Cottage Cheese, Toupees, and Cardiology

As I was walking through the parking lot towards the entrance of the Banner Heart Hospital, I saw a piece of black hair lying on the ground by the driver’s side door of a parked car. The car, a modest sedan, had handicapped plates. The hair was shiny and black and luscious.

“Is that a…toupee?” I asked myself with eager curiosity, as I approached the scalpage.  (Curiosity, because I’m just always on the quest for knowledge and new experiences. Eagerly, because — come on, how often do you see a wig in a parking lot? And also, because I wanted to distract myself from my upcoming cardiology appointment, and ALSO, because isn’t LAUGHTER THE BEST MEDICINE OF ALL? And if so, maybe by having a good old chuckle right here in the parking lot I might cure all of my symptoms so that the doctor would proclaim, “Get out of here, you scamp! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all!”)

Anyway, so there I was in the beating sun, looking down at a tousled but otherwise intact patch of vibrant black hair, and thinking:

  • 1. Should I…pick it up?
  • 2.  NO, right? Because, what would I do with it?
  • 3.  I mean, I COULD put it into the ‘eyeglass basket’ in the cardiology office on the 3rd floor (Yes, they do have an “eyeglass basket”; yes, it’s always filled with at least 4 pairs.)
  • 4.  But perhaps the owner of the hairpiece is not at that office. There are many different offices in the building…the hairless wonder could be anywhere.
  • 5.  Besides, what if it had, like, lice or something? Cooties?
  • 6. Better to just leave it here, by this car, because probably the owner will see it on the way back out.
  • 7. But also, I should text several people about this immediately.
  • 8. And probably also tell the tech today at my appointment, because, hey! A toupee in the parking lot!

So after chuckling to myself and admiring, for one last time,  the luster of the sun shimmering from the ebony tresses, I took a deep breath and continued on into the building, and to floor three, where I had an appointment to pick up my eCardio heartbeat monitor.

I noted that the eyeglass basket was full, and that there were no people in the waiting room who appeared to be lacking a hairpiece. That’s not to say that they didn’t lack hair — it’s just that those who lacked it seemed to be OK with it.

“The Blessing!” I muttered to myself, summoning up another chuckle as I reminisced with myself about the awesome uncle in “Christmas Vacation” and about his toupee. Awesome!  “The Blessing!” I said under my breath again, wishing that I could insta-send a mental Skype to my sisters and family to laugh about this with me.

Because I could not do the mental thing, and because nobody sitting near me piped up with, “Oh, I LOVE that movie too!”, I  passed time while waiting nervously by alternating between two thoughts:

  • 1. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. I guess that’s OK, right? I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems, and they’re still kicking! It’s OK. I’m OK.
  • 2. Oh My God. I am probably the youngest person in here. That’s TERRIBLE. I mean, look at all these people – they’re pretty old, and they have serious problems. If I’m having problems NOW, good God, what, how will I —

And now it was time to distract myself by reading a book on my tablet by Joshua Foer called Moonwalking With Einstein. This book proved to be even better than the toupee in the parking lot. Have you read it? If not, you should!  Foer writes in a fun style about memory, memory competitions, how to improve your memory, and how even “ordinary” people who don’t think of themselves as savants can learn to memorize incredible amounts of knowledge.

He said there are techniques you can use to memorize lists of words or numbers, and he started with a very catchy example.  Let’s say you want to memorize his friend’s long ‘to do’ list of 15 items that includes purchasing pickled garlic, cottage cheese, 6 bottles of wine, elk sausages, etc. He says to start by thinking of a place that is very familiar to you, such as your childhood home . Take the first item on your ‘to do’ list and put it by the entry walkway. Imagine yourself placing that jar of pickled garlic there, maybe a HUGE bottle, and tasting the delicious and/or revolting taste as you do. Really visualize it there in your mind.  Next, proceed up to the front door. As you get there, imagine that right there is a kiddie pool filled with cottage cheese, and Claudia Schiffer is in there swimming in it. A few items later,  imagine the 6 bottles of wine sitting on the couch, arguing about which one of them tastes better. (Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.  New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.)

And so on. The thing is, it WORKED.  I read along with his friend’s eccentric to-do list, mentally placing them  in my childhood home, and it stuck. I can recall the list right now. I am visualizing the jar of garlic, the pool of cottage cheese, the wine bottles…all of it!

I started to get excited. Next step? Maybe *I* can be the one who memorizes pi to the ten thousandth digit!  Or, maybe not, because honestly? –That sound super boring. (Although kudos to those who can do it!)

But I figured that if I could now memorize long weird lists of things just after reading about a technique for 10 minutes, imagine how much I could improve my memory ability if I actually studied more about this and practiced, as Foer did. He ended up winning the U.S.  Memory Championship in 2006 after learning & practicing various memory techniques.

So I walked into my appointment thinking of Claudia Schiffer and the garlic (those images are REALLY sticky! — mental note; need to learn how to un-remember something), and proceeded to tell the tech about the toupee in the parking lot at a suitable point in the conversation. She did not seem to think this was as funny as I did, or as interesting. Also, she did not seem to know exactly how to work the device she was currently giving me to take home for 30 days.  I found myself thinking that perhaps SHE could use a few lessons on memory. (“I can’t remember how many events it records before you can send it. I think maybe, like, two? Or like, maybe three? Just send after each event though, OK?”)

It’s an eCardio monitor that looks like a little pager. If I feel irregular heartbeats or palpitations, I just hold it to my chest and it records for 60 seconds. Then I call the number listed on the pager, hold the receiver over the pager, push the “SEND” button, and it transmits.  I was simultaneously relieved that I didn’t have to WEAR the monitor for 30 days and also surprised that there was not better technology. I mean, seriously — how about a device that records and can upload to a website on the computer? Wouldn’t that be simpler?

My cardiologist told me not to worry about having a heart attack from my sometimes-palpitations after I told him I was worried about this. He wants me to record any irregular heartbeats so we can figure out what is going on, but he did not seem to think it was going to be life-threatening, which is comforting.

So now I will be carrying around my little eCardio in my purse for the next 30 days, and also possibly reading more about memory techniques and improving my memory.  I will also be trying to remove the images of Claudia in the cottage cheese, and the huge bottle of garlic, and the grumpy wine bottles from my childhood home, because — as you can imagine — there are MUCH better things I can use to fill up that home. Like a luscious, gleaming black toupee.