Let me begin by saying that I keep a supply of the envelopes used in the new automatic banking machines even though there is always a supply of them under the machine. I like to fill them out ahead of time because I cannot (1) take the envelope, (2) write my name, (3) give my daytime phone number, (4) fill in the amount of the deposit and (5) place the little receipt in the envelope in the time alloted by the machine. I (6,7,8,) clutch.
I especially clutch if people are waiting behind me. It is then that I find that I forget the amount of the check, look at it, forget it again, punch in the amount, forget the decimal, do it again and then forget the amount.
The reason for this, I think, is that I am a clutcher. I knew this for sure when some years ago I made White House history by saying, "Good evening, Mr. President" to President Carter and then "Good evening Mrs. President" to Rosalynn Carter. She smiled, proving that First Ladies do not clutch.
Even before that, though, I suspected I was a clutcher. My first hint came when I went to a drive-in movie and, like everyone else, went to the bathroom at intermission. I got on a line and moved with the line and when my turn came, dropped off at my assigned urinal. The first thing that happened is that nothing happened. The second thing is that the man behind me coughed impatiently and the third thing is that I never again went to a drive-in movie.
I also clutch when I am assigned by chance to operate an elevator. Actually, no one really operates an elevator anymore, but if you happen to be standing in front of the button that says "door open," you are the one in charge of the elevator. My problem is that when someone yells "Hold the door!" I invariably hit the "door close" button. This does three things. It closes the door, gets me really funny looks from the people in the elevator and makes me want to yell "I didn't mean it!" to those I've left behind. It is for this reason that I never stand near the buttons.
Telephones also make me clutch. I sometimes call someone and then, just as they say "Hello," forget who I called. This reduces me to instant slobber, a very long and drawn-out hello in which I herniate my brain trying to remember who I called and then--sometimes with a "Sorry," sometimes not--I quickly hang up and break into a sweat, wondering if my voice was recognized.
You must think by now that my clutching is somehow linked to my inability to handle mechanical things. How wrong you are. I also clutch when someone watches me write out a check. It is then that I find that I cannot spell words that up to then I could spell. When it comes time to write the check, for instance, I find that I do not know how to spell forty (fourty?) or fourteen (forteen?) and I know someone who has trouble with ninety (ninty?).
I sometimes have a problem with the name of the store itself--Sachs? Saks? Sach's? Sack's? Garfinckle? Garfinkel? This is why I shop at Sears Rowbuck and why I ask to see the receipt. I pretend to check it when I am actually seeing how the store spells its name.
I have checked and found that I am not the only clutcher. Some people clutch when they have to introduce a large number of people to one another. It is then that they sometimes forget the names of close friends. I was recently at a reception where a man introduced two women to me, using the same name for both: Dick, this is Mary Smith and Mary Smith. Talk about funny looks.
Another person I know clutches when approaching an escalator. She does fine until she is about to step on and then all of a sudden cannot find the step. The one that was just there is no longer there and so she gets on the thing doing the sort of spastic routine that made Jerry Lewis rich and famous.
Some people I know clutch when approaching exact change machines on a toll road or when trying to figure out what the tip should be when the waiter is watching. As for me, I have just one more example to give. I clutch when it comes to ending columns like this one.
Did I hear a cough?