Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Perfect Seat

By ned * Other ned Posts

Although the physiological mechanics are not well understood, different psychological models exist to understand the process of creating memories. Short-term memory is generally made up of data captured acoustically and lasts shorter than the life of a fruit fly. Its duration is longer than that of sensory memory which only persists for fractions of a second after an item is perceived. However, both of these are contrasted with long-term memory, whose creation is more complex.

From focusing on simple rehearsal to the Baddeley and Hitch “Working Memory Model,” a myriad of means and processes are theorized as being behind long-term memories. Generally, complexity and poignancy are at play along with repetition. For instance, in one study participants were provided paragraphs describing a fictitious nation: some were simple, some had a few descriptive sentence added. Those who read the more complex paragraphs tended to retain a higher percentage of information.

Despite this sophisticated machinery, long-term memories are often made of the mundane. Perhaps this is because sensory flash cards – the smells, sights, and sounds – of what we define as uniquely familiar hit us the most frequently. For instance, there are many things I remember about my Grandmother, Ma. One of simpler images though is that of her basketball-dotted white turtleneck.

Possibly from a degree in “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk,” my dad’s Kansas raised parents have been followers of college basketball for as long as I can remember. The cheery, orange polka dotted turtleneck was just an expression of this hobby; its red highlights also made it a perfectly appropriate top in St. John Arena for Ohio State Basketball games. When my grandparents moved from a distant suburb of Columbus, Ohio to the one where my immediately family resided, my father initially assumed they wanted to be closer to us. Ma corrected him. Their new address afforded an easy commute to Buckeye basketball games.

When Ma passed on, the season tickets to basketball games continued. Given my age, sports interests, availability, and school’s proximity to games, I was gladly tapped as my grandfather’s hoops sidekick. Each evening had with it a certain degree of ritual. Arriving at the balcony, I would oblige to my grandfather’s offer for a Coke served in a souvenir cup*. We would arrive at our regular seats and chat with the usher who had probably escorted my grandparents since before I could make memories. After a singing of the national anthem that Pa felt had too many modular embellishments, the game would begin.

My participation in chants and open displays of joy and frustration were contrasted with the calm focus of my neighbor. This is not to say that Pa’s passion was not present. But it was a more mature expression of how to be a fan. He had a look of quiet interest and attention that was all too familiar; that expression could be seen from the sidelines of my soccer games, tennis matches, and other youthful pursuits.

If the team was not doing well on a given day, the seats themselves were certainly of no concern. After moving throughout the arena, my grandparents had settled on what they declared to be the best of the reasonably priced seats: mid-court, front balcony but not the first row across from the team benches. About every other game, Pa would point out to me the different seats he had through the years. This task was made simpler by the binoculars he had packed with seat cushions, daily sports section and any thing else that might be needed during the game.

If memories like ones I have shared are an internal phenomenon, another branch of psychological deals with how our external surroundings and people impact our behavior, Social Psychology. One phenomenon under this study is that of conformity. Unintentionally, we tend to behave in a manner similar to those around us. They help defines rules of acceptable behavior – both good and bad. For instance, in a series of studies children were more prone to act aggressively after watching violent images.

From a personal standpoint, how do we determine the impact of what we have encountered on our own behavior? To that end, memories are just about the only tool at our disposal. A link to grappling with how our environment shaped us, how we conformed to the behavior of the people around us.

What I feel is appropriate sports ritual decorum has evolved over the years – and much of that evolution probably stems from evenings with my Grandfather. I find that I enjoy more the study of the game as opposed to it moments of jubilation. When in attendance, one must pack for any situation that may come up. Lastly, no day at the arena is complete unless you take home a souvenir cup.

This time of year reminds me of many things. I remember where I was when Christian Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky. One of my life long dreams remains to win my father’s former law firm’s office pool. But, my love of this time of year likely stems from winter evenings I spent with Pa in the rafters of St. John’s.

Through my grandparents I developed my own love of basketball and need for sports paraphernalia – although not turtlenecks. I also absorbed focus, paternal care and a discipline for finding the best seat in the house from a kind and dear role model. Those are the lessons that have impact well beyond the confines of the court. Oh, forgive me. Would you like a Coke?

* For those who have never had the pleasure of owning grey Ohio State plastic cups, they quite possibly have some of the most varied uses known to man. From soccer cones to dog chew toys to penholders, no household should be without one or fifteen of these versatile artifacts.


  1. I remember actually winning that darn tournament back in the early 90's...there were a lot of us Vorys brats that participated in that pool. I wonder if they permit progeny to play anymore?

  2. i am not sure. but i am not sure if it could have the same appeal in a digital age. i remember waiting for my dad to bring home the paper listings with the weekly listings of where I was. ... but by the same token, i could not imagine have to grade all of those things by hand.