Wow – sometimes I can be useless. I don’t know why, and it’s probably not healthy, but I have always found examining my varying degrees of uselessness a worthwhile and somehow comforting thing to do. And it’s a good thing I’m like that. Being a human-being, there are endless opportunities for other people to do just that, so getting used to it is something of a necessity. It makes life so much easier and for another thing, it means you never get bored.
Take the other day, for example, when I did possibly the most pointless and unnecessary thing imaginable – a perfect example of how society breeds us humans to mess things up for absolutely no reason, if you will (or at least, that’s the excuse I’m using). Walking down the street at night, my girlfriend to the left of me, a packet of sweet-potato falafels in my right hand which I was highly excited about sampling – I hadn’t eaten falafel for years and was intrigued as to how these would measure up against the prestigious take-away versions I’d been a big fan of – I spotted something on the pavement that looked entirely out of place. The dense shape of a black joke spider that made me smile with amusement. Without giving it any more thought than that, and out of the same simple curiosity that my dog has for other dogs poos, I stepped forward and prodded it with my right foot. Except it wasn’t a joke spider, and I hadn’t prodded, I had forgotten my own immense weight — comparative to the thing on the floor, I mean — and murdered. The legs went in and in, the spider shrivelled up. In just seconds, the spider had gone from being presumably fine and well to absolutely done-for. There it stayed on the floor for a few seconds, dying very slowly, while I contemplated what I ought to do next.
It was then that I recalled that tragic moment in Into The Wild – the part when the solo adventurer shoots a moose and cuts it up to eat, only to find that by the time he starts to cook it in a kind of moss-shelter thing, maggots and larvae have set in and the meat is ruined. A few minutes later, looking all pensive and distraught, he writes in a book that it was one of the most wasteful, tragic moments of his entire life, and it seems quite fitting. I told my girlfriend this — how I imagined myself hunched over a table later that evening, writing something much less dramatic but similarly harrowing — and she gave me the look that said I was making too much of it. But was I? Yes, yes, I was, I definitely was, but still…something about the way I’d dispatched with the spider had got to me and made me feel guilty as hell. And I hate spiders, too, so this revelation wasn’t exactly welcome. Nobody wants to discover that they can’t even hate things properly.
I spent the next ten minutes projecting my blame onto the spider, saying how it was its own stupid fault for being on the bloody pavement in a way that a busy apex predator like me couldn’t help but go for. Luckily, as you’ll find if you ever have to do the same thing, transferring the blame worked quite well.
But I’d hate you to know me for just doing pointless things, so let’s put that right and add some variation to the mix.
This year, probably not for the first time in my life, I completely forgot to call, email or message my best-friend on his birthday. I didn’t even forget for several hours or several days and then remember his birthday. I only realised how pathetic, feeble and incomprehensibly forgetful and disorganised I had been when I actually spoke to Ben and he told me all about what he’d been up to on his birthday. “Don’t worry about it,” he told me, in a nonchalant way which really seemed to ram the point home – the point that this was what it had come to, and this kind of error was now expected of me. Maybe even that if such an error did not happen, that would be much more of a surprise and something to really worry about. “It’s not important.”
But shit, I thought, this is important! If this isn’t important…what the hell is?
OK, so I was being a bit dramatic. Then there was the bigger-picture, too. In world terms, don’t you know, when compared with all kinds of other things, Ben was right: his birthday wasn’t vitally important and missing it hadn’t caused any huge upsets. Backing-up my argument was also the fact that he, like me with my birthday, had never placed much importance on it. Really, it was like this, and I’m sure he would agree: much as I love the man in that best-friends-let’s-have-a-man-hug kind of a way, and much as I am certain that Ben’s mother will always remember the day that Ben forced his way brutishly out of her womb – really, who wouldn’t? – it was just a day like any other. So I knew I wasn’t a terrible human being for making such a mistake, and I knew I wasn’t the first. I looked at the positives. I hadn’t dropped a baby, failed to stop a twin-laden pram from careering downhill towards white-water-rapids or accidentally fallen down a flight of stairs at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and smashed several ancient very expensive vases into hundreds of not-so-priceless pieces. I really wasn’t so bad after all, then. In fact, there was something actually quite endearing and delightful about forgetting a friend’s birthday. It said You’re such a good friend that you don’t make a big deal out of it. You want him to enjoy his day. You don’t want to burden him with having to reply to a text message or pick up the phone when he has so many other better things to do.
I still felt like a right git though — my deluded justifications only worked for so long. Surely, anyone would. At least, until I remembered, again, that my Dyscalculia – or total lack of ability to understand or even comprehend the point of numbers – had me covered. Covered in a way that if anyone tried to call me disorganised or crap for missing birthdays, I could simply point them in the direction of Wikipedia and go “Ha!” It must be a terrible thing to make numerically-associated mistakes and have nothing to blame it on. Yet me and millions of people like me – I know me isn’t grammatically correct and frankly, once again, I do not care, so don’t bother emailing me – are lucky enough to be able to blame our mistakes on a genuine and very debilitating condition which makes understanding numbers absolute hell. But don’t worry, I’m at a disadvantage in plenty of other areas where I bet you are not. For instance, you should see my try and read a map! Actually, you shouldn’t – it’d probably break your heart.
Note: I have since put in place a clever system which should allow me to remember people’s birthdays. It involves writing down dates and frequently checking them in a daze of panic and paranoia. I will let you know how it works out. If I remember.