First Person: The Trick of Knowing How to Keep the ‘Stupids’ at Bay

By Marta Yamamoto, Special to the Planet
Friday July 14, 2006

Stupid is not a nice word. When applied to others it’s neither kind nor p.c., even when deserved. When applied to oneself, stupid is often the only term that fits. Sadly, I use this term in personal reference more often than I’d like, sometimes several times a week. In fact, after a stellar stupid, I might greet the day with “Okay, what stupid thing are you going to do today?” 

How many times have I roamed the house looking for the glasses I had with me five minutes ago? I walk from room to room, searching. Recently, after several circuits, I remembered putting towels in the bathroom cabinet. Sure enough, that’s where I had set them down. Now I talk to myself as I go, “You’re putting your glasses on the table.”  

One repeat offense is forgetting to check pants’ pockets (inevitably mine) for tissue before adding them to the wash. Being greeted by bits of fluff clinging to every family garment, on a regular basis, causes the question what happened to my fine analytical mind. 

Luckily I have back up. On a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s I loaded bags into the trunk, threw my purse in for good measure and slammed down the lid, instantly realizing that my keys were in my purse, along with my cell phone. A few months later I did the exact same thing, again at Trader Joe’s. I was smart enough to save this trick for times that my husband was at home and was gracious enough to come down and rescue me. 

My only consolation is that I’m not alone in my affliction. “Something stupid,” answers Maxie McNabb to “What did you do,” in Sue Henry’s latest mystery, The Tooth of Time. Her dog’s been kidnapped and she kicks a door in anger, almost breaking her toe. Later in the story, Maxie knocks her iced tea glass over. Realizing the tea was poisoned; as she’s passing into unconsciousness, Maxie laments, “How could I have been so stupid?”  

“I can’t believe I did that! How could I be so stupid?” I had to chuckle overhearing a seatmate mutter these words at Gate 6 of the Bob Hope Airport. She’d left her boarding pass in the bathroom. As we spoke she also admitted taking thirty-six shots of her grandson without putting film in her camera. When I assured her it could happen to anyone, she admitted it was the second time she’d performed this sad act. 

The Bob Hope Airport hadn’t figured too well in my fetes of brainpower either. Somehow the act of picking up a rental car threw me off—twice. Upon arrival I, with the help of the attendant, spent several minutes looking for my glasses, in the shuttle, the rental car, the ground. Finally he mentioned, “You’re not looking for the glasses you’re wearing, are you?” I’d had them on all the time. Before boarding my return flight to Oakland, I treated myself to two round trips on the airport shuttle, having dropped my jacket in the car rental office. 

Travel seems ripe for bringing on a case of the “stupids,” even more so when exploring new territory. This summer I have planned a trip to France, where I will attempt to make my way using extremely limited language skills. Even though I will join a group I have to get there on my own. My mission impossible includes finding my way from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the village of Les Eyzies utilizing the Reseau Express Regional, the Metro, one train to Agen and a second to Les Eyzies. After two air flights and approximately thirty hours of travel, my chances of arriving stupid-less are slim. 

A serious game plan seems to be my only chance for survival. I considered preparing Destination Flashcards like the ones I used in school, one for each step of the journey. Card 1: arrive at San Francisco Airport by 6 a.m. Card 2: locate the check-in for US Airways. By Card 10 I should be in France: Ou se trouve le Gard du Nord? Card 13: Est-ce que ce train s’arrete a les Eyzies? Hopefully I’ll reach the ultimate card: get on the hotel shuttle in Les Eyzies. 

I shudder remembering the travel times I’ve been convinced that my passport, boarding pass or luggage claim ticket has disappeared, finding the missing document only after frantically going through pockets, pouches and compartments. This time I traveled light—not only luggage-wise but also in my travel pack. All necessary papers in just one location. Right. 

Even though I will be on my own I will still be talking—to myself. This will help me focus and stay grounded. Thanks to advances in cell phone technology I won’t even stand out much. 

Regardless of the success, or lack thereof, of my trip, the “stupids” will likely follow me home. Since I’m realizing that this is fairly widespread, the answer seems to lie in devising a multi-step plan for keeping them at bay. 

Step 1 has to be to acknowledge the problem. Sooner or later, something stupid will be done. Step 2 is to have in place personal aids in counteracting my slips. Talking helps, post-its might work, as would back-up keys, glasses, etc. Step 3 should be sharing my affliction with loved ones. Coming out, so to say. Face it, family, I’m going to do some stupid things and I need your support. Step 4 is to keep my faculties as sharp as possible. I’ll keep busy with reading, crosswords, and solving everyday problems like “Where did I put my glasses?”