It was at one of those large professional meetings that hundreds of people from all over the country attend. I checked in, found my nametag and applied it to the front of my jacket. Then I got a drink and bumped into my old friend Bob, whom I had last seen a week earlier. We shook hands, and that's when he caught me sneaking a look at his nametag.
"It's still Bob," said Bob. "What's the matter, are you losing it?"
I tried worming my way out of it. "Just checking to see if you still spelled it the same."
"Even backwards it would be Bob."
"I meant your last name," I said, without conviction.
Babe Ruth hardly remembered anyone's name, even some of his teammates'. If he thought you were older, he called you Pop. If younger, you were Kid. He didn't worry about it. But I get depressed if someone thinks I'm vague or befuddled. Naturally, I prefer to be thought of as quick-witted, razor-sharp, which is hard to pull off while I'm bending down to read my wife's nametag.
It's not only names, either. I verify all over the place. For instance, I'll never lock myself out of the house. My ritual, before going out the door, is to pat my pockets and yell: "Wallet! Keys!" I have to feel it and hear it. Once, a new cleaning lady, hearing my cry, ran to my wife and yelled: "Your husband wants you to bring him his wallet and keys right way!"
At the old-fashioned gas station I frequent, I always hop out and chat with Frank while he fills the tank. Frank thinks it's because I'm eager to trade jokes, but I'm really there to be sure he remembers to put the cap back on. In case I should forget the combination to my locker at the YMCA, I've penciled 16-34-2 (you don't think I'm giving you the real numbers, do you?) in tiny writing on the wall behind the bulletin board.
Maybe I go overboard on the confirmation game. But it's not like fretful people can't be happy. I've never heard anybody say, "Better sorry than safe."
It's like last month when my wife left me alone with a chicken I had to baste. I'm no cook, but I'm a fine baster, and I basted the heck out of that chicken and then I went off to the dentist. As I settled into the chair, I began to wonder if I had turned the oven off. Just before they began to work on me, I stood up and put on my coat. "I have a chicken in the oven," I said. As I left, a young woman called out after me, "We know where the chicken is, and it's not in the oven."
Look, if Babe Ruth and I were both airline pilots, who would you rather fly with — the carefree Sultan of Swat, or the careful King of Concern? Believe me, I have given this a lot of thought, and if you want my advice, I wouldn't fly with either of us. I'd take the train.