What I’m good at

Fillmore, Coolidge, LBJ, Ford

One of my chief failings is that I’m aware, possibly overly so, of my failings. I was challenged to write a post about what I’m good at. Ick. It seems a tad boastful, but maybe as self-aware as my ability to identify my shortcomings.

I am observant. Often, I will watch people. From the choir loft at church, I spot people I don’t recognize and will make an attempt to say hello afterward.

Back in the day, when I would attend many parties, I would note the persons who didn’t seem to have anyone to talk with and try to be available for conversation without forcing the issue.

I give great directions. Yes, with GPS, you’d think no one would need to ask a passerby how to get somewhere, but it still happens. Occasionally, I overhear someone giving less than precise directions, and I sigh.

Oddly, and my wife brings this up frequently, I’m quite good at anticipating what cars and pedestrians will do in traffic. Last month, there was a truck driving in the left lane while my wife was driving in the right, a couple of car lengths back. I told her that the truck was turning right, and it did.  There was something in the truck’s… body language (?)

I know the idiosyncrasies of walk lights in my neighborhood. For instance, for some, one has to push to get a WALK, while others do automatically. 

I understand my daughter’s unspoken messaging about 70% of the time. This is not bad dealing with a teenager.

Math is everywhere

I remember numbers exceedingly well. Once, someone gave me a phone number to call, but I had nothing to write it on, and my phone was unavailable. I still knew the number when I got home.

I can identify the geography for most of the “old-fashioned” area codes, the ones with a zero or one in the middle. Likewise, I have a broad understanding of ZIP Codes. Working mail order at FantaCo in the 1980s honed these skills.

I can identify not only the Presidents but their years in office. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds because it was rare (1850, 1923, 1963, 1974) when a Presidency didn’t start in a year divisible by 4, plus 1. 

Teachers were obsessed with dates in the olden days when they taught history. 1492, 1588, 1865, 1917, et al. I saw this clue on a recent JEOPARDY: “During this 1870-71 war, Napoleon III was captured & eventually deposed & Paris fell to a neighboring nation’s army.” I knew it was the Franco-Prussian War immediately from the years. (No one even rang in.) 

Sometimes, I play license plate math, where I try to find the lowest common denominator of each half of the license plate, treat the Roman numerals by their values, and change more as necessary. (B is 13, e.g., because it looks like 13 smushed together.)


I can remember pieces of music and even specific details. The Canadian version of the Penny Lane single is exactly three minutes.

I can find the bass line and, often, other harmony parts for most songs.

Any song I know reasonably well, I can do in chicken. You can blame this on Ray Stevens, whose version of In The Mood, as Henhouse Five Plus Two, changed my life.

Taking the time to see

I need to remember to spend more time observing and less time with busyness.


I was waiting for the bus after work. Ofttimes, I’d pull out a magazine or newspaper to read, and I almost ALWAYS have something to read. But on this particular day – and it was a particularly lovely afternoon – I just didn’t feel like it. Using my backpack as a pillow, I lay on this granite slab in front of my work building and just observed. My goodness, the New York State flag is REALLY frayed, much worse than the US flag. I had never even noticed this before.

I tend, I think, to observe more than the average person, some of it, admittedly, mundane. Most of them get on the bus, or in their cars and immediately get on some sort of electronic device, lest not doing so would leave them adrift in the world. (That state law banning handheld devices while driving? A joke around here.)

One of the elevators in our building opens to let people on, then closes, opens, closes, opens, then when it finally closes, it buzzes as though someone had been holding the door open.

We have new phones at home. Actually, I bought them 14 months ago but didn’t install them for almost a year, when the phones suddenly going dead were too much of an irritation. What I didn’t know is that the phone announces the caller, usually badly. “Call from. Shen-ec-tdy. En why.” (That was supposed to be Skin-EC-ta-dy.) And it does it two times, then cuts out after ‘Call from’ on the third round. You have no idea how much silly, but cheap, entertainment value I get from that. (Some have suggested that I am easily amused…)

Friends are amazed by how well I know the WALK light patterns of irregular intersections in the city of Albany. I take it as a defensive measure against getting run over.

I need to remember to spend more time observing and less time with busyness, filling every available minute. It’s fun, and it relaxes me.

Feel the need to LISTEN to See by the Rascals.

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