were good and solid and stable too.


posted by William 11:39 AM
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Saturday, December 29, 2018
I remember cards my parents used to receive (and send too, I think) whose sentiment was "Season's Greetings."  They had green wreaths on them -- at  least that's how I remember all of them.  I remember being slightly puzzled and maybe a little disturbed by not quite knowing what the cards meant.  Season for me meant one of the four seasons, and this clearly wasn't a reference to any of them, even winter.  And I didn't know how the season was greeting us, so I didn't know what greeting meant in that context either.  The exchange of these cards seemed part of some adult etiquette, some interaction that belonged to a world I wasn't part of, like my parents' business correspondence, or the bills that came, or the taxes they did.  The language was close enough to language I knew to recognize the words, but their meaning was opaque to me.  Since these cards were clearly supposed to make you happy, or wish you well, their opacity was a little bothersome, even unpleasant.


posted by William 10:42 AM
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Sunday, December 23, 2018
I remember that I was always subliminally confused about Frank Borman (the astronaut) and Martin Bormann (the Nazi). My parents talked a lot more about the latter -- I think there was a rumor he'd actually escaped to Argentina, and it seemed a vague pity to me that he should have been part of the Apollo project.  This was of coursed influenced by the true pity that Wernher von Braun was so central to the American space program. (I used to confuse Argentina with Arizona; hence my not getting the joke about Goldwater being "still alive and living in Argentina.")


posted by William 7:18 PM
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Friday, November 30, 2018
I remember that you were supposed to tie your laces so you wouldn't trip, but I just couldn't picture how you could trip even if your laces were untied.


posted by William 12:10 AM
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Thursday, November 22, 2018
I remember that contrary to popular usage the "lion's share" means all of something, since the lion got all of it.  I think I learned this in a textbook for my English class.


posted by William 1:02 AM
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Saturday, October 20, 2018
I remember "Brush your breath, brush your breath, brush your breath with Dentyne!"  And that "four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum."


posted by William 10:24 AM
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Friday, August 31, 2018
I remember the Village Voice.  Nat Hentoff.  Vladimir Estragon.  Jack Newfield.  Alexander Coburn.  Andrew Sarris.  jill johnston.  J. Hoberman. RIP


posted by William 7:10 PM
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Monday, July 30, 2018
I remember the public library commercial, with kids singing "There are books and things that the lend for free--/It's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the libary," and then a chuckling baritone authority correcting that to "library."


posted by William 11:27 PM
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Monday, May 28, 2018
I remember first remembering phone numbers by the way the sounds of the numerals felt together. I'd subvocalize them as iambs to memorize, with exaggerated stress. I think that was part of the fun of numbers with sevens and zeroes.

Telugu number sequences required a completely different prosody that I never devised, sadly, because I never needed to memorize them. (Much much later, hearing someone say their phone number in Italian reminded me of what this internal prosody could have been.)

I remember I had to relearn our car's license plate number shortly after I learned it, when the state prefix changed from CA to KA and all the plate numbers were reassigned. I could read enough by then to know that the state's name started with a K, and it was logical, but the change was still mildly disconcerting. And then a few years later, I'd look back at the CA license plate days as a time from a different era, as so many other things changed at the same time in my life and outside.

(And now I see the switch was in 1990, and so it was.)




posted by sravana 8:54 PM
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Monday, April 23, 2018
I remember his name is not Jasper. Someone says, "Screw you, Jack," to him, and he replies, "Screw you, Jasper."


posted by William 8:22 AM
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Monday, April 02, 2018
I remember how much I liked Jasper (?)'s lines in Cat's Cradle (?): "Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.  Go take a flying fuck at the moon."  (Also that a professional indexer could tell things such as that a person was "a homosexual" if he made the mistake of doing the index himself.  That kind of disturbed me, though, and made me wonder about people who did do their own indexes.  I read Cat's Cradle -- if it was Cat's Cradle -- in seventh grade, where I sat to the back on the left side of the classroom.  I remember when I read certain books by where I was sitting when I read them.)  I remember that at first "Go take a flying fuck at the moon" made more sense, but then I came to really like the vividness and aptness of "Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut."


posted by William 10:27 AM
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Monday, March 05, 2018
I remember my father telling me how Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile: the physiological knowledge he had as a med student, how it allowed him to figure out how to pace himself, the help that he got from his friends who paced him.  My father knew nothing about running (I was a wannabe runner at the time, because of my infatuation with Jim Ryun), but he knew all about Roger Bannister.


posted by William 10:43 PM
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Sunday, March 04, 2018
I remember the New York Times chess column, written by I. A. Horowitz, which appeared three times a week, I think. I usually couldn't understand his explanation of moves a player couldn't make because they would lead to a position that wasn't obviously bad enough for me to see was losing. But I liked the diagram that came with each column, usually of the position near the end of the game -- it would be captioned as the position after the move made in the caption. When the Times switched from English to algebraic notation I found the games much harder to follow (I hate algebraic notation) and gradually stopped reading the columns. I think this was after Horowitz retired.


posted by William 8:11 AM
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Friday, March 02, 2018
I remember how disturbed I was when I first saw a 9-volt battery, which I had to put into my new transistor radio.  I hated its asymmetry.  And that asymmetry was increased, rather than mitigated, by the fact that you had to snap it into terminals which were the opposite of the terminals on the battery itself.  I think this was the worst version of the asymmetries I hated in training wheels and in bikes in general -- the chain on one side of the frame, not both sides.  Trikes were so much more elegant, as were D batteries. Even dry cells were okay.  The asymmetries I hated were left-right, not front-back.  Hence my dislike of the new windshield wipers, which paralleled each other instead of describing mirroring arcs across each half of the front window.


posted by William 11:24 AM
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Friday, February 23, 2018
[Alma remembers what they told her:]

This entry does not, strictly speaking, belong in Je me souviens because I have no personal recollection of the event, which was related to me by my mother. It would more properly belong to a series entitled On m'a dit, but there is no such series. I'm settling on je me souviens qu'on m'a dit. Apparently, when I was a toddler in my native Sarajevo - then Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina - I sometimes made the request "umi me" a baby-talk version of the Serbo-Croatian "uzmi me," meaning "pick me up." On one occasion my parents and I were walking along the main street of the city (then called King Aleksandar's Street, later Tito's Street and now...who knows?), and we were passing by the National Bank building. The building's entrance was flanked by two giant male caryatids. Tired of walking, I planted myself in front of one of them and commanded: "Umi me."


posted by William 11:52 AM
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Friday, February 09, 2018
[Paul Lakin remembers:]

I remember my first grade teacher saying "actions speak louder than words" to scold us for being too loud, with the idea that if we wanted to speak *really* loudly we'd do something other than yelling. She also said it to scold us for hitting, with, I guess now, the idea that hitting was speaking too loudly.
These two opposite, wrong uses of the proverb were confusing as fuck, and probably would be to any six year old who will from time to time very much want both to hit and to speak loudly. They also delayed several years my understanding what it really does mean.


posted by William 2:13 PM
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