Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rain Man in SLC? Lock, stock, and barrel

If you were alive in the 1980s then you’ve probably seen (or at least heard of) the movie Rain Man (1988; poster from here). It stars Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man (an autistic savant) and Tom Cruise as his brother, who is something of a bon vivant that is down on his luck. The whole movie hinges around en epic road tip to California, in the midst of which the two take a casino in Vegas (in a classic scene) for all its worth. And that, right there, is the last thing my mind remembers Rain Man doing…. card counting in Vegas.

Fast forward to 2011, and I find myself in the middle of a super interesting and entertaining book on the art of memory and the culture that surrounds a small but proud group of people who take part in memory competitions. The book is called Moonwalking With Einstein and it’s by Josh Foer. So, Foer is a young journalist getting wrapped up in these memory competitions and one day he decides to go visit, wait for it, none other than the real Rain Man himself. It turns out the man behind the movie is named Kim Peek, but likes to be called “Kimputer.” Okay, but get this: he lives in Salt Lake City (Murray to be exact) and is apparently hilarious (and very much a savant). Moonwalking with Einstein (pp. 222-3):
Kim and I spent the better part of our afternoon together sitting at a table in the back corner of the Salt Lake City public library’s fourth floor, where he has spent almost every weekday of the last ten years reading and memorizing phone books. 
And no matter how many books of etiquette he may have memorized, his sense of what’s socially appropriate is, to put it generously, esoteric. Standing in a crowd of people in the lobby of the Salt Lake City public library, Kim wrapped his thick arms around my shoulders and gripped me against his paunch and then forcibly gyrated against me. “Joshua Foer, you are a great, great man,” he told me loudly enough to startle a passerby. “You are a handsome man. You are a man of your generation.” And then he let out a deep roar.

Addendum: At the end of Foer's book, he sadly mentions that Kim Peek had died. Rest in peace, Kimputer. 

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