My problem with dots was bad all through high school. At prom my date asked me, in a gentle tone and batting her eyes, if I minded if she went and sat with friends. I said, diggety, she sure is polite, and told her to go ahead. She wanted to see her friends, nothing wrong with that. It didn’t dawn on me, not until 12 years had passed and I was a deteriorated 30, that she had ditched me because I was a farm boy with no conversation who wore overalls to prom and smelled like chicken feed and russet potatoes. On top of that, I talked out loud to myself and used words like “diggety” as rural equivalents for urban curse words. After all those years the truth of the situation bore down on me like a crushing weight. I went from thinking highly of my date, for her good manners and consideration for me, to the overwhelming feeling that she had cut out my beating heart with her nail file and stomped it flat in her low heels. I said, doggety, I am such a sack of it.
Another time in high school when I failed to connect the dots was at graduation. My guidance counselor asked me if I’d enjoy working in a hardware store for a career. I said, daggety, I sure want to be a research scientist, but my counselor appreciates my entrepreneurial abilities and skill with tools, so maybe I should take his advice. And I beamed with eagerness. Only years later, when I actually was working in a hardware store and hating it, did I realize that my counselor had encouraged many of my classmates to go on to medical and law school, and written glowing letters of recommendation for them, but clearly thought I was a dunce destined to walk around with nails and screws bulging my pockets and a pen stuck behind one ear. I did manage to get into a community college later on and study organic chemistry and quantum mechanics, but what a cheap shot from a small-time school board employee who probably made less than 20 dollars an hour and didn’t even ask me about my interest in science. And I hadn’t called him out! I said, who has chaff for brains? Dumbhead me, that’s who.
Working my way through college, I took a position in a large bank—take that, guidance counselor! More specifically, one morning at the start of business I was applying Windex to the glass door of the bank building I worked in, thinking how nice it would be to be on the bank’s payroll instead of a cleaning company’s. A great-looking woman came walking in the door and I stared fixedly at her through the glass. She let out a weary sigh as she passed me by, and I said, the poor babe has to get up early in the morning and work as a capitalist in a bank. It wasn’t until 15 years later, when I had my doctorate in chemistry and had quit the bank job and was already bald and diabetic, that I understood that maybe, in fact certainly, her sigh had been because of my lecherous leer and not the earliness of the hour. Despite the great passage of time, shame overcame me and I blushed furiously. What an insensitive creep I was to have looked at her like that, with boneration distending my pelvic region and all! I said, if only she had slapped me hard in the face, even a simple chem student and cleaning staff member who still spread manure and dug carrots by hand on occasion would have gotten the message. I am such a crud, I said.
Maybe this has happened to you. One time at a company where I determined safe bacteria levels for frozen pizza someone committed murder, and the police detective assigned to the case called it a “locked room” mystery. I said, whoa horsie, this is like Murder, She Wrote. And I tried to think the plot through. Here’s what I knew for sure: it could only have been me or four other people, since no one else was on the scene. Well, I knew I hadn’t done it. My memory is bad, but not so bad that I’d forget if I committed a murder on the day in question, and I recalled clearly that all I’d done was handle a couple hundred pounds of toxic cheese. And I knew it couldn’t have been Jack, since I’d had my eye on him all that day, giving him an alibi. And it couldn’t have been Ted, because he had the roast beef sandwich with mustard for lunch, and used the blue cream dispenser, and got a phone call right at 2 p.m. And it couldn’t have been Sally, since she had the chicken salad and only used barbecue sauce, and her car was in the shop, and she never added cream to her tea. That left Allan, and if I’d realized at the time that he was the killer, I could have spared the police six months of intensive interviews and searching for evidence and DNA testing. But the dots didn’t line up for me until the police had already proved Allan guilty, even though I suspected him all along because of what he said about me at the holiday party.
A final example of how dots continue to bewilderate the holy goo out of me. My current job is with a company that produces genetically modified vegetables for households and school cafeterias. One day I took my vegetable processor, which is essentially a gene splicer that emits radiation, to the house shop for repair, since it was leaking hazardous material everywhere and giving me terrible electric shocks. When he handed it back in an hour, I asked the tech what the problem had been. He told me it was a fault in the circuits. I walked out of the shop, my processor under my arm, fully satisfied. I felt I’d gotten specificity, and that the tech had taken me to the root of the issue. But then something odd happened. Amazingly, for once in my life I could see the dots connect, and it hadn’t taken me years upon years. The whole vegetable processor was nothing but circuits, plus some unsafe nuclear material, and the tech was cracking wise. His diagnosis of a fault in the circuits was like my plumber telling me I had a fault in my water pipes, or my doctor saying there was a snafu in my organs. There was no specificity at all. And I had fallen for it, letting the tech have his joke.
I said, scorch my biscuits, I’ll always be a doofus with dots…if again you’ll pardon my rusticacious fill-ins for trendy big-time invective.