Remembering to Remember

How many absent-minded professors does it take to change a light bulb?

I thought of this variation on an old joke when my husband — who is, indeed, an absent-minded professor — told me a story about his adventure with a rented car.  He was out of town attending an off-site meeting, to which he had driven two other faculty members.   All three live in Manhattan and none of them own a car, so my husband had rented a Zipcar for the occasion.

When they arrived at the hotel, they handed off the car to valet parking, and went to their meeting.  A day and a half later, they went back for their car, handing the claim check to the valet.  While they were waiting, they realized that none of them knew what color the car was.  All three thought it was probably white, but nobody was certain.

After everybody else got their cars and drove away, my husband and his colleagues were left waiting.  Finally he approached the valet and asked where their car was.  The valet did a little bit of research and said, “It’s here.  I announced several times ‘Whose car is the black Audi?’ but nobody responded.”

My husband’s response was, “It’s an Audi?”  (He might have also added, “It’s black?”)

We had a good chuckle over this, as few things delight me more than a good story about my husband’s absent-mindedness.  But the fact is, I am usually with my husband when he rents a car, so he doesn’t have to pay attention to the details.  He has the Organizing Goddess to keep track of them on his behalf.

So what could he and his two equally absent-minded colleagues have done to keep better tabs on their car?   And what can you do when you are in a similar situation?

The key is to acknowledge that you are in a situation where details are likely to be forgotten, and to have some mnemonic tricks up your sleeve.  (Mnemonic means “aiding or designed to aid the memory”.)  

For instance, when we park a car in a large parking lot or a multi-level garage, I always use my iPhone to take a photo of the marker signifying our row or level.  When we park on the street in an unfamiliar area, I take a photo of the nearest intersection.  Interestingly, I rarely have to consult these photos, because the act of paying attention to this information usually keeps it alive in my memory.

Other mnemonic devices you might use are:  setting a reminder on your phone, leaving yourself a phone message, or making a rhyme or phrase out of the information.  Many years ago, my sister and I were traveling in Europe, and we kept hearing the same classical music piece as we ate our hotel breakfast in Amsterdam.  We planned to ask our dad what the piece was, but we knew we would never remember how it went when we got home two weeks later.  So we added lyrics to the main theme.   This worked so well that every time I hear the Spring movement of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, these lyrics come to mind – and it’s over 30 years later! 

If only my husband and his colleagues had set “Black Audi” to music.

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