I’m driving down the road on the way to get some lunch when a troubling thought occurs to me: Did I put the plug in my boat? A few minutes earlier, I’d put it in the water, tied it to the dock and parked the trailer before setting off in search of a sandwich. But with sickening surety, I remember that I spaced out on an important part of the boat-launching procedure. The one that makes the difference between a boat and a submarine.
So I whip a U-turn and race back toward the dock, gripped by the icy fear that I’ll arrive just in time to see the stern pitch into the air and slide beneath the waves, Titanic style. My idiocy is the iceberg, towering and merciless.
My brother-in-law, Rick, is riding shotgun, and as we screech up to the dock he says, “She’s sitting awfully low!” I discover the drain plug sitting in the cup holder, right where I left it, the automatic bilge pump losing the battle. I plunge my arm overboard and manage to get the plug threaded, not a moment too soon. My usual low-level absentmindedness—like, say, brewing a pot of hot water because I forgot to add coffee—nearly just manifested in an insurance claim and a story that I would surely never hear the end of. I resolve that from this point forward, I will live in the moment and concentrate on the matter at hand rather than daydreaming and multitasking my way into bad situations.
So we go to lunch, and I get the fish sandwich that I’d been thinking about while launching the boat. The next day, I realize that I left my credit card at the restaurant. What the hell is wrong with me?
What’s wrong, I’ve come to believe, is that we’re in the midst of a mind-fart epidemic. We’re ambushed by so much information, so generally aware that we’re always missing out on something, that any remotely mundane task prompts us to dwell on the possible rather than the actual. Bodily you’re sitting at a boring red light, so mentally you’re toying with the idea of that Groupon for Bermuda. Mmm, nice. So nice in Bermuda. Except for all the honking.
Your mind wanders and before you know it, you’ve driven home and forgotten to pick up your kid at someone’s house. (That happened recently. Not our kid, but our house.) Or you’ve shown up at the airport for a flight that won’t leave for 13 hours, because you spaced on the difference between am and pm while you were booking. (Luckily there was also a morning flight, for a $50 change fee.) Or you put the boat in the water with the trailer still strapped tight at the stern. You’d be surprised how much there is to remember with boats.
A few days after the foundering boat and the forgotten credit card, I hit the grocery store for a few items. Per usual, there is one human cashier for the entire store, so I head to the self-checkout aisle and blaze through, undaunted by even the codeless produce. (I am like the quick-draw Billy the Kid of weighing sugar snap peas at self-checkout.) I’m even gonna double down on life-hack efficiency and get $40 cash back, thus delaying a trip to the ATM.
But when I go to pay, I’m derailed by the store loyalty-card discount, which isn’t showing up on the grand total. So I approach the bench and plead with the cashier magistrate, who hears my case and benevolently rules in my favor, punching in a code that unlocks many sweet discounts. I triumphantly collect my goodies and head home. Where I discover, some time later, that I’m short $40. My cash back is still back—at the register or, more likely, long ago pocketed by the next person in line. My determination to get four avocados for five dollars enabled self-checkout to pull a total Ocean’s Eleven-style heist, the ol’ rope-a-dope. I spend the rest of the afternoon resenting whoever collected my money and constructing dark scenarios of how they spent it. I wish I had a more positive worldview, but I’m certain that most of it went to krokodil and Jeff Dunham tickets with maybe a little set aside for ISIS.
Not long after this debacle, I hit the Dunkin’ drive-through for an iced coffee. They’re running a promotion, so it’s only a dollar plus tax. I give the cashier two dollars, and she proceeds to return more than that in change—change, in fact, for the full-price coffee. I hand it back to her. “Oops,” she says. “That’s the second time I’ve done that today.”
I drive away feeling good, until I realize that she forgot to give me a straw.