Friday, June 17, 2011

I Am Fred's Brain

Many moons ago, before the Internet and iPads and other miracles, there was a little magazine called The Reader’s Digest. It was everywhere, especially in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. Inside were abbreviated articles from various publications, pieces covering a wide variety of subject matter that had been whittled down to their absolute essence, presumably for people who were too busy (or cheap) to buy and read all the periodicals the RD culled for its content. Reader’s Digest also published a line of “condensed books”, along the lines of condensed milk, I guess, and hewing to the mission of the little magazine itself: to present current best-sellers and informational tomes, pared down to their essentials for quick digestion.
It says something to me about the books that were condensed that they could be read and enjoyed, even while missing large chunks of their original content. Mind you, we’re not talking really high-brow Lit, here. I suppose in younger days I read a few of these freeze-dried tomes, but I don’t recall ever seeing any condensed John Updike or Saul Bellow. And the RD was a family-friendly company, for sure, so it’s unlikely very much in the way of “adult” lit made its way into any reader’s digestion.
(Reader’s digest is still in existence, including an online version, and according to Wikipedia, is currently published in 52 editions and 35 languages and is available in over 100 countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and the People's Republic of China.)
Mixed in among the digested articles were a number of little features that appeared regularly: “Humor in Uniform” and jokes and short pieces submitted by readers. Among the regular features was a medical one called “I Am Joe’s….” the blank space filled in with some internal organ or other, thus: “I Am Joe’s Liver”, “I Am Joe’s Pancreas” and so on. In it, the specified organ would explain where it was, what it did, how much it weighed and so on. Occasionally there would be a female version, “I Am Jill’s Whatever”, since of course there are parts of Jill that Joe does not have, but which the world was apparently eager to hear from.
Since I’ve spent a good deal of time over the years trying to figure myself out via various self-help books, groups, one-on-one counseling, meditation, psychics and, once or twice, the Ouija board – I thought I’d submit an article to Reader’s Digest myself. And I wanted you to be the first to see it. For your delectation, then:


Hello. Yes, I am Fred’s brain – an amazing organ, housed in Fred’s cranium. The center of the nervous system, I weigh about three pounds and I’m about the size of a cantaloupe. Eighty-five percent of me is made up of the cerebrum (suh-REE-brum) the “thinking” part of Fred’s brain where voluntary muscles are controlled.
            I am made up of over 100 billion nerve cells, and each of those cells is connected to around 10,000 other cells, which equals around 1,000 trillion connections! I am actually very soft, jelly-like and not grey but a deep red color.
            I am such a complex, miraculous structure that even I can’t comprehend myself!
            Which is pretty much what’s wrong with Fred. He has so many talents and abilities that I can’t keep them all straight, especially when he starts getting all ADHD on me and begins an art project, only to drop it in favor of starting a new play which then gets sidetracked while he goes shopping at the Ralph Lauren 40% Off Sale (and as you know, 40% off Ralph Lauren is a “sale” in the same way that imagining you’re at the beach is just like being at the beach).
            It is generally said that I have three parts: the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain, each of which controls various functions in the body, voluntary and involuntary. I think I have a fourth part: the worry brain. This is where Fred carries on loud and vigorous dialogues with himself about what’s wrong in his life; what has already gone wrong and how much he regrets it; and what is about to go wrong sometime in the future, he’s just not sure what it is or when it will happen or what the consequences will be... but he’s sure it will be terrible and he’s worried sick about it.
            You’ve probably heard it said that you only use 10% of your brain. Well, I am here to tell you that, as Fred’s brain, every bit of me is used every day and it’s exhausting. Even when he’s sleeping he’s having these dreams you wouldn’t believe! I don’t get a moment’s rest. Every so often I try to nudge him along and have him think good thoughts. You know, “Hey, schmuck, cheer up! Things are great! Why don’t you just enjoy your life for five minutes, for Chrissakes, and give me a break! Do you enjoy the stinking thinking? The worry? The stress? As Cher said in Moonstruck: ‘Snap out of it!’”
            I think I finally got to him today. He’s beginning to realize that if he’s so good at negative thinking, he’d probably be a whiz at positive thinking, too!
            Of course, I’m also very good with money. Good thing, too, since Fred loves his Shop Therapy. Doesn’t matter what it is – new shirt, antique chair, movie poster – it always helps, so I do what I can, within the budget of course. For example, let’s say Fred sees a beautiful sweater at Macy’s, on sale for 60% off, (final price $89.00) a steal! He decides to think about it, goes home, then goes back to Macy’s the next day to buy the sweater, but it’s gone! “Damn!” says Fred. But then he realizes that, since he didn’t buy the sweater, he’s $89.00 ahead, meaning that when he sees those shoes for $119.00 at Nordstrom Rack, he can buy them and they’ll only really cost him $30.00, since he already had the $89.00! See? Genius!
            And now I have to get Fred back on that writing project he shelved a few months ago. I’m convincing him there’s something to it, and he owes it to himself to figure out how to finish it. Then he’ll get discouraged and drop it, and pick up something else get the picture. This is my life!
            Well, I hope this little self-profile has been enlightening... and entertaining.  (I’m sure I’m more interesting than Fred’s pancreas, which I understand has also written one of these for Reader’s Digest. It’ll be a tough sell.) 

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