“As the satisfactions, therefore, arising from memory are less arbitrary, they are more solid, and are, indeed, the only joys which we can call our own.”
One day before my oldest son was born I was standing at the rail in front of the grand stand at the Saratoga Race Course, listening to a bettor explain to me his theory of “champs and chumps.” I have never placed even a two-dollar bet. Gambling leaves me cold, like hip-hop and steak tartare. I was there as a newspaper reporter in search of human interest stories, which litter the pavement at a race track. My instructor was a few years older than me, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, straw hat and binoculars. Of course, he was a champ and, because I never bet, I was, by implication, a chump. He was also my wife’s ob-gyn, and one day later, on Aug. 6, 1987, I would, with his assistance, deliver my first son into the world.
The passage quoted at the top is from Dr. Johnson’s great essay on memory, The Rambler #41, published on this date, Aug. 7, in 1750. My serendipitous meeting with the doctor ranks among my most precious “joys which we can call our own.” One of the beauties of memory might be called Hedonistic Augmentation by Happy Association (the syndrome known as HAHA). When I think of thoroughbred racing, I think of my oldest son and his birth. The same thing happens when I think of Saratoga Springs, the Albany Times Union or Hawaiian shirts. One of the reasons I have little sympathy for people who complain of boredom is that I carry its remedy around in my head, and it doesn’t cost me a penny. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you, and it’s like getting cable free of charge. Theodore Dalrymple understands:
“There are some people whose imagination and emotions are stirred more by the past than by the future, and I am among them. We to whom time the past is more important than any time to come are not world builders, we improve nothing; on the other hand, we seldom destroy anything. We tend to pessimism rather than to optimism, or at any rate to expectations that are not extravagant; supposedly imminent solutions to life’s problems, after all, seem never to arrive, and disillusion is more common than fulfilment of promise. A disappointment anticipated is a disappointment halved; pessimists are therefore happy in the long run, or happier than optimists.”