I have a long history with being right. When I was a kid, I was right all the time. Knew the answers, knew why I knew the answers, knew what the next questions would be. Moving all the time meant I was always being given another series of placement tests, and I knew what those would be like, too.
I didn’t know everything, but I found a way to be right about what I did know.
One of the cruelest (and probably best) things about getting older is I find I’m not right as often. In fact, these days I’m usually wrong. I’ve found that my main tool for always being right — my memory — isn’t doing its job as well as it used to. I don’t think I’m getting dumber, I think I’m starting to understand how much more I just don’t know, and because there are all these things I don’t know, I can’t possibly be completely right about what I do know anymore. The bravado I needed to be sure and confident through my teens and twenties isn’t necessary right now. In fact, I seem to need to not know things in order to learn anything anymore. I have to enjoy being wrong.
Because I’m wrong a lot, I now really appreciate when I’m right. When I know I’m right, anyway. I can have a hunch I’m right, but when I’m right with facts and proof, it’s a pretty good feeling, as it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Probably because I no longer spend much time taking math tests.
My husband doesn’t assume I’m right. One of the most common questions he’ll ask after I make a statement is, “Are you sure?” It didn’t use to bother me. Not in the slightest. I think I’d usually respond, “Yes,” and then forget he even asked. But as my memory has started to go on vacations, and as I’ve learned I’m not always so damn right, that question can now set me off.
Are you sure?
Actually, no. Not anymore. Even though I know I’m right. Now I’m not so sure. Because sometimes I’m wrong, so maybe I’m wrong again.
“Where’s the mail?”
“I put it on the table.”
“Are you sure?”
I don’t know. I can see the mail on the table from where I am, and I have a vivid memory of putting the mail on the table, but maybe I didn’t. Maybe I can’t see it. Maybe he can somehow see that it isn’t really there, even though he’s not even looking at the table yet and hasn’t seen that it is, in fact, exactly where I said it is. Maybe he can see the future, where the mail isn’t on the table anymore. I feel like a scene from Marathon Man. “Is it safe?”
Yesterday afternoon I saw that the mailman hadn’t picked up a parcel he was supposed to pick up. I saw it by the mailbox as we drove up to the driveway.
“The mailman left the thing.”
“No, he didn’t.”
Maybe .02 seconds had passed between those sentences. And the old me would have said, “Yes, he did, Wrongy.” and not thought a thing. But here’s the me that’s wrong a lot, so now I’ve got a moment where I’m so right that I get smug and I snot back, “Well, in three seconds you’ll see that he did leave the thing, and then you can prove to yourself that the thing is there, and maybe then you’ll believe me, but it’s not like it matters if you believe me or not because whatever.”
When I was a kid and knew more answers, I was a much more mature human being.
Last night, watching the credits on Lost, I saw a familiar name. Not someone I know in real life, but someone I know from the lyrics of a Beastie Boys song. I pointed at the name under the “Music Supervisor” credit and I chanted a line from Paul’s Boutique: “I bought a hot dog from who? George Drakoulias!”
My husband said, “I’m pretty sure that’s not him.”
“Why? Why not? You think there are a bunch of music guys named George Drakoulias?”
“That album is from forever ago.”
“Don’t you think George Drakoulias gets someone shouting that lyric at him every day?”
My memory’s keeping that useless stuff alive in my brain. When it actually comes in handy? There should be a party. I’m waiting on that day when I am needed by the government, when the only way to stop global thermonuclear war is to beat a computer at a game called “Seventeen Or So Useless Johnny Depp Facts.”
“You know,” stee said as I walked back into the living room. “You might actually… this guy… he did music for Tom Petty, but I’m sure it’s still not the same guy.”
I wanted some kind of validation for being kind of right, but I wasn’t going to get it. He was too busy doing his own internet research, not realizing that I was spinning inside my own frustration. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to be so right about. That I spotted two Greek men in the music industry, and made a connection that might be true? Is this what I was getting so upset about? Is this worth being so angry? So, remembering something I’d been studying earlier that evening, I just accepted and let go and tried to be patient with the fact that nobody said I was wrong, and there’s nothing all that awesome with being right, anyway.
When it comes to learning new information, stee and I are two different people. I usually believe what someone says to me, sometimes to a fault, but stee immediately needs to prove it to himself. So while I often end up feeling gullible, stee’s often left trying to explain why he wasn’t exactly calling someone wrong, he was just trying to determine how right the other person was before he went ahead and believed him.
So this morning, when stee and I got on the subject of a Paul Simon song, I saw his hesitation and knew that he did not want to step into another pile of me.
We were talking about “Feeling Groovy,” which, according to stee, is about taking lots of acid. I said that I was pretty sure that Paul Simon didn’t write that song. That it was by a band called the Feeling Groovies.
“I remember this,” I said, “because Daniel Newman and I got into a huge fight about it my senior year of high school.”
I remember Dan kept singing the chorus of this song, and it was driving me crazy and everything’s sketchy, but I remember him handing me a CD of this band, the Feeling Groovies. I remember having a two-cd Simon and Garfunkel album with that song on it, and how I’d shown him the track. I couldn’t remember if it said it was written by Paul Simon. I just remember feeling like Dan was right and I was wrong, and I was somehow the owner of a Feeling Groovies album.
stee couldn’t find a band named “Feeling Groovies.” We did, however, have a Simon & Garfunkel album with that song on it, and it says it was written by Paul Simon.
“Wow. I can’t believe Dan Newman had a CD made up by a band that didn’t exist just to show me that I can be wrong.”
“You do get kind of … well, you do like to be right.”
“How did he do that?”
That same year my mother accused my father and me of contacting The Houston Post and getting them to create a fake newspaper just for us so that we could continue conning her into believing in the flesh-eating virus. She was sure we’d made it up, and she couldn’t believe the lengths we went to in order to keep her going.
I went to take a shower. Something about hot water on my head always makes my memory work better, so it was there that I remembered it was actually a band called the Flamin’ Groovies.
We looked that band up. No cover of “Feelin Groovy.” I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and I don’t know what I’m right about.
Listen, this is going to bother me for a very long time. Because my brain has removed key moments from this unimportant argument I had with someone I haven’t seen since I was eighteen. It’s possible that I had the Flamin’ Groovies album already, but I don’t know why I would have had that.
All I know for sure is that Daniel Newman loved to prove me wrong, whenever he found a moment to show me how wrong I was. We fought a lot, because… well, because he would find something that would set me off and just pick at it. We fought about politics. I still remember when Clinton was saying that oral sex wasn’t technically sex, Dan and I fought about that for a week. I remember he kept asking me, “Pam. Is a blue radio still a radio? Even though it’s blue? A blue radio is still a radio, isn’t it?”
Dan really would enjoy this last laugh, that I’m racking my brain here this morning trying to remember why I had a week-long argument about the song “Feelin’ Groovy,” which is still one of my least favorite songs ever and now is playing on a constant loop inside my head. That ain’t right.
Now that I’m able to admit I’m often wrong, I have to work on feeling less triumphant over the moments that I’m right. Because that’s when I really feel like an asshole.