Matt Rilkoff: Finding Fat Max and the many failings of the safe place system

Fat Max is a very useful utility blade, until you lose it.
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Fat Max is a very useful utility blade, until you lose it.

OPINION: Where is Fat Max? His absence came to me in a thunderbolt of guilt. 

Where is Fat Max? It violently pulled me back from the edge of sleep to full consciousness and left me anxious and panicky like my eft-pos card had been declined in a ridiculously busy self-serve checkout.  

I can't tell you why it did this or why it ruined my initial attempt at sleep on Tuesday night. Fat Max had been missing for five years. I had come to accept he was gone and hadn't thought about him in any substantial manner since 2014.

The thing was I didn't even know why I cared about Fat Max. Sure it was a great little foldable Stanley knife I had found exceedingly useful when renovating my house and the name was catchy, but he wasn't something I cared for much.

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Fax Max had been sent to me to to review and though I never did, I kept the blade. It felt like I had gamed the system to my favour. Like I had won a round for the little guy. Until I lost it, which was about when I thought I had stopped thinking about it.

Losing things is the inevitable end of every tool or something I hold dear. I have it, then it is gone and I don't know where it's gone to. 

Losing things like this is far more difficult to deal with than when you lose something by dropping it down a drain or leaving it in a hotel room in Nepal. 

In a sense you haven't lost those things at all. You know where they are. You know exactly where they are. The problem you actually have is not a lost problem but a retrieval problem.

With Fat Max I had no idea where he was. Which meant I didn't really know if he was lost at all or simply stored in one of the 7456 'safe' places I put things in when I don't want to lose them. 

The problem with this safe system is there is no catalogue of these safe places.

Usually they only occur to me at the last second. If I'm standing by a fridge and I want to keep my wallet safe because suddenly it just can't stay in my pocket, I'll tuck it in behind the full grain mustard and red curry paste jars at the back of the top shelf. 

If I'm in the garden and I want to guard the secateurs from theft, I'll wedge them into the crook of the deciduous tree that is about to burst into leaf after a winter of nudity. 

Or maybe I am in the car and I don't want to leave my sunglasses in plain sight when I get out so I'll store them with the wheel jack in the boot. Just to be smart. Just to be safe. 

Safe place locations are to your mind like an eel is to the grabbing hand. You cannot hold onto them. Even for a second. Sometimes I have forgotten where one of the safe places is even before I have finished storing something there. 

And it is only after I have finished storing something that I remember this very severe weakness in my safe place system. It is as though my own brain has turned against me and is taking every opportunity it can to humiliate me in small and pathetic ways.

This may not be far from the truth because the psychology of losing things is probably fascinating and complex. But I don't need to learn about that. I learned all I need to know about losing things from my parents.

To them a boy that lost things (or was rude, hungry, not hungry, sullen or no good with money) had one ultimate failing that could not be remedied. He was a spoiled brat. 

There is bound to be some truth in this. Though I would argue my parents only overburdened me with possessions relative to their own childhood toys of a stick and two buttons, I did have a lot. 

Having a lot makes it hard to keep track of things and so inevitably your mind gives up or devotes a huge amount of time to worrying about where everything is at any one time. Even when that thing has been missing for five years already. 

This is the reason people feel physically healthier when they get rid of things, I expect. It literally unburdens their mind. 

I would like to be unburdened too and this is probably why I suddenly have to find Fat Max. Because the irony of losing things as I do is it's not until you've found them again that you can truly enjoy the benefits of not knowing where they are. 

 - Taranaki Daily News

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