Dan Mackie: So Much on Our Minds

On one of those pretty days when autumn simply glows, I saw a woman in her yard with a rake in one hand and a cell phone in the other. She was engaged in an energetic conversation, all the while trying to corral runaway leaves, one handed.

Based on her body language and volume, she seemed to be telling someone off, or scolding her husband, or foretelling the disaster of the Affordable Care Act. I couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear there was some grievance to be redressed, some justice to be meted out, some promises not kept.

Who knows what disappointments she’d endured, but whatever they were, and I cannot know whether they would require professional mediation, it was clear that they could not be resolved while raking. Something would have to give, and it was the leaves.

I think she looked up and saw me walking by, trying to eavesdrop and not be caught. Or she may have realized the futility of her situation: half-hearted, one-handed raking gets you nowhere. She let the rake drop and stepped into the garage, taking her conversation private.

Our little drama was over, and I would never know how it turned out, and whether she returned to raking. If there was domestic disharmony, maybe they later made up and raked together. If so, it might have been romantic: make-up raking is really something, with the firm tines, the soft blanket of leaves, the commingling of hues into a wild dance of color, exciting the senses.

I walked off with another take-away. Multitasking while raking doesn’t work, I concluded, and a public service message popped into my head: Please Rake Responsibly.

There’s a whole chorus of public sentiment against multitasking, which seems to be the order of the day. That is, there is a whole chorus of public sentiment against multitasking by people of my age and those a little younger, because we can’t do it.

We grew up when people didn’t attempt so much. You might read a book and twirl your hair, do math homework and tap a pencil, or whistle while washing dishes, but that was as far as it went.

But now people are multitasking like a house afire. They chat on phones while scouting for bargains at the supermarket, choose badly, and later have to make dinner out of nothing more than beef jerky and kelp chips. I’ve seem young mothers walking babies in strollers and checking phone messages, as if infants can text. I am infamous in my own household for heating a pan, getting involved in something else, and scalding said pan into uselessness.

It’s not that I can’t do two things at once, it’s just that if I give my mind free rein, there might be a third thing and then a fourth, and I will be sitting down at the computer to check the batting average of one Don Buddin, a Red Sox shortstop from my youth. He hit .241 lifetime, by the way, and twice led the American League in errors, 1958 and 1959, but that isn’t mentioned in the online history of his hometown of Olanta, S.C., where he is given no more mention than legendary town pharmacists J. Fred Rush and Ozeda Floyd, although the pharmaceutical history of Olanta is perhaps a story for another day. You see where a mind can wander off to, even without a smartphone.

As I’m typing this, I’m half listening to the Antiques Roadshow program playing in the other room, checking occasionally on the workings of the woodstove and the Bosston Celtics score, and have just eaten a tangerine. I’m not, to be candid, entirely certain where this column began. And so I am going to check the stove to see if I’ve ruined another pan.

The writer can be reached at dmackie@vnews.com.