Taylor: When brain synapses fire at random

Do any of these ring a bell for you?

(Photo from www.theradiohistorian.org)

I can tell how old you are, without asking. I merely have to write three words: “Fibber McGee’s closet.”

Did you smile? Even laugh out loud?

Then you’re probably over 80.

Fibber McGee, for those of you with blank looks on your faces, was a radio program of the 1940s and parts of the 1950s. It featured the improbably named Fibber McGee. Who put everything he didn’t know what to do with into his closet.

So, naturally, every time he opened his closet, several hundred pots and pans and other clanging things came crashing out.

It always got a laugh.

It wasn’t just Fibber McGee, though. In those days before television, young people tuned in every afternoon to hear another exciting half-hour instalment of the Green Hornet. The Shadow. Amos and Andy.

Older folks of the time, like my parents, preferred to listen to Ozzie and Harriet. One of their sons, Ricky Nelson, later became a rock star. Or to Lux Radio Theatre, which turned movie scripts into audio dramas. Or Just Mary.

These reflections came about because my mental synapses work in strange ways. If I let them play unleashed, they make connections that I had no idea were still there.

Synapses are not logical. They don’t operate linearly. You can’t set up a cause-and-effect flow chart for them.

They’re more like quantum physics.

As I understand it, sub-atomic particles don’t figure out the best route to get from A to B. They try every possible route at once. The route that gets them to B is the one that they take.

Sometimes our minds work the same way. They don’t intend to dredge up old comic strips. They make random connections.

This column resulted from one of those random connections. Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, the name “Skeezix” popped up.

Who?

Skeezix was a character in an old newspaper comic strip, Gasoline Alley. Google says the strip ran began in 1919 and still runs in some papers. It was the first strip to let its characters age naturally, through multiple generations.

Only the Katzenjammer Kids has a longer publishing history.

If I had paid no attention to that name “Skeezix,” it would instantly have ceased to exist. But because I did pay attention, a whole pantheon of other long-forgotten comic strips emerged: Mandrake the Magician. Joe Palooka. Ozark Ike. Little Orphan Annie. Popeye.

To say nothing of the strips that have become embedded in our culture – Pogo, Li’l Abner, Dick Tracy…

If you’re younger than 80, probably none of these musings will mean anything to you. But you have the same synapses, making random connections when you’re not herding them into formation. Who knows what they’ll turn up.

Memory is like a pop-up children’s book. You turn a page, and a castle rises out of nowhere. You can close that book. Or you can explore the castle.

One memory leads to another. That’s the joy of writing memoirs. You may think the past has vanished into the mists of time.

But each incident that you recognize, identify, reflect on, leads you to another. And another.

Your synapses will have a wonderful time, dancing through an archive you never knew you had stored.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.

rewrite@shaw.ca