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Smith/My Turn: Caught up in a new game

Many of my Baby Boomer friends have discovered a new game called, “Where Did I Park My Car?”

To play, a few simple rules must be observed. Participants must be preoccupied when exiting their parked car. Contestants may not note their location. If, for example, you see you are parked by the column marked 3J, you must immediately disqualify yourself. Based on the honor system, game points are awarded per minutes used to locate your vehicle. The higher the points, the bigger the bragging rights!

Also, when playing, competitors cannot ask for help or even appear to need help. One must act at all times as if everything they’re doing is purposeful. Neither facial expressions nor body posture can confirm your sense of helplessness. Part of the thrill of this game is the rush one gets from attempting to straddle panic and calm at the same time.

First-time players should practice this game at a medium-sized, grocery store parking lot before attempting play at a mega-box-store parking lot or multi-level mall.

Ready to begin? Park anywhere a free space appears. When you get out of your car, notice your stomach rumbling. Silently curse how hungry you are. You know you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. On days like these, your cart will end up looking more like you’re shopping for a swim team in need of carbo-loading than one for two retirees watching their cholesterol. Take a few moments and reminisce about your hot, college swim coach. Remember the crush you had on him. Remember the way his velvet lips brushed the side of your cheek the night you finally broke your personal best in the 500-meter freestyle.

Notice that you are now in the dairy section. Notice that you have also forgotten to bring your reusable bags. Cop out and don’t go back to the car for your bags, but instead proceed to get everything, and then some, on your list. Try to resist the urge to buy the party-size container of peanuts, because you know they are not for a party, but are for solitary snarfing on your way home. When you are ready to checkout, maneuver your cart behind the woman who is almost all scanned and bagged. Glance at the tabloids to your left and practice compassion for this week’s slandered celebrity.

Put your groceries onto the conveyer belt, minus the peanuts. Sheepishly explain you left your reusable bags in your car, ask for paper, pay and leave.

Walk through the automatic doors and squint at the magnificent day before you. Realize you don’t have a clue where your car is parked. Check your watch. This is when the game’s point system officially begins. Stand just beyond the doorway and block the other people coming out. Then with a quick bob of your head, push your cart into the parking lot. This will signal those behind you that you see your car even though you don’t. This strategy is referred to as “the fake.” It allows you to head toward your fictitious car with brisk, purposeful steps, while exuding the calm and confidence necessary to play at an expert level.

Walk down the parking aisle closest to the store exit and scan peripherally for your car. Do not swing your head back and forth in jerky movements as this is a tip off to others that you actually don’t know where your car is. Ten points are automatically deducted if you come out of character.

When you don’t see your car in this aisle, pause at the end of it and look at the bottom of your shoe. This is called “a redirect.” When people see you looking at your shoe, they will think you have just tripped and are trying to cover up your clumsiness. No one will ever suspect you still can’t find your car. At this point, as long as no one is looking, you are allowed to rise up on your tiptoes to get a better view. This will be fruitless, but is good exercise for your calves. Proceed down the next aisle.

You must attempt at least two more aisles without a hint of agitation to earn enough points to use a “life line.” This bonus permits you to hoist your car keys toward the sky and press the lock button on your fob twice. This will elicit a honk from your vehicle that should guide you to safe haven. Be sure not to accidentally press the red panic button as the persistent honking will make it too easy to find your car. However, if for some reason you do not hear the lock beep the first time, you can press the lock button one more time, but seven points will be deducted from your score.

When you hear the honk, and finally know where your car is, you can regain three points by turning your skyward reach into an imaginary wave to an imaginary friend you have just seen across the parking lot. Remember: remaining self-assured and in character is vital for expert-level play.

You can up the ante by engaging in this game at an unfamiliar locale with a neutral-colored rental car. I once played under these circumstances in Santa Fe, N.M., and garnered a remarkable 135 points toward my cumulative life score.

When you are ready to move on to expert level, try driving to JFK airport in New York City. Park in the maze-like, short-term parking garage, being careful to ignore your level or aisle. Next send your only child to some country in Africa for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. Then, through your ensuing snot and tears try to find your car. These kinds of circumstances give you 50 extra bonus points for the complexity of the task and 30 more for level of difficulty.

It is worth your while to embrace this game, because sooner or later you will be playing it whether you intended to or not.

Nancy Smith lives in Ashfield and has three grown kids, two fat Labs and one wonderful husband.

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