What’s Your Idiosyncrasy?
In John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska, the protagonist, Pudge, attempts to win over his new floormates by offering them a fun fact about himself: “Um, I know a lot of people’s last words.” As a fan (and a constant critic) of young adult novels, I immediately picked out this detail and classified it as unrealistic. I believed Pudge could perfectly recite the last words of over a dozen people as much as I believe non-religious TV characters can identify Bible passages when presented with some cryptic riddle or fake messiah. The brain is capable of a lot of things, but memorizing the entire Bible in case someone needs an emergency Jesus consult is not one of them. As much as I appreciated the clever tie-in to Alaska’s accident and Pudge’s labyrinth assignment, I was still not convinced that anyone could seriously have a talent or quirk as random as “dying declarations.”
That is, until I discovered my own.
A few months ago, I was sitting at a restaurant with my family discussing Taylor Swift’s dating history when I pointed out something I thought was common knowledge:
Me: Did you know she’s 5’10”? Harry Styles was only 5’11” meaning she probably had to wear flats like, all the time. Otherwise, she’d be taller. But maybe it’s not actually a problem, because Taylor Lautner was only 5’9″.
Unbeknownst to me, my dinner party had stopped listening around the second sentence. Once I had finished name-dropping celebrities and their proximity to the earth, I leaned back and waited for the group to compliment me on my well-constructed argument. Instead, I got this:
Mom: Why do you know how tall these people are? Why do you know that?
The tone she was using was not exactly disgust. It was the kind of tone you’d here from someone who’s just endured a 3-hour long lecture on the psychological effects of emoticons or the real reason why cats purr. Her question had the undertone of blasphemy, not because she was particularly offended by my height statistics but because she was dumbfounded that anyone could think such information was important enough to remember for more than 5 seconds. She was confused but also intrigued, the way you might feel after seeing someone leave the gym not looking like the life had been drained out of them.
Mom: …how tall is Ryan Seacrest?
Me: He always looks pretty short on TV but he’s actually like 5’8″. But you know who’s really short? Danny Devito. He’s 4’11”. He doesn’t even have a growth defect or anything, he’s just short.
Mom: Hayden Panettiere?
Me: 5’0″ exactly. Her boyfriend is 6’6″. I don’t really understand how that works.
Before I could even realize what was happening, my mom was throwing her nervous look around the table to see if anyone else had caught my extraordinary display of weirdness. It was at that moment that I understood Pudge’s idiosyncrasy, his unnatural fascination with dying last words. It was not something that he developed intentionally. (I mean, I doubt anyone sits in their room and thinks “You know what I’m missing? An extensive knowledge of dying last words. Let’s work on that.”) No, the obsession simply collected in his mind, probably gradually, without his knowledge, until it had created a permanent settlement in his brain that was too hard to evict. Likewise, I had mentally recorded celebrity heights, not for any scientific reason (Was there a correlation between height and Taylor Swift’s romantic feelings? Not that I could tell.) but because some nerdy particle in my brain decided that it wanted to hold onto that information for future use. Then that one particle recruited other particles and before I even knew it, there was an entire department in my subconscious dedicated to the subject. (I’d attempt to shut the whole operation down but its members are too powerful. Anything that can survive the brain purge that happens before a big test or research paper cannot be defeated in one day, by one person.)
And so, I ask you: what’s your “thing”? What useless string of information do you secretly indulge in or hold onto for family dinner outings? Think hard. It might be hiding somewhere in your brain, behind biblical quotes and song lyrics from your favorite childhood hits.