Just thinking

I’m retentive; it’s one of my best qualities

By Margo Bartlett
Wednesday September 26, 2012 8:05 PM

I’m good at planning ahead. Not in the lifelong sense, of course.

If I could set distant goals, I wouldn’t have a degree in one thing and be doing something else. My talent is more short-term: I put the junk mail into the garage’s recycling bin before I take the rest of the mail into the house. I wash the pans I used to make dinner before we eat, simplifying cleanup later. And of course I put out breakfast dishes the night before.

I wouldn’t argue if someone claimed this isn’t planning ahead so much as it’s anal retention. In fact, I might be the person to claim it. Anal retention has positive qualities, after all. Without the anally retentive, who would know that the possessive form of “it” doesn’t have an apostrophe?
 
The anally retentive both know this and can enlarge upon the fact – “Does the word ‘hers’ have an apostrophe? Does ‘his’ have an apostrophe? Why would ‘its’ have an apostrophe?” – until someone jumps in to change the subject. Be careful, though. Many topics – the arbitrary rules of English grammar, the irrationality of the entire English language, the refusal of the general public to recognize correct spelling as the linchpin that keeps the wheels of civilization rolling – will only exacerbate the situation.
 
But I was talking about planning ahead. Not in the sense of declaring a major on the first day of preschool, just looking down the road far enough to see that the mailbox is on the left and the trash can is on the right, so I should hold the mail in my left hand and my crumpled napkin in my right.
 
Go ahead and scoff, but I remember the day my daughter, then a teenager, approached a sidewalk trashcan with trash in one hand and her car keys in the other, and because she hadn’t given conscious thought to the immediate future, she threw away the keys. This resulted in my driving into town so that the two of us could stand over the trashcan, steeling ourselves for the search. (Fortunately, it turned out to be only somewhat disgusting, since after all, the keys were still fairly fresh.)
 
Neither of my daughters has grown up to be as retentive as I am, for which I’m secretly grateful, but they do lean in that direction, and I’m grateful for that too. Take the day I steered the car into a parking space with my younger daughter beside me in the passenger seat.
 
“Pull through! Always pull through!” my daughter said. She hadn’t been driving all that long, but she already knew the value of heading, rather than backing, out. It was a proud moment for a mother.
 
Back to planning ahead. I often buy groceries at a store that has a coffee shop, and I easily fell into the habit of buying a latte to take away. Since it’s difficult to push a loaded grocery cart across the parking lot while holding a very hot, very full cup, I take the groceries to my car and return to the store for coffee.
 
One recent day I ran into the store for just a few things, which of course turned into a few more things, but it was still a small batch of groceries when I arrived at the register, and I thought I’d be able to sling the bag on one shoulder and get my coffee on the way out.
 
I left the check-out counter with my one grocery bag in the cart, intending to leave the cart in the store lobby and head for the coffee counter. When I picked up the bag, though, I discovered that it weighed approximately 500 pounds. Carrying it any distance would have been like carrying the Lincoln Memorial into Virginia.
 
Well, shoot. I’d have to take out my groceries first as usual because I wasn’t going to lug the Lincoln Memorial and my coffee around at the same time. I had reached my car out in the lot’s back 40 when I realized: I was pushing the empty cart with one hand, and in the other I was carrying both my purse and the 500-pound bag of groceries.
 
Store parking lots have cameras. That was my next thought. My image – the image of a person sagging under the weight of a heavy bag while simultaneously pushing a completely empty cart – had been recorded for posterity. I usually return my cart to the store, since I’m going there anyway, but on this occasion I couldn’t bear to be seen taking it for another pointless walk. I left it in the nearest cart corral before ducking back into the store with my eyes averted.
 
When I returned a few minutes later with my coffee, I noticed the empty parking space in front of my car. Instead of backing out, I could pull through.
 
Always pull through! I thought. I felt better already.
 
Write to Margo Bartlett at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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