Dec 3, 2021

“Just One Thing” Revisited

A latent multi-tasker confesses all

By Ed Goldman

A while back—on March 17 of this year, to be precise—I wrote that one of the funnier putdowns I heard from time to time begins, “You had just one thing to do—“ and goes on to spell out what that one thing was and how the person being insulted couldn’t even manage to do THAT.

Lately I’ve been re-examining that comment—and have come to realize that when I have only “one thing” to remember or one thing to do, the outcome is frequently disastrous.

Edgy Cartoon

One is the Loneliest Bummer (from 3/17/21)

Take my recent offer to drive my OSSO (Oh-So-Significant Other) to the airport for her to catch a red-eye flight back east. I spent part of the day in preparation for what would be, for me, about a one-hour round trip: making sure I had enough gas, cleaning the interior of my car and double-checking which of two terminals at Sacramento International Airport housed American Airlines, which I hadn’t traveled on for years. I’d be driving my OSSO at dusk and feared I’d be unable to read the signs directing me to the correct terminal until the last possible moment—and that if I missed it the first time, I’d need to circle the entire airport again just to get back on the road leading into it.

Well, I was as prepped as a guy could be. I got my OSSO to the airport with time to spare and now had JUST ONE THING to do: drive back home. But while doing so, I became a little distracted—I was basking in the reverie of having completed the more important task—and ended up taking the wrong I-80 freeway. 

Let me explain that.

In Sacramento, we used to have I-80 as well as I-880. The latter led east to Reno or west to San Francisco (once you connected with the aforementioned 80). But some years ago, some geniuses at the California Department of Transportation (nicknamed Caltrans but never referred to lovingly) dropped the I-880 name and rechristened its stretch I-80, which already existed. To make sure the change was as confusing as possible, said geniuses renamed the portion of I-80 that went through downtown Sacramento (my destination) Business 80. 

So here I was, blithely tooling home when I saw the sign for I-80, forgot that this was the former I-880, and took it. As soon as I realized my mistake, I took an offramp that had me driving through an area called Antelope, whose chief geographical amenity is a series of homes whose lawns featured used and apparently lifeless cars on blocks, rusted playground equipment and partially squashed packing boxes. I also realized, simultaneously, that my age-appropriate bladder was in need of attention, attention that was rapidly morphing into existential concern.

This tale has a happy ending: I found my way back to my original route, stopped at a diner, bolted to the men’s room and completed my drive home from the airport, originally budgeted at 30 minutes, in the time the ads for Lenscrafters say it will take to have your new eyeglasses ready: “about an hour.” 

The experience taught me I may, in fact, be a latent multi-tasker—a designation I’ve always found dubious when claimed by people who were, in my experience with them, incapable of doing even one thing at a time. Or even at the same time—which sounds sort of surreal, but my Lipitor didn’t kick in until this morning. (Usually, to paraphrase the old Moody Blues song, I get through my nights with white statins.)

Anyway, in my scattered assortment of jobs, gigs, pastimes, hobbies and passions—the sort of laundry list that someone who was a desperate consolidator might label either an eclectic career or a cry for help—I’ve come to understand that whenever my figurative plate’s too full, I tend to thrive. Stuff may fall off but I generally make it back to the table with most of the contents intact. 

Does that last metaphor also border on the surreal? I’ll have to discuss this with my pharmacist the next time I see his van in my neighborhood. I guess I could drive to his home/lab. But he lives in Antelope.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).