Curse or blessing? I'm a fount of useless information
I love pop culture– television, film, music, history, live entertainment, literature– and the people involved. For years, friends and co-workers have known this and use me like a search engine, by quoting lyrics, humming a tune, or describing a scene from a movie to learn its origin. This prompted a former co-worker to dub me the Fount of Useless Information.
My mind holds thousands of factoids, tidbits, names, and anecdotes I have absorbed over years, including actors, writers, performers, titles of movies and TV shows, etc. Off the top of my head I can name over 200 cartoon characters, nearly as many silent movies and/or American films, and hundreds of pop/rock/blues songs to boot. This just scratches the surface.
The Flintstones were based on "The Honeymooners." Barney Rubble was based on Ed Norton, hence Barney rhymes with actor Art Carney’s last name. Yogi Bear also was modeled after Norton; just listen to the catchphrases of all three characters. (“Hey, Ralph!” “Hey, Fred!” “Hey, Boo-Boo!”)
I am not bragging– it’s somewhat of a curse. What if Sherlock Holmes’ reasoning was correct in his explanation to Dr. Watson why he didn’t know or care that the Sun revolves around the Earth. The Mind, he said, is like a filing cabinet– it has limited capacity; Holmes kept what he could use and disregarded the rest. If I had only listened.
The ubiquitous arcade game where you manipulate a mechanical claw for a chance to “win” a prize was invented by Max Fleischer, the man who brought Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop to the screen. The machine in a local market lobby offers a Betty Boop doll as a prize.
After an assembly in Ninth Grade, I helped the featured guest pack up and carry out his projection equipment. Mr. Cross filmed his family’s vacations and narrated these travelogues to schools across the country. As we packed, we discussed film.
“There was a guy named Charlie Chaplin–” he said. I hid my smirk as Mr. Cross described a boxing scene where Chaplin ran from the prizefighter in the ring.
“The movie was ‘City Lights.' 1931,” I offered. “The prizefighter was Hank Mann, a former Keystone Cop and comedian.” Startled, he asked where I'd seen the movie. “I haven’t. I’m just a Chaplin Fan.”
Character actor Frank Morgan played “The Wizard of Oz” in the 1939 film. As Professor Marvel— one of his four roles in the movie— he wore a coat he chose off a rack of clothes offered by the MGM Wardrobe Department. Inside the coat was a label stating this jacket was tailored for L. Frank Baum—the author of “The Wizard of Oz” books—30 years earlier. Despite later verification from both the tailor and Baum’s widow, the press blew it off as a stunt.
Once, a local radio talk show host quoted the Washington Post: “Most people can name all five of The Three Stooges, but none of the Supreme Court Justices.” I called the station and to correct the report. There were six Stooges. He told me I was mistaken. I blurted out: “Larry Fine, Moe, Curly, and Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita.
He acquiesced on the air, ending with “Some people have too much time on their hands.” I thought for a moment and– realizing he was right– promptly stopped listening to that station to find something better to do.
John S. Mosby’s expulsion from UVA (for wounding another student) led him on a path to become a lawyer, a famous Confederate Colonel, and an Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
What good is this info? I have won many radio contests by hearing a snippet of a song or answering a trivia question. I attempted to qualify for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Otherwise, I guess it’s worthless. Who cares if I can name all 46 Presidents in order when there is a 12 year-old girl in D.C. who can name them all– forward and backward– along with their Vice Presidents?
Virginia is “The Mother of Presidents,” having produced eight.
Even worse, smart phone applications can do what I do. One app allows the user to sing or play a song snippet into the phone for immediate identification. Another allows one to enter a partial lyrics or key phrases and it will identify the song AND let you hear it. With Web access, one can turn to sites like IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, and find out more about movies than you could ever process. Am I now obsolete?
Kris Kristofferson wrote “Me & Bobby McGee” for Janis Joplin, a one-time girlfriend; but her version was released posthumously, and he wouldn’t listen to it for many years, claiming it too painful. (Both Joplin and Kristofferson played UVA's University Hall at different times.)
A customer had me rethink the “curse” angle recently. “It’s not useless,” she said as she told me of her late uncle.
It seems her uncle had a head full of factoids and spouted them at family gatherings– even grilling people later on what he taught them. “He’s been dead for many years, and people still fondly remember him for that. He used that information to bring people together. Some people use information to divide people,” she said. “You use information to connect to people.”
And that’s what I do. I chat with hundreds of people weekly through my job and other endeavors. Part of my repertoire of small talk includes this arsenal of trivia to engage others. Despite being often maligned, small talk is a useful part of the art of conversation, an art for connecting people.
In a time when “social media” has been accused of keeping us from honing personal interactive skills, small talk may be especially useful. If I can make a person laugh, smile, or think, I believe I have done them a service. Maybe I’m not obsolete after all. Maybe being a fount of useless information can be a blessing…
Carroll Trainum continues to absorb trivia and serve customers at BreadWorks while wearing his Red Sox hat. He looks forward to a vacation in Philadelphia where he will watch the Red Sox vs. the Phillies, and visit the World’s only “Stoogeum," or Stooge Museum.Read more on: carroll trainum