Some days I wake up, and I am dumb. Who wrote Margot at the Wedding? What’s the word for an erection lasting longer than four hours? What’s my roommate’s boyfriend’s name? I used to know this information, but it’s floated away, drifted into the ether to join all my other lost knowledge like the name of Jabba the Hutt’s father, the color of polar bear skin, and how electricity works (if the government revealed that electricity is actually magic, I would absolutely believe them). And it’s happened so fast, happened overnight. My God, I’ve spontaneously developed late-stage Alzheimer’s. One day, I am unspeakably impossibly brilliant, and the next, my brain’s delicate mechanisms are clogged with glue and gak. It’s as if while I was sleeping, my brain rotted like meat left in the sun for too long, as if someone started it in safe mode, as if a small child has been monkeying around with the buttons and levers. Lost in a mental fog, I stare at a Comcast pamphlet for five minutes. Eye amoebas drift across my vision. Somewhere nearby, William Shatner’s voice issues from a television. I think, ‘I am so dumb right now, I can hardly summon the mental energy to keep breathing.’
I find myself standing in the dark bathroom, staring into the mirror. What if I’ve always been this way, and I just never noticed before? What if this is actually a Smart Day, and I’ve suddenly become cognizant of my lack of cognition? Maybe this is the first day of the rest of my dumb life as a dumb man, thinking dumb thoughts and writing dumb things, only dumb things. ‘Everyone’s always known you were a dummy,’ I think to myself. ‘They were just too nice to tell you.’ But I can’t be dumb; I used the word cognizant and sometimes I use semicolons. ‘Dumb people use semicolons all the time,’ I think. ‘And using “pertinacious” in a sentence only means you know a word.’ But what if I use an em dash? — ‘No.’
A friend calls me, and I’m intensely aware of how dumb I sound. It’s as if I have nothing to say for myself, like I don’t have a thought in my head. I say “yeah” a lot. Then I find myself saying “it’s fine” over and over like someone on the verge of a mental break. I say “like, you know…” and then I keep starting every sentence with the word “apparently.” ‘Say something interesting! Something witty!’ I think to myself. I say, “I feel like I’m getting dumber and less interesting the older I get.” He says, “You are. Ha! Just kidding.” There’s a long pause. I can’t think of anything else to say, and then I drop a fork on the floor. “What was that,” he asks. “I dropped a fork,” I say. “Oh.” Another long pause. “Well, I’ve gotta go,” he says.
The Dumb Day seems to stretch on and on. I forget where I set down my phone, and when I find it, I can’t remember who I wanted to call. My roommate asks me why the oven is on, and I realize I forgot to turn it off after baking mozzarella marinara chicken patties. I keep knocking over cups and boxes. I forget where I left my keys, then forget why I wanted to go out in the first place. It’s got to be brain chemistry, some random combination of foods, beverages, sleep cycles, UV light exposure, and humidity that has crippled cognitive function. Maybe if I drink coffee, chew gum, and complete a crossword, I might reverse the descent into dumbness, but I doubt it.
Disillusioned, I turn on Horizon, a science documentary series on the BBC, and suddenly, I’m not just dumb, I’m a Neanderthal, a primate when compared to a scientist constructing mathematical theories about gravitons and dark matter, a physicist working on a particle accelerator, or a neurologist who can induce creativity via radio waves. Their eyes glitter with secret knowledge held only by the supergenius, the unfathomably colossal intellect. I watch a physicist present mind blowing ideas about the make-up of the quantum world using fruit — this pear is a proton, this grape is a top quark, this squash is a graviton — and I think, ‘I am so dumb, the only way he can make me understand these concepts is via a fruit analogy.’
This happens to me about once every couple weeks — The Dumb Day, the day when my self-esteem drops to its lowest, when I realize I can’t think of anything to say to justify my existence on this planet, and I must resign myself to a life spent in a career like “cashier” or “data entry.” At least, I think it’s once every couple weeks. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a day or my whole life because my memories of the Dumb Days are so vivid, they overshadow all the days I wasn’t dumb. Oh, the horror of having a perfect eidetic memory, but only for all the times I said or did something monumentally stupid.