I stopped at a neighborhood convenience store the other day, and because of COVID-19, I made a game of getting in, gathering my purchases, checking out, and getting back to the car without touching anything but my money and my Diet Coke. I put it on the counter, and the clerk looked at it, and then at me, making no immediate effort to ring it up.
“Don’t you want another one?” she asked. No, I said. I’m good.
“But you always get two of everything.”
I just stared at her, trying to figure out if I’d ever seen her before. I wasn’t sure. But she was right. I will get two Diet Cokes for $3 rather than one for $1.79 because I’ll drink the other one eventually. However, I suspect some neurosis is at play. I often wind up with two without even being aware of it.
We like to think we navigate the world anonymously, but that’s not really true. In that moment, I realized that a store clerk who I’d encountered perhaps a couple of times in a month not only knew I’d been in before, but recognized a behavior pattern that I am barely aware of myself.
“You always get two.” In hindsight, I’m surprised she didn’t mention that I had not touched anything.
She would not be alone. In the past year, a new editor came on board here. Terry Connor was already familiar to several of us; he ran our paper for a decade or more early in his career, having left more than 20 years ago. When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, followed by the admonition from health experts to wash our hands thoroughly and often, Terry said to me, “That shouldn’t be a problem for you. I remember anytime you’d shake someone’s hand you’d go immediately to the restroom and wash your hands. You didn’t like touching people. Do you still do that?”
Well, I hadn’t … but I will now.
It’s interesting to me how people can notice things we don’t give a thought. When the family would get together, my mother used to tell stories from the past, often with me in the punchline. Everyone seemed to remember them but me. “I must’ve been in the bathroom,” I’d say.
I do enjoy running into people I haven’t seen in many years, because they’ll often recount an episode I had forgotten entirely:
“I remember you always wore Hawaiian shirts.” I don’t really recall that.
“Remember that time you came to school with one red tennis shoe and one blue tennis shoe?” No, I don’t remember. And I won’t admit to wearing two different dress shoes to work on more than one occasion.
I made the mistake one time of describing how to go to a public restroom in such a way that it doesn’t matter how nasty it is. It is possible to use the facilities without touching anything but your zipper. How do people not know this?
For the most part, I’ve learned to live with my peculiarities, and am thankful they’re not worse. But this two-by-two business is confounding.
Recently, I was ordering a CD from the Jerry Garcia web site, which digs something out of the music vault each month as featured recording. I was thrilled to see that the July selection was an acoustic set of Jerry and John Kahn, a bassist he liked to jam with outside of the Grateful Dead. The show was in the winter of 1986 at The Ritz in New York City. I quickly zipped through the ordering process, hoping the CD wouldn’t sell out before I finished. (Yeah, that happens). I clicked the button and a confirmation appeared. The total was more than I expected. Twice as much, actually. I reviewed the order, and the quantity listed — 2. Beneath that, “No cancellation or refunds on pre-orders.”
I look around my desk. Two coffee cups. Two baseballs. Two tubes of lotion. Two pairs of glasses. Two pencil sharpeners. Two fountain pens. Two bottles of ink. Two pairs of scissors.
Good grief, I’m Noah.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of The Dothan Eagle. E-mail: email@example.com.