A senior moment is a momentary mental lapse of the sort that people in my age bracket experience all too often. Forgetting where one put the car keys, blanking on the name of someone one has known for years, that sort of thing. It may be, but need not be, a distressing evidence of the onset of dementia. A charming cinematic example is Eli Wallach, in Holiday, who goes out for a walk, forgets where his house is, and has to be guided back by Kate Winslet.
I have for years been troubled by one particular kind of senior moment – totally blanking on a name. I think I have perhaps mentioned that there was a time when I simply could not bring to mind the name of the great operatic soprano, Kathleen Battle. I knew that she had recorded a splendid collection of Baroque arias for soprano and trumpet with Wynton Marsalis. I could visualize her, I could play over in my head in all their musical complexity a number of the arias she sings on the CD, but I simply could not remember her name. I thought if I remembered the initials K. B. that would help, but then I could not remember the initials! Recently, I was telling over in my mind a story about an experience I had in 1964 when I arrived at Columbia University to take up a professorship there. I could recall in the most minute detail every aspect of the story except for the name of the person involved – Arthur Danto.
Generally speaking, my memory is pretty good. I can remember my landline telephone number, my cell phone telephone number, my wife’s cell phone telephone number, our telephone number in Pelham, Massachusetts, my credit card number, my Social Security number, my wife’s Social Security number, the telephone number of my parents’ house where I live from the time I was six until I was sixteen. I can even remember the National Guard identification number I was assigned when I went off to Fort Dix in 1957 – NG 21268121. But I am constantly blanking on names.
Usually I can use my computer in one way or another to cough up the name, either by going to Google or else by searching the 800 page autobiography that I wrote and posted online. One of the oddities of my senior moments is that when I set off to the computer to track down a name, frequently as I am about use the computer to find it, it pops into my head.
I figure there must be some place in the brain where names – but not all this other stuff – get recorded. Otherwise, it would make no sense to me that my senior moments are so precisely defined in their character. There must be a neurologist out there reading this blog – does anybody have an idea what the explanation is?