They say that a man’s (BLANK) is always the first thing to go. You may now take a moment to fill in your own word, depending on what you used to have that is now gone, working poorly, or otherwise not as good as new. If you are a male of the species and over the age of thirty or so, I guarantee that you have been on the receiving end of this comment. The only way you may have escaped hearing it is if it was your eardrums that were the first to go. Then you didn’t hear it, obviously, but it was still said.
The long list of things that I have overheard as first-to-goers includes eyesight, teeth, hair (a perennial favorite), complexion, sense of humor, gall bladder, snow tires, waistline (another recurrent choice), golf swing, knees, bowling arm, feet, wife, cholesterol, blood pressure, money, and a few others of an indelicate nature that I would rather not mention here.
Usually it is somebody you know who makes the remark, like your brother-in-law or your neighbor. Other times the observations might be made by a sweet little lady down at the church or your own grandmother. So in the interest of harmony, you have to smile ruefully, shrug your shoulders, and let it pass, even though the temptation is strong to mention to your brother-in-law that you have more pieces left in working order than he does. You can’t win in these situations, and you’ll end up looking like the bad guy every time you try.
In case you are wondering, it really doesn’t matter what your specific affliction is, or whether it has ever happened before during the entire history of the human race. If you were walking down the street and your left arm just fell off, at least one bystander would lean over and whisper to her shopping partner, “I’ve seen it a hundred times. A man’s left arm is always the first to fall off.” And the shopping companion would nod sagely, as if she, too, had stepped over her share of unclaimed left arms. Similarly, if you were jogging in the park and the ground opened in front of you, causing you to tumble all the way to the center of the earth, some knowing soul in the crowd would look over the edge of the chasm and murmur, “A man’s ability to spontaneously levitate when the earth tries to swallow him up is always the first to go.” And the rest of the group would agree that they couldn’t remember when they had last seen a man float on air.
In my own case, however, you don’t have to look in deep holes or step over surplus limbs to identify what flew the coop. My mindedness was the first to go, and it has been absent for quite some time. No, not my mind. My mindedness. My mind is still up there somewhere holding my ears apart, but I am afraid that I am hopelessly absentminded. Other words that describe my condition include inattentive, distracted, and preoccupied.
Ever since I had more than one child’s name to remember, I would have to recite the entire list to find the name I was looking for. Sometimes the pets or a neighbor or two would get mixed up in there, as well. As the family grew, I would often have to enumerate five or six names before I found the right one. My great grandfather had this same condition, which he resolved by calling all males Dave and all females That Girl. I have to admit that as I get older and my lists of names get longer, his system is starting to have some appeal for me.
Word choice can be an issue when you are absentminded. I think I have an adequate vocabulary for most purposes, but periodically I will draw a complete blank while in the middle of a sentence, before I finally recall what….
Places can bring their own set of problems for me. I remember once sitting in my car at one of the local cinemas. It was about one a.m., and I was listening to a talk show from Cleveland and wondering vaguely when the movie that the kids were watching was going to let out. This was back before cellular communication was common, and I couldn’t find a pay phone, so I just decided to wait, enjoying commentary from Ohio while idly watching the sweeper truck drive back and forth over the lot. Presently, a police car cruised onto the asphalt and pulled in beside me. He rolled down his window.
Policeman: Mr. Atkins?
Policeman: Your Missus had a neighbor pick up the kids out at the other theater about two hours ago. She wants you to come home now.
My wife was quite upset when I arrived at the house, which is how women sometimes get when they can’t find their children for two hours and their husbands for four.
Wife: How could you go to the wrong theater to pick them up?
Me: Like I am the only one who has ever done that. I’m sure it happens all the time.
Wife: But you dropped them off at the right theater.
You know what they say. A man’s sense of direction is always among the first ten or twelve things to go.