At a recent family gathering, I alone could name a song that references the FBI.
It’s a shame no money was riding on my answer.
The song is the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” which begins, “Saturday night I was downtown, working for the FBI.”
I was prevented from singing the rest of the song, though for the full effect you’d have to be sitting with me in my car’s front seat, where I have musical accompaniment.
Too bad the conversation didn’t then turn to “The Princess Bride,” and Mandy Patinkin’s character. “What was that ‘Princess Bride’ guy always saying?” someone might have asked, and I could have said, “’My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ ”
“Hakuna Matata.” That’s another brain-filler, along with “She keeps Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet” from “Killer Queen” and “Honkin’ plunger!” from a picture book my grandchildren and I find excruciatingly funny. Well, we think “Honkin’ plunger!” is excruciatingly funny; the rest of the book is merely hilarious.
But here’s the thing: I can’t begin to discuss, say, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. I know nothing of Ohio’s statutes of limitation, or the gestation period of elephants or the human vascular system.
I memorized the song “Trouble” from “The Music Man” when I was 12 years old by playing the record and typing, setting the needle back and typing, setting the needle back and typing, until I had the whole song typed out and could memorize it. (Luckily, since by that time the record was pretty much ruined.)
I knew even then that, except for entertaining small groups of people whose attention faded by, “And so you’ve got trouble, my friends,” I had no reason to learn this piece of music. As a female, I would never play Harold Hill even if musical theater had been my destiny, which it wasn’t.
So why, oh why, didn’t I spend my time learning the French subjunctive or geometry?
No, that’s not the question. The question is why, oh why don’t I spend my time now reading the classics or studying Mandarin instead of memorizing the entire “Hamilton” soundtrack?
Memorizing “Hamilton” isn’t even unusual. As I understand it, every 5-year-old in the country is not throwing away her shot, and just two weeks ago at a statewide conference, a red-headed middle schooler stood behind a microphone stand taller than he was and sang, “You say the price of my love is a price you’re not willing to pay.”
At first, I didn’t know where the voice was coming from – the singer was that short – and when I located him, he was on to “Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man.” The audience tittered just a little at this, but really, we were with this boy, heart and soul. I’m guessing every last one of us could have stood up and belted out the last “Dat-ta-da-da-dahs” along with him.
What is it about human intellect that urges us to learn, sometimes with laborious effort, such throwaway stuff as songs and jokes and “Gilligan’s Island” trivia? Why not memorize the periodic table, Canadian history and, if we must venture into the frivolous, the entire score of “Don Giovanni”?
A small correction: I never watched “Gilligan’s Island,” nor did I watch “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Three’s Company” or any ’80s sitcoms, for that matter. I’m not bragging – just stating a fact.
It’s not that I was researching chronic diseases, knitting bedrolls for the homeless or otherwise doing useful work. I was raising children, that’s all. Otherwise, I’d be chirping about Suzanne Somers and Bob Denver instead of spending my time in useful recitations of “Oh, the night was thick and hazy when the ‘Piccadilly Daisy’ carried down the crew and captain to the sea.”
And I never knew until just now that this Charles Edward Carryl poem is about Robinson Crusoe. I just thought it was a poem kids learned in day camp.
I have wasted my life.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.