Hey, whaddaya know?
At this point in life, that is a serious question not to be asked casually by distant relatives, gas station attendants, or any cheery twenty-something waiter before announcing that he is Richard and will be your server this evening.
What I know will remain my little secret, I am inclined to say, but usually settle for the standard default response: "Nothing much."
Of course, that is an exaggeration. I know my share of stuff, and that doesn't mean only the names of my children, grandchildren, and — how did it happen? — one great-grandchild!
I still know a little, for instance, about '50s rhythm and blues. (Quick, who sang, "Smoke From Your Cigarette?" If you said Lillian Leach and the Mellows, we must be the same age.) Besides that, I can recite a quote by Winston Churchill who, pausing in his World War II efforts to deal with more mundane matters of public office, said politics was like "working in wood after working in iron," or something along those lines.
Also known to me — without Googling — is the capital of Washington (Olympia), correct spelling of the organist at Ebbets Field back in the old days (Gladys Goodding) and, owing to a year spent in Vermont, that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one of maple syrup.
But those are just odds and ends, little drips of memory.
More problematic is what we know about ourselves, or, at least, how we remember our personal past.
Look at what happened to Brian Williams, the famous NBC News anchor who had to admit, that, OK, the helicopter he was on did not exactly get forced down in Iraq as previously stated, and that he "made a mistake recalling the events." Complaints led the network to suspend Williams for six months and some say he may never return.
As we all know, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state who is widely expected to seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, also could not resist pumping up her street cred. In an earlier presidential bid, Clinton said during the 2008 primaries that she dodged sniper fire on a wartime trip to Bosnia 12 years earlier — not exactly what news footage showed. Instead of ducking bullets, Clinton could be seen accepting the greetings of a little girl and walking calmly across the tarmac. When questioned, Clinton said she "misspoke."
Latest bigshot suspected of first-degree ego enhancement is the Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly. Mother Jones magazine reported that O'Reilly overstated the danger he faced in Argentina during that nation's brief, and ill-fated, military clash with Britain over the Falkland Islands in 1982. O'Reilly, then a CBS correspondent, was in Buenos Aires, not the "combat situation" suggested, said Mother Jones. O'Reilly replies — emphatically — that he said nothing misleading.
Everyone is apt to gild the lily, as my father used to say.
As a Newsday reporter I was in Nicaragua for a short spell when right-wing guerrillas were battling the left-wing Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega. The memories are bright after nearly 30 years.
Our aged, all-terrain vehicle got stuck in a river and we — the photographer, translator and I — were yanked out by a farmer who attached a rope to an ox and ordered the huge animal, big as a cargo container, to back up. Over bumpy dirt roads, our little contingent whizzed through what we later were told was an ambush site. "Phew," we said, once back in the capital of Managua. On another occasion, the boozy, pistol-packing mayor of a small mountain town appeared briefly to entertain the thought of reducing the world's population of busybodies by one — the guy from New York quivering before him. If there were news footage, would I be embarrassed by the gap between recollection and real life? Could be.
Anyhow, it's not exactly clear what people expect when they ask "What do you know?" Most likely, they're really just saying, hello, what's new, how's by you? But, in later years, the question sort of creeps up on you, lingers longer than expected.
What do I know? Hold on, let me think for a minute.
Do I have more than a couple ideas worth passing along — eat a handful of almonds a day and tip at least 20 percent? How about insights into life? Anything better than: "Do unto others"? Thoughts about what comes next? One of our grandkids was in a discussion group at her church and the subject of heaven came up. The teenagers were asked if they believed. Gracie voted in favor of the hereafter, a wise choice. But how about Pop-Pop? What does he have to say after decades of considering a subject that, time marching on, now has a certain pointed relevance?
As it turns out, eternity is not one of my specialty areas. If, at some Thanksgiving dinner, a third cousin asks "what do I know" in hopes of gaining celestial insights, disappointment is assured. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind recalling the night I heroically ate dinner at a restaurant in Managua that kept an alligator in a shallow pool a few feet from the high-class clientele. True. Or at least that's how I remember it, and, so far as I am aware, no one was taking pictures.