I’m easily distracted. I’ve known this since pre-school when I was asked to leave the free form, unstructured environment of a Montessori school. I need limits because my powers of concentration are so abysmal. Even with the serious stuff. Like listening during an important meeting.
My daughter, Sophie, is going on a mission trip this summer. So I went to a meeting last night for the parents of kids who are going on the trip. My wife doesn’t usually trust me at these meetings so she handed me a pen and pad on my way out the door. I made it through the first few details i.e. the dates of the trip, the….okay, well, I didn’t get much past that. I jotted down one of the dates and that’s when the name of the band that sings a song in the movie 50/50 popped into my head. I had been trying to remember this since Tuesday. So the first entry on the page reads “May 28-Pearl Jam.”
Over the course of the next hour I wrote down other bits and pieces that popped into my head. I scribbled “less than $100” and “TUM” and “shit storm” and “drinking water” and “vaccination”. I made a precise tracing of the suspicious mole on my left forearm so I can keep track of its growth. Then I wrote “special code” and “sad bastard” and “tube tops” and “4 miles” and “skinny ass” and “groove line” and “nose hairs clippers.” I write these things down without any context or reference point so it is difficult to craft any sense out of them later.
My wife, who couldn’t attend because she was at a different meeting, kept texting me: “DO NOT FORGET to ask Amelia about the contact person for Stephen’s summer job application.”
I texted back: “QBM, I’m trying to pay attention here.” It’s true. I was trying to concentrate on the Scramble With Friends game that I was playing on my cell phone.
During the drive home my wife sent another text: “Sophie wants to know what was discussed at the meeting so can you let her know?”
Mary was still at her meeting and Sophie’s door was closed so I had time to quickly search the Internet to find out what I could about the mission trip. I opened the web browser and discovered the footprints from the electronic rabbit trail I had been pursuing earlier that day. Seventeen separate screens which started at an article in the New York Times about a man walking every single block in New York City and ended with a YouTube video of a funny scene of Jack Black from the movie “High Fidelity.”
I exited all of the pages and started anew. The first thing I wanted to know is “where the hell is Trinidad?”.
This is where it gets tricky. Google has this insanely seductive predictive text which tries to anticipate what you are searching for. So when I typed in “where is” it automatically prompted me to “where is my refund?”. I didn’t even know I was due a refund but if I am I certainly need to know where it is. So I hit search and off we go. No. Stop. Stay on task.
Back to the search bar. I started over: “Where is…Chuck Norris?” Unbelievable. Are there so many pathetic people online wondering the whereabouts of Chuck Norris that it shows up as a suggested search? What is this world coming to? (Incidentally the first result leads to a website that states: Google won’t search for Chuck Norris because it knows you don’t find Chuck Norris, he finds you.)
I could hear Sophie wrapping up her phone conversation with a friend so I knew I needed to act quickly. I located Trinidad on the map. Next I tried to find out whether vaccinations would be required.
Search query: “what countries re…..cognize gay marriage?” This suggested search was just above the suggestion “what countries require vaccinations?”. Since, according to Google, the issue of gay marriage carries greater import than vaccinations I found out that many Caribbean countries currently allow gay marriage. Didn’t know that. Stephen was working on a paper on the topic of gay marriage so I wrote “Stephen” and “gay marriage Caribbean” on my pad so that I would remember to tell him this later.
Then it occurred to me that the mission group probably has a website all its own. I found the only scribble scrab that might give a clue so I typed it into the search bar: TUM. There is a university in Munich that goes by TUM. And if you stay focused for long enough you might even find that someone once used the acronym to stand for “Top Underwear Models.” After just a few very brief minutes more of browsing I heard the garage door open. This was at exactly the same time Sophie decided to emerge from her room.
I quickly exited out of the, ahem, current screen and greeted both of them with a guilty smile.
“How was the meeting?” asked Mary as she reached for my pad. I held it tight.
“What did you find out?” asked Sophie, “where are we staying, what will we be doing, who will we be serving?”
“Does she need a vaccination, can she drink the water, how much is it?” asked my wife without so much as taking a breath.
“Gosh. Slow down. Let me see here.” I looked at my pad. “Looks like the trip is less than $100; vaccinations may or may not be required. It depends on the status of the drinking water and whether the country has experienced any recent shit storms.”
My wife knew. She would have been better off sending a blind rat to the meeting. But Sophie persisted. She still had faith in me.
“Where are we working? What will we be doing?”
I looked at my pad again. I couldn’t let her down.
“It sounds like a neat experience. You’ll be working at a local church, the Holy Shrine de la Sad Bastardo. The villagers will be given a special code. They will then be required to hike 4 miles. Everyone will be wearing tube tops and when the villagers get to the church they will all form a groove line and you will clip their nose hairs.”
“Ugh!” said Sophie.
“Worthless,” said my wife.
“Relax. It’s not as if you won’t receive a thousand e-mails on the trip in the next 2 weeks.”
“Did you happen to find out the dates of the trip?”
“Of course. They either leave on May 28 or they get back that day….Or that’s the date of the Pearl Jam concert. Not entirely sure.”
“Did you ask Amelia the name of the person Stephen is supposed to contact about a summer job?”
I looked at my pad and saw my notes about the Caribbean. And Stephen.
“No. Didn’t need to. According to my notes he already has something lined up this summer.”
“Oh really? What’s that?”
I looked again.
“You don’t want to know.”