Like a dog scoping out a cozy, safe place to lie down, I turned three circles in my kitchen this morning, scanning plates, countertops, the toaster oven and even the shelves of our cupboards for the slice of toast I’d just made, only to realize I’d already eaten it.
At least I think I ate it. I dimly remember watching it rise toward my mouth and congratulating myself on another thorough buttering job, but that could be mere imagination soothing me away from acknowledgment of the more frightening possibility that I’d slid it into the upper rack of our dishwasher, unaware of what I’d done. I’m afraid to look. Conclusion: I ate the toast.
For me, this is a definitive moment. One ought never rule out dementia, but I should point out that 17 days ago, my wife gave birth to our sixth child, a son. He is amazing. He’s alert and patient, opened his eyes for a memorable portrait in his first 24 hours, has long, slender fingers that have “piano lessons, age 3” etched deeply across the knuckles, and is so quiet while nursing at night that, child development books on the subject notwithstanding, his mother and I believe he’s downright ethical and considerate.
Still, a new child always elbows its way into the tight huddles of the whirling world. Now, I don’t want to start pointing any fingers, but about a week before the lad arrived, I began what the novelist Richard Russo, in his fabulous 1993 novel Nobody’s Fool, termed a stupid streak, where everything Russo’s hero, Sully, did “would turn out wrong, where each wrong turn would be compounded by the next, where even smart moves would prove dumb in the particular circumstance, where thoughtlessness and careful consideration were guaranteed to arrive at the same end — disaster.”
My current stupid streak began when I left my ATM card in a machine some 170 miles from my home. It was gone eight days before I noticed it missing the evening after Jack was born. The next day, I left my laptop computer in the showroom of a local car stereo installation shop. Two days after that, wife and baby resting comfortably in a house her parents made quiet by kindly taking our five older kids home with them, I discovered my planner, notebook and current reading material were missing. The following week my keys disappeared.
And now a piece of toast. I can say with certainty that I didn’t consume the ATM card (some kind soul mailed it to my bank), the laptop (the honest clerk kept it safely behind the counter until I screeched back into the parking lot, as expected, some 45 minutes later), the calendar, notebook and copy of Howard Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future (hopelessly lost by now, but it appears Gardner’s ideas aren’t doing me much good anyway), or the set of keys (which couldn’t possibly slide down my throat unnoticed).
There’s much more I’m not so certain about these days, like the security of my job once my employer takes note of the state of my mind. Or how we’re going to sell our minivan and pay for the gigantic 12-passenger that sits now like a thirsty stranger on the street in front of our home. Or the stability of the global monetary system, the benevolence of the cosmos or why I fell asleep the other night watching late-night TV host Craig Ferguson feeding tuna to bull sharks on the Discovery Channel.
Some might say my stupid streak began years ago when I failed to become a professional athlete, movie actor, litigator or chemical engineer before starting a family and pursuing work with hilariously low starting salaries in a dying industry. These days I’m inclined to believe them, because it’s getting harder to shake such thoughts while eating breakfast in my kitchen. I don’t see amazing in the mirror. I see crumbs (mystery solved, praise God).
But I do see amazing every morning in the trusting face of a newborn. I see it in the woman whose strange, sudden interest in taking tennis lessons — inspired by the sheer joy that our four oldest children have found in the sport this summer — has opened me to a game I’ve hated the thought of since my own childhood. I see it in my oldest sons, who have become beloved heroes to their 2-year-old sister in the bewildering days since July 18.
So if you want to see amazing, as in amazing bargains on portable electronic devices, backpacks, brown leather wallets or carefully prepared lunches, you might just track me around campus or wait outside my house or follow us over to the city tennis courts. You might even make off with a decent road bike or lovingly maintained used vehicle. Because who knows how long this stupid streak will last?
John Nagy is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.