Dumb and Dumber

           Without identifying exactly who is Dumb and who is Dumber, my lovely wife and I decided to eat out for dinner the other evening.  Having walked at the local mall and relaxed reading our favorite things, we had little more to do.  Panera Bread had opened a new restaurant nearby, and had become locally popular in short order.  While Friday night is usually a busy one in the restaurant business, it was only 5:30, and we might beat the crowd.  We headed for Panera, and were pleased to find an ample number of parking spaces.  We injected ourselves into the English pub-style ordering routine, started scanning the menus on the back wall, and pondered our selections at the counter.

My wife asked about the soups, and whether one specific soup was hot.  This is her characteristic way to avoid those foods that send her GI system into orbit.  The cashier did not know the answer, and left immediately to ask the cooks.  After a minute, she returned with a small plastic cup of steaming soup for her to taste.  With a miniature spoon, she tasted the soup, and commented that it was really hot.  To confirm this result, I took the small sample, scooped-up a full miniature spoonful, and tried it myself.  “It is physically hot,” I responded, “but it is not spicy-hot”.

Having been distracted by the hot soup issue, I reached for my billfold to pay the fare.  “My wallet is missing,” I exclaimed anxiously.  At that point, my mind went into panic mode.  Where had I been?  Had it slipped out of my pocket at the mall or in the car?  When did I use it last?  The last time I used it was at the mall, where I purchased some drinks at the newsstand next to the food court.  If it came out of my pocket at the mall, it would be gone forever, but my pocket was deep, and quite secure.

Had a pickpocket strayed into Athens, and targeted me as an easy mark?  This was a conditioned fear.  Through extensive travels, I knew about dozens of clandestine tricks played on unsuspecting tourists.  Squirt a little mustard on a sports coat, plant a crying baby on the ground in front of you, crowd you into unbelievably tight quarters while entering a theater, or boarding a bus or train.  A little distraction and viola, your valuables disappear without a trace, and you are clueless about when it happened, only to discover it after it is too late.  Distraction is the key to making a clean swipe and a getaway.  Had I been duped?

The only recovery possibility would be from the car, where, on one occasion, my wallet had been lost for over a month.  I said I was going to the car to look for the wallet, and headed for the parking lot.  In route, I suffered a thousand deaths, agonizing over the credit cards, ATM cards, and official documents that would need to be replaced.  The cash loss was a minor irritant, compared to the stress of dealing with fraudulent charges.  My experience with a credit card several years earlier turned into a nightmare.  On that occasion I knew exactly where the card had been left.  This time, I had absolutely no idea what might have happened.  The deception was perfect, and I was petrified.

The car’s driver’s seat, sides, and floor were all examined carefully, but to no avail.  It was not there, leaving only one option.  It had to be at the mall, a losing proposition.  I returned to Panera depressed and downhearted, and headed toward my wife, who was now seated at a table.  She motioned to me with her hand on seeing me reenter the building.

“I have your billfold,” she said.

“And exactly where did you find it?” I asked.

“It was in my purse,” she replied.

A fleeting thought returned to the pickpockets, who roam the streets and crowds throughout Europe.  Through expert use of distraction, they lift valuables without any hint of violation.  Was my lovely wife of 50 years perfecting her pickpocket skills, and plying her most clever soup distractions in order to lift my wallet?  Surely not, I thought.  Yet the evidence was so clear.  She put my suspicions to rest when she volunteered my wallet, a behavior never considered by a pickpocket, unless caught red-handed in the act.

Needless to say I was deeply relieved knowing that the long damage-control process would not be necessary.  After a sigh of relief, we discussed exactly how such an event could have happened.  Fortunately, there were not many options available for reconstructing the events, and specifically the disappearance of the wallet, which occurred within a few seconds.  The sequence of actual events is precisely as follows:

To prepare for paying the bill, I had reached into my pocket, and was holding my wallet.  Then, in order to taste the soup, a conscious distraction, I handed my wife the wallet, and have no recollection of doing so.  I took the small cup and tasted the soup using both hands.  After tasting the soup, I placed it on the counter in front of us.  Most of the soup was still in the cup.  Then I discovered my wallet was missing, and left to look in the car.  After I left, my wife decided to finish the soup.  She placed my billfold in her purse, and claimed no recollection of having done so.  Then she picked up the soup, and moved to a table nearby.  There she placed her purse on a chair, sat down, and finished the soup.  Looking into her purse at last, she discovered the wallet.  Throughout this activity, the soup was the center of attention, required two hands, and was uppermost in consciousness.  The wallet was simply a distraction to soup tasting, and was processed at a completely unconscious, or habitual level.

To fully explain these events, two additional characters, Dumb and Dumber, appeared spontaneously on the scene.  At that point, there were four persons involved: my lovely wife and I, Dumb, and Dumber.  My wife and I were in full charge of tasting the soup and commenting to each other, while Dumb and Dumber were in full charge of my wallet.  Simultaneously with the tasting, Dumb handed my wallet to Dumber, who put the wallet in her purse.  At no point was I ever consciously aware of Dumb or Dumber, or just exactly what they were up to.  At no point did Dumb say anything to Dumber, hence the names.  They just exchanged the wallet from hand to hand, slick as any pickpocket, and inserted it into my wife’s purse.  At no point was my wife aware that Dumber had taken the wallet, and put it in her purse.  Under the influence of distraction, Dumb and Dumber took full charge of our hands and my wallet, and we were both left in total darkness.

From this illuminating example, it is clear that these two characters, Dumb and Dumber, appear out of nowhere, operate in the shadows, and are always capable of playing tricks on us.  But I do know a few things.  When my wife says, “I am going to Belks or Macy’s, and will be back in 30 minutes,” I know exactly what she has said.  I know that Dumber will take charge of her body, and keep her in the stores for at least an hour.  I know when she is shopping to keep my hand on my wallet.  And when she goes shopping, Dumb has never given her my wallet.  He may be Dumb, but he is certainly not stupid.  I am not so sure about Dumber!!

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