Thanks for the Memory

Scientists have successfully created false memories in fruit flies.

    -- Science Times      


Until a week ago, much of my own past was hidden from me. I don’t know why this happened. Maybe the vividness of my history, with its surfeit of loves and accomplishments, simply overwhelmed my mind. Maybe there was a persimmon. Who can say? The mechanism of forgetting is a mystery, to scientists as well as layflies.     


But recently -- call it a miracle, or a healing, or simply the indomitable reassertion of truth -- the fog lifted. Pictures of my life, real and vibrant, have flooded my consciousness. I never before believed in “recovered memory,” but trust me: What’s lost can indeed be regained.


Where to begin?    


Like most of us, I entered October of 1962 blissfully unaware of the crisis confronting our nation -- until the summons came from the White House. They sent a long black car for me, with a beautiful mushy pear in the back seat. In a few hours, I was hovering in the Oval Office.     


“Look at this,” the vigorous young President said, laying out a series of aerial photographs on his desk. “These are secret Soviet missile installations in Cuba. They’re aimed at us.”     


I looked over the photos, then turned to face him. He needed my counsel, and he needed it now.


“Call Khrushchev’s bluff,” I said. “Get him on the hot line. Tell him you know all about this. Have Stevenson confront their ambassador at the U.N. Then find a big bunch of grapes. Threaten to drop them on Cuba, but save some for me."    


Kennedy looked at me, his primitive, single-faceted eyes filling with gratitude and resolve. “Except for the thing about the grapes, you’re right,” he said. “Thank you.”      


He asked me to stay for dinner -- just himself, Jackie, Oleg Cassini, Robert Frost and a really good leftover compote at the end -- but I had to get back to New York, because Bud Powell was sitting in with my combo at the Five Spot that night.


And it was a night to remember, now that I can. On the third chorus of “Cherokee,” Sonny Rollins made a harmonic breakthrough that laid one of the crucial cornerstones of bebop. He always credited what I was doing on vibes as the inspiration, and sent me a lovely Thanksgiving basket from Harry and David every Christmas for years. But it was collaboration -- let’s leave it at that.    


She didn’t come to the club that night -- another long rehearsal with Marlon and Gadge -- but she was waiting when I got uptown, and I told her all about it. To think that I might have forever forgotten my time with her! The wild nights of her premieres; the mad lovemaking; our desperate eleventh-hour glider flight to recover the stolen plutonium from the Argentine Nazis -- it’s hard to believe that these precious moments could ever have been papered over with false, dull eternities of  circling over the three-day-old produce of a thousand suburban kitchens.  


These are some of the memories I can now bring to mind -- some of the happy ones, that is. I have spared the reader, as I try to spare myself, the harsher side of my history, like a sundial that “only counts the sunny hours.” The childhood abuse? The abduction? The angry hands of Nelson Mandela barely missing  me over the brown bananas? I just don’t go there.

Charlie Haas’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, and Narrative Magazine. His novel "The Enthusiast"  is published by Harper Perennial.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.