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On The Other Hand...

Cartoon sketch of a frowning man in glasses surrounded by a variety of fuzzy lines. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

Memories stacked up in my vault are visual, visceral, and aural. Ready to roll; any time.

When a memory appears, it's alive. I'm there; I mean, right there in the scene, not watching it like a movie. I'm living it. Feelings, heart pounding, stomach lurching around. The works.

Truly creepy; always is. Never a new image; always a replay from my memory bank.

It's not necessarily a blessing—I'm understating—I mean, there's a lot of stuff in my storage that I'd just as soon forget.

Wish I could, but no choice. I mean I don't pick the memory; that happens somewhere between my ears, in my brain; whole department; bottomless number of episodes; endless cast of characters.

My only response to a disturbing scene is after it flashes by, when I realize my stomach is in a nosedive and I retreat into myself, my feelings, and do an emergency review of the past few minutes trying to find the trigger. Not always easy. The possibilities are endless.

Was it the comment someone just made? something I saw? the thought I just had? a familiar face? something I felt in the atmosphere in the restaurant where I am? and when I find it—sometimes right then, or later when I go back to it—I'll experience a release and I can reassure myself that I'm not dying, that I've been through this countless times and I'm still alive.

Truly the pits; it's a drain on my spirit, a weight on my soul; dark, dreary and dismal; zero fun.


Well. As it's played out all my life, my imagination isn't a one-way street, creepy, creepy, creepy, around the clock. No, sir. My imagination goes both ways. One end, I could happily do without; the other is the source of my creative inspiration, the answer to the question I'm sometimes asked: "Where did you get that idea?"

It's the upside, the gift, the other face of imagination, the keeper of my life's wonderful moments: vivid, visual memories, alive, that thankfully, I can call up, whenever I like. No surprises; no guessing game: just happy, happy, happy. Any time.

Like right now, for example.

Of books and radio programs and movies and outdoor operetta performances in the park, when I was a kid. I can see, feel, relive the experience: heart, soul, the works:

—I'm in the public library, kneeling at the bottom shelf: Dr. Doolittle books; so excited, one that I haven't yet read; reaching for it; pulling it out; I'm in heaven…

—I'm holding The Wizard of Oz: turning the pages, thrilled by the drawings…Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion…

—The Hardy Boys: a row of volumes; one after the other, the cover drawings…I'm sliding one of the books out…

Radio, too; The Lone Ranger: I can hear the opening music, the horses galloping, the voices…and The Shadow: scary, exciting, "Who knows what evil lurks in the mind of man?" and his laugh…then …"The Shadow knows"…

Saturday matinees at the movie theater a couple of blocks away with my brother, the matron, keeping order in the children's section…

A fight outside the movie theater…is that my brother? I'm running toward them…

Vivid visual memories, stored away, filed in my imagination, alive; the snow…the milk bottle outside our kitchen door, cream frozen, popping the top off…

An apparently endless parade of sweet, emotionally satisfying scenes.

It's the other side of my imagination: welcome, party-time, fun and not a cloud in sight.

I think it's amazing. Same piece of me —my imagination— goes both ways. Black and white. Life and death. Maybe a little exaggeration there, but I'll tell you, it sure feels that way.

Bottom line: I can rationalize the whole thing as a two-for-one deal. Not that I actually have a choice; I mean, I don't ask to take a dive into despair so I can get to run through a positive, uplifting, reassuring, life-affirming episode on that other piece of my imagination.

Basically, I like to think I never whine.

I just suck it up and play the hand I was dealt.

Maybe now and then I sigh.



Nothing like a whine.

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