In my junior year of college I shared a Spanish class with Ben. At first I wasn't a big fan of Ben, because he always asked too many questions and he would get so nervous before each question that each question would take forever to get out.
The class' final project was for each student to give a 10-minute speech in front of the entire class, entirely in Spanish. I can't remember what I spoke about, but I remember being excited to see Ben fail in front of the class because I was (maybe still am?) a terrible person.
But instead of falling apart, Ben gave an incredible performance that I'll never forget. He began talking about his incredible memory, then we went around the class person to person and correctly said everyone's birthday and day of the week they were born on. (He'd got the dates from Facebook). No note cards, just a very solid memory that allowed him to shoot a perfect 30/30.
I was blown away and instantly became a fan of Ben and hated myself for ever hating him. I learned that on top of memorizing the birthday of everyone he meets he was also skilled at writing backwards as well as he could forward.
I haven't talked to Ben since I graduated from Arizona in the spring of 2008, but every year since then he's wrote a backwards birthday wish on my Facebook wall. This year I removed my birthday from my Facebook profile with the motivation being 50% I'm too cool for school, and 50% to see if Ben would remember.
December 11th came and Ben wrote: NITSUJ YADHTRIB YPPAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This again from someone who I have not spoken to in almost five years. I was so moved that I wrote him a Facebook message thanking him and asking him a few questions:
I was curious that if he found the time to write on my wall, and he has over 1,700 friends, just how much time does he spend every day writing birthday wishes on Facebook? Unfortunately he didn't answer that question too precisely, but he did tell me the following factoids:
• He's memorized just over 5,500 birthdays
• In response to the question: "Do you store all these dates in your head or do you 'cheat' and use Facebook?" Ben wrote, "I try to store everyone's birthdays in my head as best as I can. I try to avoid Facebook whenever I can, but sometimes, it is my last resort. Texting is my priority and emails come second. I have a backup log (of recorded birthdays) that I'm constantly reconstructing due to hard drive crashes. I'm on my 6th backup log."
• Other memory-related hobbies: "I memorized all the clauses of the Constitution for one of my classes. It served me well as I got one of the highest grades in my class (paper writing a weakness). Other than that I'm working on memorizing all the stations and the history of the Paris Metro. I've mastered the London Tube and Washington Metro."
• His job: I work as a planning technician at a land use firm in the LA area.