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Charney/My Turn: Driven to distraction

Picture a busy supermarket parking lot the day before a holiday. Cars enter, leave, zigzag their way to vacant parking spaces. Patient drivers. Impatient drivers. Grocery carts get pushed, abandoned and careen on their own paths.

An empty cart rolls past a strolling shopper who snatches it up. “That’s mine,” yells a woman, muscling it back, out from under a dazed shopper’s clutches. “Whatever,” the man mutters, as he goes to find another cart. It’s chaos and commotion and pre-holiday cheer.

I, too, am pumped. I have my list with only three more errands to go — drug store, wine, last-minute groceries. “You forgot the pomegranates, double-churned vanilla ice cream, seltzer,” I inform my hard-working husband as he unloaded numerous and over-full bags.

“Forget it,” he says, when I point out the omissions. I know they are not necessities. But at such times non-necessities have a way of becoming necessities.

So I dash off to the grocery store and end up with six, not three, items. I am that kind of shopper — impulsive, seduce-able, accomplished. Feeling proud of my accomplished shopping, I get back into my car, check all mirrors, look right then left, while scanning the traffic behind me and then back up smack into a car. There is the sound of metal on metal. Unnatural and crude, jarring, stomach-wrenching, but true. And it’s a bright red car for God’s sakes! I have driven into a fire-engine red car. How could I not see a fire-engine red car? How could I drive my rear fender right into someone else’s passenger door? THUNK!

I pull back into the parking space. Jump out and peer into the red car. A gray-haired woman is sitting at the wheel. “Are you hurt?” I ask. “You hit me,” the woman says.

“Yes, I hit you,” I admit, eyeing the dent in her red door and the faint scratch on my bumper. A witness walks by and smiles, “no biggie,” he says. “An easy fix.” But nothing is an easy fix, I know from experience. In this case, the easy fix will cost $800, plus that evil surcharge on my insurance that sucks up money like the hose on a vacuum cleaner.

I exchange the pertinent information with the other driver in our friendly and direct, person-to-person manner. “Your fault,” the woman assures me one more time adding, “if you hit someone pulling out of a parking space, it’s your fault. That’s the law.” “OK,” I agree again, “it’s my fault.” As the minutes tick by, all I feel is that dismal sense of failure. I had not seen what must have been right in front of my eyes. And what else had I not seen lately? What else would I fail to see in days to come? What happens when you begin to miss the obvious?

Yet no one else seems alarmed or blames me for gross negligence. Even the insurance agent is more concerned about signatures on forms than my driving competency. But I feel anything but nonchalant. What if my aging brain is unequal to the challenges I face in the day to day? Do I need brain fitness training as well as regular body fitness?

So, on a whim, I sign up for one of those brain training programs accessed online: Memory, problem solving, flexibility, spatial organization and speed. It’s all there for a better brain. Birds flit on screen, numbers pop up, equations rain down in droplets, colored trains make their way to colored stations, Jennifer and Charles order chai and cheeseburgers, leaving you tips if you remember their order and their names. “Goodbye,” Jennifer says or was that Elizabeth? Whoops. Scroll right, left, up, down, push black keys. My scores improve slowly. My ranking inches up. Compared to other 70-year-olds, I am edging towards the 50th percentile. What’s your name again?

So, time to admit it’s harder for me to multi-task, even harder to single task. It takes more concentration and focus to keep track of the important things — the grandson’s mittens, for example, or if the cat is on the table AGAIN! And of course it takes a whole lot of neural energy to keep track of all the worries: the economy, global warming, Syria, the grandkids’ well-being and, I’ll admit it, what will become of Mr. Bates and Anna on “Downton Abbey.” So, that’s another complication — the worrisome things to watch out for.

So, for now, I’m going to click buttons, scroll keys and try and locate that darn bird off in the periphery. And maybe next time, I’ll even spot the red car behind me.

Ruth Charney is a Greenfield resident.

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