It was my natural enemy: the whiteboard with the “Did You Know?” fact of the day written on it. Ever since I was a kid I prided myself on knowing stuff, and after I found out that shows like In Search Of Mysteries Of The Supernatural World of Charles Fort in His Merry Pyramid Spacemobile: The Toltec Electro-Ghost Computer Years were not perfectly reliable I’ve been aware how most anything listed as a neat factoid suitable for posting on a “Did You Know?” board is usually right only if the answer is, “I did not because that isn’t exactly right because, for instance, it was the Cahokia that had Electro-Ghost Computers, which the Polynesians brought them from the North Pole.”
And yet, this was a fact which if in fact a fact — I’m sorry, let me start that again — this was a fact which if a fact is in fact — that’s not getting better — if this is right, then, “57% of people report having felt déjà vu”. I would think this was based on a trustworthy survey of qualified déjà vu survey experts coming up to people and asking, “Have you ever felt déjà vu?” except then the answers would be much more nearly a hundred percent “What?” and “Who are you?” and “Did you say something?” Maybe that’s just me. I’m usually lost in my own little world when out in public so it takes some time to warm up to noticing someone’s asking me a question.
I need people to warn me they have questions for me, by a process of approaching slowly and not from my blind spot, being preceded by a stout man waving a large red flag and perhaps a signal flare, and saying hello first. If someone just asked me without warning whether I experienced déjà vu I’d think maybe I heard something, stumble over my shoes, and stumble right into the Panda Express counter at the mall. I’m assuming we’re doing this at the mall. If we’re not I’ll stumble into somewhere else, but let me know where we should meet.
But never mind my wondering about how the survey was done. Let’s imagine that it’s right and 57 percent of people report having felt déjà vu. What the heck are the other 43 percent of people feeling? I thought déjà vu was one of the universal feelings, something that every person experiences at some point or other, alongside such commonplace emotions as the sense that you are the last person in the world with any idea how alternate merges work, the fear that you’re just imagining that you imagined hearing some gurgling noise from an unauthorized point of your anatomy and that it’s actually the first warning sign of a major catastrophe, the belief that if you really had to you could probably write a successful score for a silent movie, or the sense that someday you’ll lose a game show because you don’t know what an “anapest” is. Not experiencing déjà vu just never occurred to me as something people could even feel, or not feel.
Maybe the trouble is people don’t know what déjà vu is. I could understand denying the feeling if you thought déjà vu was, oh, the feeling that you’re only really alive while discussing things over a conference call, or the secret glee you experience in knowing something obscure about North Dakota that the majority of the public never even suspects. I could easily imagine two-fifths of a representative sample of the public feeling there’s nothing they know about North Dakota that’s all that unsuspected. “It’s pretty darned rectangular”, for example, or “its capital is not Pierre”, or “its statehood papers were signed by President, uh, Woodrow … Grover … … Presidenton at the same time as South Dakota’s, with the names covered up so nobody knows which was really admitted first”. No glee attaches to knowing those facts. Maybe they thought déjà vu was something embarrassing and they shouldn’t admit to this kind of thing in public. There’s no way to tell without an exact provenance for this alleged information.
So what I’m saying is this is why I spent all weekend crouching by the whiteboard trying to catch the person who brings the day’s new “Did You Know” fact.