Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Observing a Deficiency

The other day, I stared at my wife as she walked into the room.

Hmm… I think something is different… did her neck get longer? No, it’s her hair.  Maybe... Yes, it’s her hair. I think it’s shorter… and possibly blonder.
Uh-oh, she saw me staring at her and now she’s smirking like she knows I see something different, but can’t figure it out… I’d better act fast.

“You did something with your hair,” I mumble. She laughs. “It looks GREAT,” I exclaim, trying to recover.

“It wasn’t today,” she says. “It was two days ago.”


Apparently she had cut about four inches off it, and it was at least three to four shades lighter. (As if I understand the blond shading scale!)

I am the most unobservant person I know. I would be a terrible cop. Actually, I think I would be great at high speed chases, and tackling bad guys, and Taser-ing people, but if the perp got away, my sergeant would probably ask me, “What did he look like?”

“Uh, you know. He was a dude. You know, kinda about this height, sorta thinnish.”
“A dude?”
“Yeah. He was white and had darkish hair. Or maybe he was Mexican. He was either Mexican, or a really tan white guy. Or he could have been Asian.”
“You talked with him for five minutes before he ran, right?”
“Yeah. You know, come to think of it, he kinda looked like a tanner version of my buddy John.”
“OK… Can you describe John?”
“Um, you know. He’s a dude. You know, kinda about this height, sorta thinnish… He was wearing a blue jacket. Or maybe dark grayish. It might not have been a jacket, actually. It might have been a long sleeve shirt…”

I expect that would be about the point where my police career would end.

I think I was just born without the part of the brain responsible for remembering what things look like. And it goes beyond hairstyles and bad guys. You could rearrange all the furniture in my house and I wouldn’t notice until I tried to sit where the chair used to be and hit the floor. And it works for adding and removing familiar things as well. If my wife hangs a new picture on the wall, or removes one that has been there for three years, my brain reacts the same way to that. A month later I will have a vague notion that something is different about that spot on the wall, but I won’t be able to put my finger on it. When she adds things, I have a little bit of an advantage, but when she removes things, I’m almost hopeless. My brain has no stored imagery of what it used to look like at all.

If I came home and my house was painted an entirely different color, I would probably just have a strange notion that something was off, but not what it was. If I did notice that it was a different color, that would be the only thing that I could tell you. It’s different. There is no way I would be able to tell you what color it was before.

I saw a good friend of ours at a gas station a few month ago. I was driving a company car, but it happened to be the exact same make and model as my own car, just gray instead of blue. The first thing she asked me was, “Did you get a new car?” I was amazed by that. She obviously got all of the part of the brain that I am deficient in, because I would be very hard-pressed to tell you what make and model car any of my friends drive, let alone what color they are. They are stored in my head in general categories; Jenna: SUV, Mark: pickup, Bill: small sedan, Jaime: toaster-looking car, etc. As long as they show up in the same class of vehicle, my brain will register no difference at all. The color doesn’t even register with me. I’m not color-blind (although, my wife might argue that point based on some of my clothing choices), I’m just color-impaired.

I think whatever brainpower is responsible for the high level of information gathering and storage required to remember what things look like – the part that I obviously lack -- was re-routed to other functions. I remember events, and text, and speech. I can tell you exactly what someone said years ago, and usually with the same inflection. I remember the lyrics to almost every song I have ever heard, and I know movie lines forward and backward. I am the official keeper of long-ago vacation memories, if someone has a question about what we did or what was said. I just have no idea what color the outside of my house is. Same thing with my wife's hair. I see her every day, and I sleep next to her every night, but if she changes her hair I might notice that it is different, but I would not be able to tell you what it looked like before.

And don’t even get me started on clothes. I am barely aware of what the clothes I own look like. How am I expected to keep track of anyone else’s? Luckily, my wife has learned to live with my deficiencies, for which I am grateful. She just laughs at me when I ask if the jacket that she’s had for six months is new.

She doesn’t laugh when I tell her exactly what she said two years ago, though. I don’t think she likes that very much.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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