By Trent Rentsch
Take the right out of our neighborhood, then the first right after that… can’t be more than 10, 15 feet at the most. The next right is a bit further, at the stop sign. Yet another right a few blocks later gets you into the parking lot. Punch the electric combination, the gate opens, and in front of you are rows of self-storage buildings, like a field at a garage farm. The only left is a sharp one, then between the double waste bins, another right, straight on to the green door with 1647 posted over it. Easy enough to find the place, and the distance made short work of the job. It was all easy… well, maybe not that easy. There was that strange sensation that parts of me were hiding behind that door, odds and ends that once served a purpose in my life now locked away. I wasn’t concerned that these trinkets might never become useful again, just the fact that we had to rent a storage space was testament to the truth that I can never throw anything away. What bothered me was that I had no memory of some of these “treasures.”
I puzzled over the map for several days. It couldn’t be mine, yet it was tucked away in a box marked “Trent’s books.” I have a lot of boxes marked “Trent’s books,” many that haven’t been opened in some years… remember, I don’t throw anything away? I wouldn’t have opened this one if one side hadn’t ripped when I was carrying it out to the car. Trying to maintain my grip, half of the books spilled onto the driveway, along with the map. When did I buy a map of Utah? WHY did I buy a map of Utah? Before marrying my dear, globetrotting wife, I was not well traveled. Judging from the age of the box, it pre-dated our vagabond marriage, and even if it wasn’t that old, Utah would not be one of our travel destinations…. Vegas, yes. Utah, no. Utah… Utah… U…
Duh! Roadmap of Utah meant road trip. The only road trip west of the black mining hills of Dakota that I’ve ever taken was to my gig at KidStar Radio in Seattle. The road from Sioux Falls, SD to Seattle, WA runs through… Duh! I’m always paranoid about getting lost, no matter how obvious the road; of course I would have a map of Utah! I just had no memory whatsoever of buying it or using it.
I also didn’t remember the camera. Different box, as I made a feeble attempt to let some things go and consolidate what was left of the crap. It was one of those disposable cameras; take 24 shots and leave the whole thing at the drug store. An hour later you have 24 fully developed memories, hopefully minus a thumb. No idea if the offending digit got in the way of these shots, heck, no idea where I bought it or used it! The counter claimed that I had taken 17 pictures with the camera, which meant 17 chances to unravel the mystery. But of course, none of the shots turned out. Nothing to help my imperfect memory solve the puzzle. I’m haunted by an event I saw as important enough to document, a memory that might have been had I simply taken the time to develop the film. I remind myself that I already have plenty of pictures of my thumb, but the joke holds little comfort.
Rationally, I know that I could have worse problems. Even if I am getting senile before my time, it’s not like memory plays that big a part in being creative. “As long as I don’t forget where my computer is and keep pushing the right buttons, no big deal!” But that is a lie. I fear that another one of my creative tools is becoming dull and rusty.
Channel surfing, I land on a promo for The Osbournes. Ozzy and Sharon in front of a piano, like Archie and Edith in the opening of All in the Family, crooning “Those Were the Days.” Now, I dig the show and would stop on any nonsense going on in the Land of Oz. But even if I weren’t a fan, the promo would have grabbed me because it twists a favorite chestnut. One might argue that for the MTV generation the reference is too hip for the room, but for anyone who grew up in the ‘70s it taps into their collective memory, and that makes it a very effective promo. It’s familiar, yet it’s not; attention grabbing, with a twist.
A word of advice before you let your client rip-off every TV-land cliché. It doesn’t take copyright infringement to grab a listener by the memories they share with every other listener. Nearly every event in your life, even the most ridiculous, insane, “couldn’t have happened to anyone else,” has. That’s why building Creative around something silly like a kid wearing a towel cape and jumping off a garage roof, or an obsessive Mother who organizes her spice rack alphabetically and her shoes by color, will work. Somewhere, sometime, your listeners knew these people… or maybe they were/are one of these people.
It’s so easy to pack it all away and forget about it. We move on and hopefully up. Not all memories are pleasant, so we buy into “what’s past is past.” But you know, there are still a lot of things I did as a geeky fat kid growing up in the upper mid-west that some skinny cool kid down South did. I wrote the same painfully gushy puppy love letters that nearly every teen-age boy does. And while I continue to hold onto the dream that I might be cool someday, I’ve become the same unhip middle-aged Dad that every man becomes. While I still hold onto some of them, I want to share my memories, make people smile, nod and say, “Yeah, me too.” The road to relating to your audience is short. Just find the map to the snapshots of your life.