Zooming into the gas station for a fill-up, I'm feeling smug and sassy. I am so prepared for this, the dawning of multitasking season. This year, as the calendar clogs with to-do lists cross-referenced with bus schedules and school lunch menus and work deadlines and football tickets and power-suit shopping and Halloween costume commitments, and all the systematizing of the working mother's life -- this year I am ready.
Put it this way: I just got my eyelashes dyed. Yep, I am mascara-free for four weeks, according to Tatiana, the woman who put on the magic gook. With this act, I've just shaved seconds of precious prep time off the docket each morning, not to mention all those glances in mirrors to check for smudges. No more! Not only that, but I've got my calendar computerized. I figured out how to sync my Outlook calendar with my BlackBerry so I can walk around mascara-free and at a glance know where I have to be at any given moment.
In a few moments, I have to be at school to pick up my daughter from chess club. But first I'm filling up my car, because I am a handy two minutes early. This is one of my favorite gas stations because it has the kind of pumps that you can set to automatically fill and shut off -- meaning you can leave the pump and multitask. I just multitasked the garbage out of the backseat, and now I'm sitting in the driver's seat checking my BlackBerry.
My inbox shows an e-mail message from Sara, who writes under a subject line, "Wee-hoo!" I remember that she went to the outlet mall, where I plan to go this weekend to stock up on school socks and maybe underwear. She is writing with her report of the outlet mall, and with this news: "I just finished my Christmas shopping!"
Her what? She finished her what? I have to keep rereading the e-mail to fully comprehend the information. But comprehend I do, and as I do I feel my shoulders slump and my neck go wobbly and my head begin to descend into the hell of dismal wretched uselessness.
Christmas shopping? Chaaaaristmas shopping? Who has time to even remember Santa, let alone write to him, let alone become him and complete his work? Sara does, apparently, and I realize I must dump her as a friend immediately. But I have more e-mail to read, so I click on it, but now I can't concentrate on anything except Sara and her stupid perfect Christmas, and then out of nowhere I remember I forgot to stop at the store to get those little Tupperware sandwich containers I need because my daughter has been complaining about spillage from Thermos to bread.
(Inhale. Exhale. Stay with it, sister. Multitasking season is here and you will survive.) I zoom onward toward chess club, cursing Sara and Santa for ruining my mood. I pass a woman flailing her arms. She is jumping up and down near the gas station exit sign, trying to get my attention. Do I know her? Does she need something? I roll down my window.
"The tube!" she is saying. "The, um, the hose!" She is pointing in the direction of my gas tank. Oh. My. God. And didn't you always wonder if anybody ever did this? I forgot to take the nozzle out of my car and put it back on the pump. I am driving away with the nozzle and the hose still attached to my car.
"It ripped right out of the pump!" the woman is saying, in awe. "It just ripped right out!"
"Oh, dear . . ." I say, hopping out. "Oh, my dear, oh, dear . . ." I must have a stricken look upon my eyelash-dyed face, because the woman goes into immediate compassion mode.
"I've got a lot on my mind, too," she says. "It's so hard to remember things."
"It's hard to remember not to rip apart the gas pump?" I say.
"Look, the way it came out, I'm sure it was designed that way because people must do this all the time."
"You," I say, "are a good person." I tell her about Christmas. I'm holding the nozzle, dragging the hose back to the pump. She and I agree that, no, I can't just run away and pretend this did not happen.
I lug my wretched self into the little store, wait for the tattooed teenager behind the counter to finish talking on the phone, and then I report my crime. "What're you talking about?" she says curtly.
"The hose," I'm saying. "It's off. It's, you know, not on." I find that I don't have the vocabulary for this admission, nor do I seem to have the ability to use the words, "I did it."
"Well, can't you just use a different pump?" she says.
"No, I got gas," I say. "But you need to know that the hose, it's off ."
"I have no idea what you are talking about," she says, following me out, and when I show her the damage she gives me the look of disdain and disbelief and horror that I deserve.
Check that off my list. Am I done here? Um. She is still looking, her chin jutting out with expectation.
Me (mumbling): "I don't need to, like, do anything, do I? Maybe this is covered under my car insurance . . ."
Her (heavy sigh): "Just . . . go."
I am gone. So far gone.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.