Trivial Associations

The husband of the author of Forever, Amber died at a Washington, D.C. restaurant by choking on a piece of lobster.

I read that once, years ago, and I happen to remember it.  I have no idea why.  I just know it, OK?  Maybe because I like lobster or, as my husband points out, I have a choking phobia.

The point is, no matter how much I complain about my memory, my mind has a certain velcro-like capacity for irrelevant, but colorful details.  When I’m with our friend John, who has a similar mind, the two of us quickly become impossible to be around.  We bubble over with completely useless, usually celebrity-driven minutiae.

Peggy Lipton!  She was married to Quincy Jones!

Who played Sally Bowles in the original Cabaret on Broadway?  Jill Haworth!

Who was Winona Rider’s godfather?  Timothy Leary!

And on and on.  No wonder we drive everybody else off in search of fresh air and deep, bracing, intellectual conversations.  No wonder we’re so good at clearing a room.

But we can’t help ourselves.  Our minds just work like this.  When a famous name crops up, we feel compelled to supply the identities of people who have had romantic liaisons or odd interactions with the famous person.

For example, when I read recently that Antonin Scalia ran into Sarah Jessica Parker and bummed a cigarette off her, I knew this was something I would never forget.  (I would say that I always forget how Scalia voted on Supreme Court decisions, but this isn’t true.  He always votes for the wrong side, along with his silent sidekick, Clarence Thomas.)

I also know, for some reason, that Dan Quayle’s favorite movie is Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, which always makes me think better of Quayle.  Of course, the star of Ferris is Matthew Broderick, who is married to Sarah Jessica Parker, which leads me to think that, at some superficial, gossipy level, all things and people are connected, if you just keep the associations shallow enough.

I also know and hope to be asked someday as the zillion-dollar final question at a trivia contest that in the book The Thin Man, Asta was a schnauzer and not a wirehaired terrier, and that Andy Williams may have supplied Lauren Bacall’s low, throaty singing voice in To Have and Have Not.  Not many people know that.  Not many people care.  But I’m ready in case anyone wants to ask me.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

5 comments… add one
  • And did you know that Nino Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are actually BFF’s in real life?  And Julia Child was a spy with the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) during World War II?  And Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine were sisters who hated each other and were estranged during their entire Hollywood careers?  Oh, man, this stuff is fun.  Who couldn’t love it!


  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I knew it all, except for the first item.  (What can Ruth be thinking?)  My sister and I fell in love with trivia by reading about the Tudors.  We never quite got over it.

  • I love trivial
    bits — they gather like lint and
    are cleaned out, sometimes.

  • I have a similar affliction in that I remember song lyrics. Obsessively. Including ancient commercial jingles. So, “Knock on any Norge. Knock on any Norge. Hear the solid sound of quality, knock on any Norge. Years from now you’ll be glad, it’s a Norge.”

    That one dates to, oh, about 1965.

  • Cindy Link

    Remember “plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is”?  Whatever happened to commercial jingles?  When my husband and I were discussing the demise of jingles and I burst out with the plop-plop one, my daughter looked at me like I’d grown a third eye.  And remember “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t”?  Another long stare from my daughter. To me, these were well-known cultural phenomenons.  To her, it’s really weird trivia.

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