SOZUTI – My Last Chance To Get It Right

By John Gascoyne

Mnemonics, those memory-tickling acronyms and phrases, have been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. Without these clever reminders, scores of students would have to settle for lower test scores and artists would struggle to remember the essential colors of their palette.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Why, then, approach the telling of my own concocted mnemonic—SOZUTI—with trepidation bordering on embarrassment? I’d like to think that the need for these reminders is not a function of the aging process. I’d also like to think that my hair is not thinning and that I don’t resort to hearing loss denial.

SOZUTI, in large high-liter letters, is posted on a note card next to the inside of my front door—the last thing I see before leaving home. The last thing, of course, if I remember to look at it. The good news is that, on occasion, I do notice the combination of coded admonitions and, on occasion, am saved from a red face or possibly more serious problems.

Simply put, SOZUTI stands for: Stove Off, Zip Up, Teeth In. Seemingly simple, yes, but let’s take it in parts:

STOVE OFF is fairly straight forward—have any burners been left burning; is the oven off? Inside of this question is another, equally serious, question—is there anything in the oven, on the burners?

My dad began having cognitive difficulties in the last few years of his wonderful 90-year span. My mom, also elderly, was as patient and caring as she could be. The incidents, however, increased in number and seriousness. One day Pop left a wooden cutting board on the burner and walked away. That was it, the final incident. Pop spent his last few years in a rest home serving life with no hope for parole.

I have two wooden cutting boards in my own home. The smaller one, suggesting that even family history repeats itself, is scarred with concentric black rings. I’ve thought about sanding the rings off and, in effect, starting over. So far, however, it serves as a good reminder: turn the damn stove off, now; you might not glance at the front door.

ZIP UP, contrary to what you are probably thinking, does not refer to winter jackets. Those are fairly easy to work with—if it’s cold enough, Nature will offer sufficient clues. No, the reminder has to do with that most feared of male sartorial oversights, the unzipped pants zipper. I’ve done fairly extensive research and believe there are only two categories of men in our society: those who are willing to admit that they’ve walked around with an unzipped pants zipper, and those who insist on lying about it.

So, if it’s a near universal, hopefully infrequent, omission, what’s the big deal? Well, duh, it’s downright embarrassing, that’s what—for more reasons than we’ll discuss here. Okay, here’s a couple of points: no matter how well-acquitted a man may be, e.g. by putting on an expensive three-piece suit in preparation for a public appearance, the unzipped zipper totally destroys the attempted image, and his audience, whether in church, lecture hall, or social gathering simply can’t focus on the intended man-in-charge-of-the-world persona.

Second, and of more concern to me personally, the man with the too-frequently unzipped zipper may be seen as a candidate for relocation to a less-desired environment. In this regard, refer to Stove Off, supra.

TEETH IN—as with the other pointers, this should be more or less self-explanatory. Some words of explanation, nevertheless, seem to be in order:

I was having some fairly major dental work done in the recent past and it served two legitimate purposes: first, the work was needed and, second, my dentist had two kids in college. To resort to the trite phrase, it was a win-win situation. The remaking of my smile required a single false tooth (to the left of the two big ones in front, as I am looking at you). Before the work could be made permanent, however, there was a period of many weeks when I had to wear a flesh-colored insert that held a single temporary false tooth in the correct place. Okay, maybe I’m a bit wimpy, but I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the apparatus. So, in the privacy of my home, there seemed to be no reason to keep the tooth, and its intrusive anchoring plate, in my beleaguered mouth.

The gap in my thinking, of course, was those few occasions when I left home with a serious gap in my toothy smile. The worst episode took place in Lyons, Colo., when I met up with some companions for coffee and rolls prior to a mountain hike. These were not very forgiving people and the missing tooth was a source of rowdy amusement—for some of those present at least. (A historical note: the dental fix is now permanent and the “TI” in SOZUTI is not really needed these days; I leave it in because “SOZU,” short the TI, does not seem to flow as mellifluously as the original creation. And, yes, it may yet again gain some practical utility.)

I never use the word “old” to describe myself or any of my colleagues who are geriatrically inclined. The word “older,” however, seems sufficiently vague to be acceptable.

So, to my older friends, I say make your own mnemonic version of SOZUTI; I neither hold nor wish for a copyright on the word and certainly make no claim on the nearly infinite number of variations that might fit one’s personal situation and needs.

As for myself, SOZUTI is not the end; no, it is merely the beginning of a word that will grow in size and import as I move down life’s road. That is, of course, if I can only remember to look at the word—and, of course, if I can only remember what the letters stand for.

A postscript of sorts: this work-in-progress began a while ago. Since the beginning of the piece, I’ve shelled out $6,000 for a matched brace of hearing aids—by my estimation, about $400 for the technology and $5,600 for the good folks who hold the medical gun to our heads. And, yes, I frequently neglect to stuff these concessions to aging into my head while I’m remembering to turn off the stove and bring the zipper tab toward the ceiling.

So—how does SOZUTI-HA work? Sounds a bit elaborate, but maybe it will help.