* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where humor goes to die, but sometimes also to be reborn. Our good friend Kent Woodyard has long written the "Non-Essential Mnemonics" column for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Now the best of those columns have been collected into a book. And we are publishing the introduction to said book. Life is good. To order, please click the link in our blogroll on the right-hand side of this page.

Non-Essential Mnemonics: Just The Essentials

By: Kent Woodyard

(Note: Today’s feature contains excerpts from Kent Woodyard’s first book Non-Essential Mnemonics: An Unnecessary Journey Into Senseless Knowledge, out now from Prospect Park Books.)

Here’s a question for you: what did you eat for dinner on this day, three and a half weeks ago (Thursday)?

Assuming the night in question wasn’t the scene of a cataclysmic breakup, a violent spectacle of bodily fluid, or some combination thereof, and assuming you weren’t at a Presidential inauguration, Cirque du Soleil show, or some other similarly transformative event, I’m guessing you have no idea.

And it’s not just dinner three and a half Thursdays ago, is it? If I were an irresponsible gambler, I’d bet you can’t remember most dinners that occurred before, let’s say, yesterday. And I’m not picking on dinner either. If you’re anything like me (and why wouldn’t you be?) you probably can’t remember most of your life that predates the last moon cycle.

Sure, you’ve got a cracked cell phone screen, some unread e-mails, and a growing collection of scars and receipts giving evidence to the passage of time, but the lion’s share of your life experiences — the ones that didn’t occur in emergency rooms, national parks and police stations — have likely dissolved into a fog of half-imagined recollections that may or may not have happened in the way you remember, but which almost certainly involved a Taco Bell drive-thru at some point.

I once heard that people forget 80% of the things they learn in college. Most people take this to mean that 80% of college is a waste of time, which is generally correct. The broader point here, though, is that all of us will forget nearly everything we ever learn, and there’s no point in getting all weepy about it.

But what if there was a way to stop forgetting? What if there was a way to capture those fading memories and imprison them forever in the musty cellar of your brain? What if we could all acquire a Good Will Hunting-esque level of long-term recall that would amaze our friends and foil our rivals while scoring numbers from vaguely exotic coeds at college bars?

Well, scrape your brains off the ceiling — there is. They’re called mnemonic devices and they’re magical.

Mnemonic devices are insidious little tools used by educators to ensure information stays lodged in students’ brains decades after it is needed or desired. Depending on your attention span during grade school, and your tolerance for unnecessary consonants, you have likely met dozens of these devices over the course of your formal education. “Dozens” could mean “at least two.”

Mnemonic devices are the reason I can still recite the order of biological taxonomy and the colors of the rainbow fifteen years after I have had cause to do either. They are the reason I can name more Schoolhouse Rock songs than United States Senators. They are the reason I know that the Great Lakes spell “HOMES,” but have to request a new password every time I use PayPal.

Don’t ask me how they work. It’s got something to do with science, and — like all science that hasn’t been narrated by Morgan Freeman or turned into a condiment — I have little interest in it. What I’m interested in are results, and the results of mnemonic devices speak for themselves.

Think I’m exaggerating? Finish this sentence: “‘I’ before ‘E’ except…” Every third-grader knows that one. Or how about this one: “now I know my ABCs, next time…” Every first-grader knows that one. And this one: “‘More rum,’ demanded the matador…” What, you don’t recognize that one? Well let’s get started then.

“More rum,” demanded the matador. “Damn the tequila. Just rum — Jamaican and bitter.”

And there you have it: a mnemonic for the names of Matt Damon’s twelve made up brothers in Good Will Hunting. (Marky, Ricky, Danny, Terry, Mikey, Davey, Timmy, Tommy, Joey, Robby, Johnny, and Brian)

But why stop there? How about this one:

After leveling Ukraine, Genghis Khan marauded across the Urals leaving tattered “Khan Rules” banners everywhere.

This one you surely recognize as a brief (and mostly false) history of the Mongol Empire’s westward expansion. But did you know it is also a mnemonic for the countries of the former Soviet Union? I bet you didn’t. (Armenia, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Estonia)

Got time for one more? Of course you do. You’re on the Internet.

Screen Actors Guild

You know SAG as the principal labor union responsible for representing American film and television performers. But why would you ever need to know that? Why is that in your brain? Let’s repurpose it for the work it was born to do: to serve as a mnemonic for the members of Simon & Garfunkel. (Simon and Garfunkel)

Look at that! You now know the members of Simon & Garfunkel and I’ve got a good feeling that you won’t forget them again for a long time. That’s how it is with mnemonic devices. Once read, each of them will immediately and indubitably transform itself into acquired knowledge that no amount of drinking or professional football playing will be able to erase.

Whether you are a graduate student, a homeschool mom, an aspiring community college professor or merely a weekend memory enthusiast, I encourage you to begin nurturing your affection for mnemonics today. Then and only then can you be certain that, while you may never remember what you did last weekend or what you had for dinner three and a half Thursdays ago, you will always remember the names of Will Hunting’s imaginary brothers.

And isn’t that enough?

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your only tenuous link to reality. But if you truly want to understand what it means to be linked in, ponder the words of our good friend Kent Woodyard very carefully...

My LinkedIn Networking Requests Require Some Customization

By: Kent Woodyard

TO: Tom (My current boss)

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

— Kent (the guy with the funny ties)

TO: Cheryl (My high school guidance counselor)

I’d like to add you to my professional network of people on LinkedIn who thought I’d be dead by now.

— Kent

TO: Susan (My old boss at JoAnn’s Fabrics)

I’d like to add you to my professional network of past employers on LinkedIn who were unaware that I was spending most of my time at work jousting with curtain rods and fitting myself for capes.

— Kent

TO: Sam Jones

I’d like to add you to my professional network of college graduates on LinkedIn whose future in advertising depends largely on whether or not I have courtside seats at The Garden this Saturday.

— Kent

TO: Britney Cooper

I’d like to add you to my professional network of emotionally stunted human resource professionals on LinkedIn who – coincidentally – were also the inspiration for my Facebook status yesterday afternoon when it read “Kent Woodyard thinks some people need to get over themselves.”

— Kent

TO: Stephen, David, Josh, and Adam

I’d like to add you to my professional network of former college roommates on LinkedIn who were supposed to open a liquor store/sushi bar/off-track betting facility with me but decided instead to get married or deported and – as a result – had to abandon their childhood dreams, thereby forcing me to do the same.

— Kent

TO: Kelly McFarland

I’d like to add you to my professional network of campus recruiters on LinkedIn who I’m sure are now regretting their decision to let a mild case of Tourettes and a few good-natured ethnic slurs come between The Walt Disney Company and a top-notch applicant for the marketing analyst position.

— Kent

TO: Michael, Gary, and Mark

I’d like to add you to my professional network of coworkers on LinkedIn whose inability to “take one for the team” and “loan me the company credit card” will likely result in an uncharitable portrayal in my professional memoirs.

— Kent

TO: Zack (my little brother)

I’d like to add you to my professional network of 8th graders who are on LinkedIn for no discernable reason.

— Kent

TO: Kevin

I’d like to add you to my professional network of Subway Sandwich Artists on LinkedIn whose commitment to plastic-glove hygiene and liberality with the banana peppers will not be forgotten next year when he graduates from his vocational technical institute and enters the real job market.

— Kent

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we know an emergency when we see one. However, like Kent Woodyard (who makes his first appearance at our site this week), we're not sure we know a trustworthy emergency contact when we see one. Better take this simple exam...

Before I Put You As My Emergency Contact, There Are Some Things I Need To Know

By: Kent Woodyard

1) Do you have permission to leave the state?

2) It’s three p.m. on a Wednesday. What are the chances you are too intoxicated to operate a forklift?

3) Please check any of the following that you own (should not be less than three):

* freeze-dried ice cream

* SpongeBob Band-Aids

* defibrillation paddles

* falsified foreign passports

* the book of Revelation (rest of Bible not necessary)

* ingredients for s’mores

* riot gear

* a panic room

4) Fill in the blank: There is literally nothing I wouldn’t do for my good friend, Kent. Yes, I would give him (one/both/all) of my ______________ if he asked for (it/them/her).

5) How many times have you read Kill It and Grill It: Ted and Shemane Nugent’s Guide to Preparing & Cooking Wild Game and Fish? (If you have not read it, please explain.)

6) Using the attached paper, describe in 500 words or less what “persistent, vegetative state” means to you. As part of your answer, please address the following scenario:

A friend is knocked unconscious during a mountain biking accident. His injuries are minimal and he will likely make a full recovery in a matter of hours. That being said, he was recently fired and dumped on the same day and has been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of his life. Also, he has $23.00 and an Applebee’s gift card in his wallet. Would this qualify as a “difficult end-of-life decision?”

7) Rate from 1 to 5 your comfort with executing the following tasks:

* Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

* Forging a prescription

* Performing gender reassignment surgery in a typically-stocked Western kitchen

* Cutting the crust off a grilled cheese sandwich

* Firing an automatic weapon while riding in a motorcycle sidecar

* Amphibious evacuation from a hostile beachhead

* Conferring the Roman Catholic Last Rites or “Anointing of the Sick” from memory

8) Remember that episode in Band of Brothers that follows the medic around? You know, the one where Easy Company is under heavy artillery fire and a bunch of guys get killed by shrapnel and flying pieces of exploded trees and what not? Yeah, that one. List at least three things you would have done differently to prevent unnecessary amputation or death.

9) The Department of Homeland Security has placed the national threat advisory level for all domestic and international flights at Orange. Do you have any idea what that means?

10) Please list in order the parts of the human body you imagine being the tastiest.

11) Please estimate (in days) how long you would be able to keep yourself and one other person alive in the following environments:

* Baghdad

* Englewood

* Destin, Florida, during Spring Break

* Vatican City circa 1500

* Lollapalooza

* The gorilla habitat at the San Diego Zoo

* The Texas State Fair

* Jurassic Park

12) Can you be here in five minutes?