Many years ago, I had to call my new boss and tell him that I had made a mistake when I had given him my vacation schedule. I was exhausted. I had been on the road for three weeks, traveling from place to place as part of a nine-month assignment. In the middle of that assignment, the company had reorganized and this relative stranger had now been my new boss for three weeks. During that time, recognizing the signs of burnout with a perception that I later came to ignore, I had planned a vacation with my favorite aunt – booked my flights, the rental car, the hotel, and gave him my vacation dates. When I called to tell her I’d pick her up at the airport on X date, she said, “No, not X date – X + 7.” I had gotten the dates completely wrong, probably because I wanted to go on vacation sooner than X+7.
No big deal. From my hotel room late that night, I changed all the reservations. The next morning, I called my boss to move my vacation dates and he said, “Well, at least now you have something to say on an interview when they ask you what is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.”
Hah! That doesn’t even rank in the top 10 of stupidest things I’ve ever done. On that trip alone, I had lost the rental car in the hotel parking garage. Twice.
Also on that trip – I was truly not firing on all cylinders – I had driven to the address of my cousin’s apartment. Hm, it seems to be a house. I got out, walked up to the house, walked around the house – yes, through their yard – saw a staircase. The apartment must be up there, I thought. In the small town I was from before NYC, many houses had been converted into apartment houses, and it was not unusual for an outside staircase to lead to the upstairs apartment. I ascended the staircase and found myself on a roof deck. I returned to the ground level and saw a girl of about 13 watching me from the window. I went back to the front door. She opened it cautiously, just a crack. “Yes?” “I’m looking for six,” I explained. Her eyes grew large. I prompted her, “Apartment six?” She shook her head in total bewilderment. I shrugged, got back in my car and put on the light. I read the address again, looked back at the house. She stood in the front window, talking on the phone and staring at me, a strange expression on her face. The house number next to her matched the number on the address I had scrawled on a piece of paper. I looked up at the street sign just in front of my car. Oh, I was on the wrong street. I drove off, found the right street, and the very obvious apartment building where my cousin lived in apartment 6, and had a lovely evening. But I still remember terrifying the young teenaged girl who was clearly home alone when the crazy stranger arrived, wandered around the yard, climbed onto the roof of her California bungalow, and then demanded six from her.
See? Far dumber than mistaking my vacation dates.
When I was in college, I switched acting schools from Strasberg (which felt like torture to me, sitting in a chair trying to evoke memories of emotions) to Adler. In my first Shakespeare class, the first class where I got to show my stuff, I was so over watching people take Shakespeare soooooo seriously. Portia. Hamlet. I felt I had to do something different. So I carefully selected my costume – I always started preparation by finding the perfect costume – learned my lines, and brought my A-game. When I finished, the teacher called me over to where he sat in Stella’s throne – a huge, glided throne with red plush left over from some play – took my hand, and tucked it under his arm, pulling me close to him. “Well, at least you didn’t fall off the stage,” he told the room gently. That was about the only thing I hadn’t done, racing from one side of the stage to the other in flippers, purple tights, black leotard, red-lined vampire cape and head band with bobbing antennae, waving my wooden sword and shouting Ariel’s bowsprit speech – between gasps of air — without the slightest idea what Ariel was talking about.
See, there are far, far dumber things.
Which I remind myself this morning, after a dumb thing yesterday. I felt like I had been hitting it out of the park – clocking homers like Robert Redford in The Natural – watching the high, fly balls soar out over the stands, one after another. Then, in one meeting, I had whiffed in what I felt was a big, exposed way. Oh, hello, Shadow Self. Looking back afterwards, I could see all my bad habits that had come out at once with, what I felt like, was no warning. One minute, fine. The next… in my orisons all my sins remembered.
On my walk to the subway, I was still thinking about it. Ok, I told myself, you only get to beat yourself up for seven minutes. You’ve had double that. Let it go. And I thought about something else.
By the time the train reached my stop, I had recognized what had gone wrong: wrong time, wrong audience, wrong approach. I was rushing things. No wonder I had whiffed it. Now I had something I could work with, a behavior I could recognize and change.
The darkness that had haunted me on the way to the train station was gone, left with light.
And the realization that life would go on.
After all, it wasn’t the dumbest thing I had ever done.
(I’m sure I’ll surpass myself again some time.)