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The Thaddeus Gazette

Is Dis A System?

Tuesday bright and early. Early, anyways. Punch up some kind of breakfast, pack Little Girl off to preschool (wha? bless remedial education) and head out to the Y. Yes, we're jocking it out.

Okay, we're wheezing it out, at least I am. A is a Certified Water Aerobics Instructor and does the seniors class on Mondays (not to be confused with the Senior Class in the 12th grade). I settle for stretching out my battered shoulders and riding the exercycle. So in to the gym, flash my Y card, grab a towel, hit the locker room and start digging out my sweats and — no lock.

No lock. No gawddam lock. What is this, the funny pages? What happened to my system?

See, my lock lives in exactly two places: On the locker door or in my gym bag. I don't put it in the locker, I don't put it in my pocket, I don't carry it to the toilet and forget to bring it back. Two places, period. It's a system, dammit.

Apparently, it's a system that still has a few bugs in it, because it obviously broke down. Perhaps it was bereft of sufficient practice to become routine.

Look, let's get this straight. I'm not just the wheeziest guy in the gym, I'm also a world champion loser. I've lost keys. I've lost ID. I've lost whole freaking man purses with a month's wages in them. My life used to revolve around the black hole at the center of my existence where precious things were sucked away never to see the light of day again, at least not on my watch. It was downright irritating.

But I learned. Out of bleak bitter necessity, I learned The Real Secret Of Life, the one they try to teach you in school as a precursor to all the rest: everything is routine, routine is everything.

Do you want to succeed? It's just routine, a series of rules and habits you follow with slavish loyalty to the exclusion of all distraction. Accept legitimate authority, save creativity for when it's actually useful, show up on time, don't blow your dough, do it step by step, manage your vices, tell as much of the truth as you can afford, always cut the cards. Contrary to popular belief, there are few if any lucky breaks in life, and the race goes more often to the tortoise who doesn't stop than the hare who's too busy showing off to stay on track. For every flashy star burning e'r so bright on the horizon there are ten quiet little asteroids coursing their way thru the cosmos.

Do you want love? Routine. Travel? Routine. Peace and justice? Sadly, routine—and most revolutionaries aren't very good at it.

All I want is to not lose my keys. Or my wallet. Or my freaking gym lock. And so I turn to routine, to system, to ritual if you will (and I will). KEYS LIVE IN 3 PLACES ONLY: POCKET. LOCK. HAND. WALLET LIVES IN 2 PLACES ONLY: BAG, HAND. Not the counter, not the table, not under the sofa cushion, no excuses, no exceptions. Very occasionally when I'm changing my pants, keys will temporarily live on the nightstand, accompanied by the profound hippie pagan locking spell STAY. And even then I can live to regret it.

Obviously this sort of stuff requires a gawdawful amount of discipline. And that's kinda the point. Routine is the cast-iron overshirt that keeps squishy squidly Lancelot maintaining that rigid posture. If I could rely on my Doughty Will I wouldn't need to put everything in black and white, would I?

It's tempting, though, to imagine that all the real movers and shakers of the world don't stoop to Daytimers and all that unsexy stuff, that they stride forth, mightily thewed and awesome, to wrest their destinies from the quivering field of competition. Napoleons of industry and governance and the arts, they bend the world to their indomitable character and remember everyone's names and where all the bodies are buried and never have to go to the bathroom. Y'know, like those guys in college who never had to study and never had a hangover. Yeah, no. Tempting, but likely faulty. Strip those titans down to their dainty underthings and you'd find their organizer apps and laundry lists pretty quick. Unsexy or not, they work.

Of course, there's always a naysayer quick to respond to any discourse along these lines with the old "Oh yeah? What if you get hit by a meteor? Where's your system then, sucker?" saw. There is a state of mind—I've subscribed to it myself—that looks to the pervasiveness of corruption or the perversity of fate as a surefire rebuttal to any methodology in life whatsoever. As the t-shirt says, "Eat sensibly. Exercise regularly. Die anyway."

Without going into turgid psychoanalysis of any denial or doubt or depression or self-loathing or genuine institutional oppression or (traumatic sound effect) Existential Angst (/traumatic sound effect) behind this cast of mind, one obvious argument against it is that it's useless. If you believe you can, you might be wrong, but if you believe you can't, you're almost certainly right. Futilitarianism is even less functional than its pollyanna stepsister, pie-in-the-sky "I don't need a parachute! I can flap my arms and fly like a bird!" idealism.

And the upshot of the Case Of The Purloined Shackle? Upon discovery of the uncanny event, I remedied the situation by the dire expedient of marching down to the front counter and buying a new one. Happily, though I'm indeed a misplacer of gym locks, for the first time in my life, here in the dawn of my dotage. I have reached the happy state of financial stability where a $7 lock isn't a crushing blow to my budget. I can't afford what I don't need, but I'm totally able to keep necessities in stock.

And how did I get this way? Well, you see, I have this system...

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