"I wonder if I'm getting Alzheimer's," B said to me the other evening as we sat at the table after dinner.
"Alzheimer's?" I said. "Where does that come from?"
"I've read all these books recently, and they're just a blur. I can't tell one from another. I can't remember the plot or the characters or anything."
"Hmmm. Do you keep a record?" I wondered. "I keep a list of the books I read, with brief plot summaries and my reactions, just for that reason."
"Yeah, I do that, too. But still ... " she trailed off. "I think they can tell, based on what kinds of things you remember, compared to the kinds of things you forget, whether you're getting Alzheimer's or not."
"Well, if it's forgetting where you put your wallet and your keys, then I've been suffering from Alzheimer's since I was 18 years old."
She gave me a look and rolled her eyes. She's mentioned this before, about forgetting things, and she knows I don't take her seriously. She's just a perfectionist -- if she forgets one name, or the title of one movie, she gets upset with herself.
"I get discouraged that I read these books," she went on, "and I can't distinguish one from another. They all seem the same to me. I really don't understand why they have to publish all these new books, anyway. They're all the same. There are no new themes."
"The same?" I wondered.
"Yeah, a woman gets divorced or loses her husband; she feels all alone, then she meets someone new. Or, there's a quirky kid, and he finds another quirky kid, they get in trouble, then they learn a lesson."
"Hah," I said. "You ought to read one of my books, then. Whole different thing. A detective finds a body, then meets a sultry women, uncovers a secret and gets captured by the bad guys. Then he beats up some people, corners the bad guy and says goodbye to the woman because that's the honorable thing to do."
"You see!" she said, as though I were proving her point. "There aren't any new themes or plots. We should just go back and read the classics -- what's wrong with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens?"
"Nothing. But, come on, there are plenty of new themes." I didn't know how the conversation had taken this new twist, but I knew she was now on a rant. She knew it too, because I could see she wasn't entirely serious.
"No, there aren't," she insisted. "Just new technologies and new fashions."
"Well ..." She had me now. I didn't know how to respond.
"I read recently that there's a controversy among teachers and educators," she went on. "Is it a good thing to let kids read anything they want, just to get them to read? Or should we insist that they read good books?"
"That's a tough one," I replied. "But I say it's good to read. So get the kids reading, that's the first step, then worry about what they read later on."
"But then they only read junk."
"Better to read junk than watch junk on TV, or play junk video games."
"Eventually, they'll stumble onto something good," I continued. "Like, if they watched that movie where the guy was obsessed about Charles Dickens. Remember? Then they'd get interested in Dickens and want to try reading one of his novels."
She gave me a puzzled look. "What movie about what guy who liked Dickens?"
"You know, last week," I said. "We saw a movie where the guy was always reading Dickens, talking about Dickens, quoting Dickens."
"We did? What was the movie?"
"Ah ... I don't remember the name of the movie," I confessed. "Or the actor. I thought you might remember."
"No idea. Dickens? So what movies have we seen recently?"
"The King's Speech," she offered. "That was a while ago. Uh, Something Borrowed. No, I didn't see that with you, I saw it with my girlfriend."
"Black Swan?" I offered. "Remember? We rented the DVD last weekend."
"There was no guy in Black Swan," she scoffed. "That was about the two women. You know, what's her name. Natalie Portman. And the other girl."
"Crazy Heart?!?" she exclaimed. "Are you crazy? We saw that ages ago. Besides that was, uh ... Bridges. What's his name? Jeff Bridges. There was nothing about Dickens in the movie."
B called in to her older son, watching TV in the other room. "What movies have we seen lately?" Sometimes we use his Netflix account to rent a movie, or watch a movie that he's ordered for himself.
"I don't know," he called back.
B and I looked at each other. Then her son appeared in the kitchen doorway, his arms resting on the door jam. He laughed. "You guys are having such a typical old people's conversation."
We laughed with him, although I wondered -- how come it's okay for 20-somethings to make fun of "old people's conversations," but we can't make fun of their conversations -- which typically consist of sentences of less than 140 characters, the limit on Twitter.
Then a thought flashed into my mind. "I know! It was the movie we got from Red Hat!"
Which brought a gaffaw from B's son. "Red Hat!" he laughed. "It's Red Box!"
"Right," I acknowledged. "Red Box. It's the movie we rented at Red Box. Remember, we drove over to 7-Eleven and got the movie from the machine."
"Yeah, actually I do remember that," B said, her eyes brightening. "But what was the movie?"
I still couldn't remember. So B called into her son again. He informed us, in condescending tones, that he hadn't gone to Red Box; he hadn't seen the movie; he knew nothing about it.
"We could google it," suggested B. So I got up and went into my office. I sat down at my computer and googled: "Movie where the main character likes Charles Dickens." I got a screen full of references to Charles Dickens. But nothing about a movie.
Then a name popped into my mind. Matt Damon. And so I called into the kitchen: "It was Matt Damon! The movie had Matt Damon in it. Remember? It was something about death."
"Oh! That rings a bell!" B exclaimed. "There were the two boys, and one of them got run over."
"Right! And Ron Howard's daughter was in it-- what's her name? Uh, Bryce Dallas Howard."
"Wait ... wait... " said B. "I got it. I know it ... Hereafter!"
"Yeah that's it!" I agreed. I paused a moment, then brightened. "And you thought you were getting Alzheimer's."