Monday, September 29, 2008

Stripe towards me? Or stripe towards you?

Once more I stand at the checkout counter, indecisive. My bank card poised, aloft. The little black box on the countertop presents its inscrutable icon, my insurmountable interpretive obstacle: stripe facing in? or stripe facing out? I don't know. The little dimensionalized drawing of a bank card meant to guide me is completely incomprehensible. If I understand it correctly--and obviously I don't--it seems to me that the stripe should face up into the air, not making contact with the reading mechanism at all.

My card-bearing hand hovers somewhere near shoulder height and I stare hard at the little machine. I think. I reason. I tilt my head. I swipe.

I swipe, incorrectly as it turns out. Damn it! Wrong again! How many times is this damn box going to outwit me, I wonder?

Quickly, I flip the card around and swipe again: my aim is to do it so fast that no one notices I did it wrong the first time.

In a flash it hits me: it would actually be faster and less stressful--more efficient by any means of reckoning--if I just swiped randomly, every time. Faster because a mindless swipe has a fifty percent chance of being the correct orientation. Faster because a second reswipe would still happen more quickly than my first, overly deliberate, mentally laborious swipe of current brain-busting practice.

Sometimes it's easier just to make an attempt, fail, and then correct it. Sometimes it's more effective, even better, than trying to puzzle out a first move so that it will be my only move, and then disappointing myself by being wrong. If you expect to have a chance to be wrong, you're pleasantly surprised to be right; if you take all the buildup out of a decision, you don't get so invested in it.

So now, at the checkout, when I take my bank card out of my wallet, I ensure that the magnetic stripe is poised to contact some part of the card reading machine and I blindly, confidently, swipe at random. Sometimes it works--at least just as often as it did when I stared at the machine and tried to figure it out--only now I don't have to think about it at all. I just do.

There's got to be a life lesson in there somewhere, don't you think?