I’ve always had a knack for absorbing useless information.
What I find fascinating very often does not, to my dismay, draw large audiences. When I share, a common reaction is the bitingly sarcastic expression, complete with eye rolls, “cool story, bro!”
I’m that person at the checkout line of your local bookstore purchasing the book literally entitled: Useless Information. Every year when I was younger, I would beg my mom to let me get the latest edition of TIME’s World Atlas for Kids. For hours I would flip to random pages and scan lists upon lists of facts, which only come in handy on a long road trip, when your best bet at entertainment is listening to quirky, fuzzy radio stations.
Many years ago, to my great satisfaction, I found myself on such a road trip. My best friend, her mom and I were returning home from a week at the beach. Naturally the radio was on (we weren’t allowed to have cell phones at that age). Every half hour the station invited callers to try and answer questions correctly, for…questionable prizes.
My friend and her mom were, and still are, quite the intellectuals in a way that I always looked up to, but never felt I could touch. They were able to guess at most of the questions correctly, while I sat in the back seat quietly humbled by their expansive knowledge.
But then came this question: “In what state was the slinky invented?” It was not one of those moments where you automatically know the right answer and blurt it out. It was murkier than that. But I knew I had read it in one of those books, that until then, I had begrudgingly come to agree consisted of entirely useless information. After a few moments of contemplation, I quietly mumbled, “Oh, I think it was Pennsylvania.”
“Oh, yeah? I don’t know. That’s a strange question,” chuckled my friend’s mom.
I was right, and she was shocked. I won nothing, but it meant everything.
I had proven…something. That consuming facts like this was not an entirely irrelevant activity. That I could play at their game, from which I had previously felt excluded. It seems silly now, but in that moment I felt absolutely triumphant.
Today I won something in a similar fashion – 5 pesetas, a coin that essentially has no value. Pesetas were Spain’s currency before they switched to the Euro in 2001. One Euro is roughly the equivalent of 166 Pesetas. These are data I don’t need to write down to remember. It just sticks.
So when the professor of our European Union class asked what the former currency of Spain was, I blurted it out. A few other people knew but they hadn’t said it quick enough. He got up and walked to the back of the class where I was seated, and slapped a 5 pesetas coin on my desk. I was rich! Not quite. But oh, the gratification.