Habits are a wonderful invention. They mean you don’t have to remember everything. When actions become automatic, you are no longer required to think about them anymore.
Tying your shoelaces. Brushing your teeth. Picking your nose. No hesitations, no questions. You get right down to work.
“Which finger is it again?”
No. The “mechanical” has been bypassed. The requisite digit flashes in there, and you’re off to the races.
Inevitably, however – and I am rightfully famous for such detections – there is a recognizable downside to “Habitual Action.” (“Downsides” are my particular bailiwick. Anyone can spot the bright, shiny apple. My turf is the microscopic wormhole. Why? Everyone needs a specialty.)
So – “The Downside of Habitualism” – here we go.
Every Wednesday morning, pretty much, I walk about a mile or so down to Groundwork, to purchase some aromatic, outrageously overpriced gourmet coffee.
My habitual favorite – the only one I like, actually – is “Venice Blend.” Call me the Goldilocks of gourmet coffee. “Bitch’s Brew” is too strong. “Angel City” is too weak. “Venice Blend” is “Ju-u-u-u-st right.”
During my last half-dozen Wednesday visits, the Groundwork outlet I frequent had no “Venice Blend” prepared, and I had to wait five minutes for an individually brewed “pour-over.” I am told that the coffees they brew ahead of time are on a random rotation. I have been apparently unlucky six times in a row.
My habitual attire on these walks is baggy exercise pants and a t-shirt. I am almost seventy. But I still dress like I am going to camp.
Due to the “over time” deterioration of my exercise pants, the elastic wastebands have become precariously unreliable. Meaning that if I weigh down the pockets, there is more than an even chance of a “Drop-Down”, its severity ranging from my being mistaken for a “gang-related exercise enthusiast” to, at its most embarrassing – which has not yet happened but there is always the concern – “pants dropped around the ankles.”
As a precaution against the “Drop-Down”, I carry the minimum in my exercise pants pockets. I take my keys along but, since I have no identifiable life, as reflected by the number of keys on my keychain, I have only three keys. Three keys on a keychain are not heavy. My elastic wasteband barely reacts. It’s Kleenex, in the form of keys.
Also, instead of taking my entire wallet – which by itself insures a guaranteed four-inch “Drop-Down” providing the world with a sartorial “boxers well above the beltline” presentation – I take only a five dollar bill along, providing exactly what I need for the transaction – two-and-a-quarter for the coffee (two seventy-five if it’s a “pour-over”) and a dollar for the tip.
Over dozens of visits, this transaction has become virtually entirely automatic. I hand them the “Five”, I get my coffee and my change, I drop a dollar into the “Tip Jar”, and away we go.
One morning, I go to my wallet before I leave – no ”Fives.” So I take along a “Ten” instead. No big deal. Both bills weigh the same amount, meaning no increased “Drop-Down” vulnerability.
I arrive at Groundwork. Once again, there is no prepared “Venice Blend”, so I request the “pour-over.” They tell me I’m lucky. I am getting “fresh” coffee, prepared just for me.
A clash of perspectives. I’m thinking “inconvenience”; they’re touting “exclusivity.”
My coffee is ready. I hand them my money; they hand me my change. I drop a bill in the “Tip Jar”, and away I go.
Only to discover on my way back home that the bill I had dropped into the “Tip Jar”…
Had been a “Five.”
Two seventy-five for the “pour-over”, five dollars for the tip. What’s that, like a hundred and eighty percent gratuity?
“The Downside of Habitualism.”
When I hand them a “Five” – as I habitually do – the bills returned to me in change include just “One’s”, one of which I habitually drop into the “Tip Jar.” Handing them a “Ten”, however – as I did on this exceptional occasion – one of the bills returned to me in change was a “Five.” Not looking, and believing it was a “One” – because it habitually was, so why look? – I had deposited that “Five” into the “Tip Jar.”
The question was, “Now what?” A return visit to Groundwork? What exactly would I say to them?
“Um… here’s the thing. I habitually pay with a “Five” and then habitually drop a “One” into the “Tip Jar.” Today, I uncharacteristically paid with a “Ten”, and not looking at my change – because when it’s “habitual” you don’t have to – I mistakenly dropped a “Five” into the “Tip Jar.” Do you think I could have that “Five” back, so I can exchange it for a “One”?
I did not return, fearing this unwinnable encounter:
“How do I know that’s your ‘Five’?”
“It’s probably the only one in the “‘Tip Jar’.”
“Who tips five dollars for a cup of coffee?”
“High rollers. Showing off for a girlfriend. Japanese tourists. A person with bad eyesight…”
I decided to skip the embarrassment. And the inconvenience.
“People are waiting.”
And I simply returned home.
And there you have it – hoisted on my own automatically-repeated-action petard. My unthinking behavior had unnecessarily cost me four dollars. I also dread going back there is the future. I return to my habitual routine, I drop a “One” in the “Tip Jar”, the guy goes, “What happened to the ‘Five’?”
I am forever stigmatized – I’m the “Five Guy” who went back to the “One.”
You like my chances of there being prepared “Venice Blend” when I get there?