2002/10/19
 
10:53

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Do you ever do things in private that you wonder if other people do? No, I'm not talking about anything salacious; I'm talking about things you do that seem to make some kind of sense at the time but that you suspect would strike others as a bit peculiar.

Have you ever performed an emergency fix on a hem with chewing gum? On a related note, have you ever rooted through your sewing box looking for thread because you ran out of dental floss? Or have you ever shaken your weight scale because you suspect it's either broken or lying?

I've never done any of those things. What, do you think I'm nuts?

Ah, yes: nuts. Crazy. Looney. Call it what you will, but in those moments by ourselves, when we do those things, they seem perfectly rational. Yet reflecting later, we do hope that nobody has secretly installed a spy camera in our VCR.

Hang on a sec, I have to go check something.

Okay, I'm back. Anyway, what if somebody did see us doing such things? Unless we're doing something truly outrageous, like have sex with a yak – there's the salacious bit for those who were waiting for it – what difference does it make? Yet when we make these unusual yet creative decisions, we do wonder: is it normal?

I'd say no. It's isn't "normal" in the sense that everybody does it, but surely there is room in our hearts for the fascinating diversity of human choices in the face of the mundane.

Now that I've firmly established this principle of open-mindedness about such things, it's time for me to confess.

Today I went to the bank to transfer $3000 from my money-market account to my personal account so I could pay for my new computer. Now $3000 isn't a lot of money to some people, but it's an impressive chunk of change to me. There are some folks I wish I knew who are so rich that they wouldn't even bother to bend over if they saw $3000 on the sidewalk, but in my case this was a major transaction. This led me to wonder if there would be a problem, and that's when the paranoia started. Would the bank guy give me a hard time? What if he thought I had shifty eyes or, say, suspiciously bad posture?

Since this was a significant financial move for me, I arrived at the bank a bit early. Well, a lot early. One hour, to be exact. Realizing that this kind of eagerness might be misinterpreted as the machinations of an international criminal mastermind who specializes in thefts of up to $3000, I decided I should go kill some time at the other stores in the mall.

There was a "dollar store" that looked promising. It had myriad doodads on display and you can while away an hour wondering who would lay down even a buck for some of that crap. Yet as I entered the store, I was suddenly aware that the security seemed awfully lax. It occured to me that they must have a terrible problem with shoplifters and at that point I had an overwhelming urge to look innocuous.

Looking innocuous is hard to do. If you actually are innocuous, it's a piece of cake. But if you're desperately trying to look innocuous, you find yourself having to adopt the mind-set of a shoplifter. I think you can see the spiral of paranoia forming up here.

I kept in mind what I'd heard: shoplifters tend not to look at the actual merchandise but instead tend to look around to see if anybody is watching. That kind of behaviour rings alarm bells in the mind of any alert shop-keeper. Well, when you're making an effort to examine each item extra-carefully, you start to think, "Am I looking at these things too closely? Who would examine a salad fork with such interest?"

I escaped the store without being accosted or arrested. I don't want to overstate the situation: it's not as if my heart was pounding. However, I did emerge with a feeling of satisfaction that the owner had not asked to examine the contents of my satchel. (Note to thrill-seekers: if you'd like to minimize your risk, don't actually try stealing from stores. Just look like you'd like to have done so.)

When I arrived at my bank appointment, I settled back comfortably in the chair and cracked a few jokes. I asked the bank rep about a photo on his desk. I presented the requisite identification and tried mightily to act normal.

Ah, we return to that word: "normal". Have you ever tried to act normal? It's harder than it sounds. It's one thing to be normal, but trying to feign normality is tough.

As it happened, the bank guy bought my act. He carried out the transfer and everything went off without a hitch. I transferred some of my money from one account to another. Yet somehow I still felt guilty.

Some psychologists would say that my paranoia, in cases like these, derives from an overly stern upbringing. To them I'd have to say, "Does your mother know you tell people things like that!?"

We all have our little secrets and we all do silly things. While I was waiting for the bus to take me home, I lit up a cigarette on the assumption that when you do so, a bus is bound to show up immediately, which means you'll have to stub out your half-smoked ciggy. This magical spell was first explained to me by a friend in the 1970's, when cigarettes were still pretty cheap. It doesn't always work, but it's astonishing how often I fire up a butt only moments before the bus heaves into view.

Is this procedure scientifically valid? I think not. But it's nice to know that somebody besides myself is also doing the same stupid thing every time he wants the bus to show up.

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