Spoofs & Satire


A Mnemonic Guide to Remembering New Planets

Memorizing the newly assigned 11 planets may be tough for anyone who’s already graduated fifth grade.

It has come to my attention, as no doubt it has come to yours, that two new entries have recently been added to the roster of planets orbiting our sun. Now this would hardly be worth noting if the new planets had been given names easy to commit to memory. For example, Mutinus Mutunus and Intercidona. Or Arimanius and Nemestrinus. Names such as these would have fit right in with the other orbiting bodies, and memorizing them would have been a snap. But it didn’t happen like that, not even close. The names given were not simple, familiar names. Which raises a dark suspicion: the namers were toying with us. They were making it difficult just for the sake of making it difficult. Doubled up with laughter in their naming sanctum, cackling at their mischievousness, at the havoc they were sure to wreak, the confusion they would doubtlessly sow. But needless to say, my sympathies are with you, not them, and I provide this straightforward mnemonic crib as a humble offering of resistance against the capricious oppressiveness of elitist naming whims.

Adrienne is the one that is Asian. A-drienne, A-sian. Adrienne is the one that hails from Virginia. You can also remember Adrienne by thinking: bagels from the bakery. On many an afternoon I have trailed Adrienne into the hills, and beyond the hills into the foothills, keeping a discreet distance as she extracted bagel after bagel from the brown bag. Sometimes it was currants, but that will confuse matters, so let’s stick with bagels. Only once did I lose her, and that was because I was distracted by a cat that tried to rub itself against the upright of a stop sign but instead walked smack into it. That did the trick for me. You may need your own lucky accident.

In a darkened room in the Curie module, Carol Ann sits crosslegged at the edge of the stage, composing lyrics for her band, The Vociferous Copulators. Overload, perhaps, but I do have trouble, and I’ll bet you do too, when they double up the appellation. Carol. Ann. I guess I will have to admit that it’s so difficult for me, I need to take a participatory role or I’m hopeless. Just trailing behind doesn’t cut it. I suggested to Carol Ann that she consider omitting the verse about not leaving the apartment without her keys. This had a surprisingly effective result. Carol Ann went to the portable chalkboard where she had written the lyrics. The lyrics were on the wrong side of the chalkboard. It took no small amount of elbow grease to erase the verse. I asked if she knew it was the wrong side of the chalkboard.

You know how it is. You’ve forgotten a name, you know the name is going to arrive, there is a certain almost erotic pleasure in the anticipation of its arrival. You know the anticipation will end, and you try to prolong it.A-drienne and Ar-istotle. I am living proof that life can be maintained on a diet of yogurt and day-old pita. However, not everyone can tolerate lack of variety for extended periods. One afternoon I observe Adrienne pause, reflect, then change direction. I follow her to a 7-Eleven; not just any 7-Eleven, but the most heavily trafficked 7-Eleven on this part of the coast. I’m not saying that the chatter of freeloaders and the like on the curb outside the entrance is essential to the mnemonic, but the stimulation can’t hurt. I blend in as best I can. After a few minutes Adrienne emerges, peeling back the wrapper of a Slim Jim. Now, what you want to do is to say something to yourself to fix the moment, preferably in ringing tones, letting it echo. For example: Ah, the Eternal Verities. Even Aristotle had his meat stick.

If I were to get my arms marked up, it would be with the word embroidery on one arm and the word electrolysis on the other, both in wobbly cursive. Sometimes the Curie module is locked or occupied and I find Carol Ann in the curtilage next door, lying on her back on the warm flagstones. (Caterpillars, ants; the tranquility of a quaint curtilage, the frantic desperation of an ant that has misplaced a caterpillar.) Carol Ann wanders off down the path among the trees that are helpfully labeled with their names. I glance inside her notebook. “I regret that I was so cross with customers this morning.”

Quite possibly she did not say “artisan toothpastier.” I knew it would be a live day. It wasn’t at first. I had been keeping Adrienne in my sight for the better part of an hour, repeating to myself “albumen” (left foot) “albumen” (right foot) and focusing on the pinkish-purplish stain on the middle of the back of her suede jacket. Albumen, albumen. Adrienne. Yet I sensed I was making no real progress. If you in your efforts experience this discouraging sense, I hope you will do what I did and press on, and not in dejection abandon this formidable mnemonic challenge. When I saw Adrienne reaching for her phone, I felt a tingle of excitement that caused me to accelerate my pace. Fortunately I suppressed that tingle; if I hadn’t, I would have closed the distance between us and I easily might not have heard her say “artisan toothpastier.”

I was standing outside the Curie module, waiting for Carol Ann to arrive. I mean the name “Carol Ann.” It had slipped from my mind. I knew it would arrive, it was just a matter of time. I was doing my best to prolong the interval until it arrived. You know how it is. You’ve forgotten a name, you know the name is going to arrive, there is a certain almost erotic pleasure in the anticipation of its arrival. You know the anticipation will end, and you try to prolong it. I attempted to prolong it by setting myself a neutral mental task that would take my mind off of Carol Ann. I tried to remember the last 10 times I had encountered the word “callipygous.” Normally I do not approve of the word; it is so overused. (The last straw was when it began to show up as graffiti on bus shelters.) But in this case it served a useful purpose, as it kept me from thinking of Carol Ann. Eventually the name “Carol Ann” did arrive, in that bittersweet way that forgotten names do, and shortly thereafter Carol Ann herself arrived, and it was possible for me to say, Hey there, Carol Ann, instead of pretending to be sullen and nodding like my whole life was about nursing a grievance.

And now you should be well on your way to avoiding the awkwardness of being at a loss the next time you’re asked to name the two new planets. You’ll have to work hard, but the reward will be self-assurance, the satisfaction of knowing you’ve mastered a difficult task, and the social fulfillment of being on a first-name basis with every one, or at least two, of your neighbors in the solar system.