Fifty Years In, I’m Still Going Stupid
The entries in The Pursuit of Mildly Amusing encompass almost 30 years of writing, all but one completed out of professional obligation or simply for my amusement. But one didn’t fit in either category. The oldest entry in the book dates to my college days, an assignment from Professor Jerry Miller’s magazine writing class that somehow managed to stay in my possession after more than a dozen moves.
A quick digression from which you might not return. The aforementioned Prof. Miller was almost certainly the single most significant influence on me as a writer. He taught me the first rule of good writing – there are no rules, a maxim I’ve exploited to its fullest extent in all my capacities. But Professor Jerry Miller is surely not an example of the old saw that those who can’t, teach. For proof, I direct you to his page on this here Book of Faces, where he’s been chronicling an ongoing health issue. Visit his page https://www.facebook.com/jerry.miller.397501/posts/10208790347749951 and follow his journey through entries that deliver, in equal doses, fear, humor, exasperation and wisdom in a delightful brew. You’ll feel bad for enjoying it so much. I urge all who know him, and even those who don’t, to pop on over and read about the ass kicking he’s going to ultimately deliver to cancer.
OK, for those who have bothered to return, we press on. The tale I wrote in the spring of 1988 was a How To story on dealing with absentmindedness, a trait that has plagued me for all of my 50 years. Its presence in the book was not for quality reasons – this was not an example of superior craftsmanship. Rather, its inclusion was more anthropological, a sign of where I once was with the pen. It’s possible to see a decent effort lurking somewhere in that piece, though only if you’re an Olympic-caliber squinter.
In the story, I related my then 20-year struggle with losing items both large and small. It started with my daily failure to remember to replant my retainer after lunch in the second grade, leaving it in a small box on Mrs. Frank’s desk that Pete or Mary Lou Markham would have to retrieve sometime after school. The anecdotes ran up through my first day of college, which had served as the apex of my absentminded ways. On my flight from New York to Indy by way of Detroit, I was stuck in the airport in Motown, and during a phone call to my parents to inform them about my lengthier-than-expected layover, I left my wallet on the top of the pay phone. Not surprising, it was not there when I returned to reclaim it. Moments later, when I called to tell them about losing my wallet, I left my plane ticket atop the exact same pay phone. That was, fortunately, not pilfered during my brief venture away from the now-extinct communication device.
Which brings us to the present. On Tuesday night, I was in a conversation with Erwin, the fine young Guatemalan exchange student staying with us. Prompted by a friend’s text, Erwin asked where his passport was. I was stumped, not recalling ever having his passport in my possession. Erwin reminded me that on the night he arrived from Guatemala, his coordinator passed along an envelope containing the passports belonging to him and Paco, another boy studying at Marquette.
Quickly, panic set in. I had no real memory of such an exchange, though I couldn’t rule it out given that the six-plus hours I’d spent patrolling the terminals of O’Hare awaiting his much-delayed flight had left me thoroughly fried. And I had absolutely no memory of doing anything with such a parcel once we got back home. Over the next two days I scoured and rescoured all the likely places, to no avail. I was convinced that the passports were gone, a significant problem given he’s scheduled to return to Guatemala in a month’s time. Mr. and Mrs. Garcia were not likely to appreciate any forced confinement to the U.S., an unwelcome portation, as it were.
Yesterday, I took Erwin and Cormac to school. Afterward, I stopped to see the woman who handles the foreign exchange program to relate my all-too-familiar tale of woe. I confessed that I couldn’t find the envelope, and was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to. During the course of a spirit-boosting conversation, she offhandedly asked me if I’d paid for parking before leaving the airport. I acknowledged I had. Suddenly, it all made sense, in a supremely pathetic, history-repeating kind of way. On my way out, I stopped at the self-parking machine. I probably placed the envelope atop it and then walked away after completing my transaction. It was, I had to admit, just like me to do that.
On the bright side, if I’d engaged in such otherwise unfathomable boobery, there was hope. Lost passports were occasionally turned in to the TSA. She offered to call the airport to check on them for me while I dashed off to work. A few hours later, I received a text from Cormac explaining that the passports had been found. And yes, my misadventure from 30 years prior had played out again, only this time with a happier ending. The authorities at O’Hare had come through, retrieving the envelope and passing it along to one of the other schools where the traveling Guatemalans were attending. Thank God for the TSA (which, incidentally, is the first time in history that sentence has been written).