I got into my car a few days ago and noticed that the odometer looked like this:
YES! In only 9.2 miles—within the course of the day’s commute—all the digits would be lined up in order! For a precious tenth of a mile, I would attain a fleeting taste of obsessive-compulsive nirvana. All I had to do was pay attention until the Great Conjunction came.
Anyone whose heart has never thrilled to see a clock reading 11:11 may as well stop reading here, but it’s up there with seeing a straight flush come together in your poker hand. I’ve spent a lot of time awake in the dark waiting for 12:34 or 3:21, as well as any time that reads the same way upside down or backwards.
I also like to check the page numbers in books to know when I’ve reached the exact middle. If I don’t read the numbers for a while and overshoot, I’ll backtrack to the right page and skim it again for any special import or hidden messages. In elementary school I got into the habit of mentally doubling and halving every page number just in case I was missing something exciting.
The odometer is more urgent than clocks or pages, though, because this sequence of numbers will never come again unless you drive a magic car that can run for more than a million miles, exceed the number of available digits, and start over again at zero.
So on the day in question I started driving, glancing down at the gauge every three seconds for about a mile. Then suddenly I had to change lanes. Then I turned a corner. Then my usual route was closed for construction, and a school crossing guard stopped traffic, and a song I liked came on the radio.
All at once I was in the parking lot at work, checking the dash to see when I should buy gas, and I saw it:
I had let that precious moment slip away, and it was gone forever. How could I forgive myself? How long until the next magical number would come up? Would I miss that one, too?
I feel like I’m betraying my car. It’s as if I’m the mother and he* is a small child who keeps trying to show me fabulous gymnastic feats, but I’m always looking away at the moment he backflips off the monkey bars.
Every time I fail him, he finds something else to show me—how about 0987678? 0987890? 0988888? I missed them all by a few miles. For the last one I even dangled a sheet of paper on the dashboard over the display to remind me to watch carefully during my next drive, but I was still led astray by the senseless frivolity of paying attention to traffic.
Now my only hope of anal-retentive satisfaction is to watch like a hawk for 0989898. In about 24,000 miles I’m going to need a failsafe system for catching 1234567, or my brain will probably implode. Meanwhile, I have to get back to my book, because I’m almost to page 222, which is half of 444, and if you read the last letter in every line it spells out your secret enemy’s Facebook username and password.
A note to parents, roommates, and coworkers: Not everyone who obsesses about this stuff is crazy. At least that’s what the voices tell me.
*Maybe your cars, ships, and trains are all female. Mine has an established personality and can be coaxed or encouraged verbally. He likes a pat on the driver-side front quarter panel. He loves me back. Go define sanity your own way somewhere else.