Maybe it’s because I play drums that I have a tendency to count things. Or, maybe it’s the other way round. Drumming involves a lot of counting. When I’m bored or have time to fill, I often count things around me.
I know at my local subway station the stairs from the underground platform to the ground level are in two staircases, each with 31 steps and a landing in between them. I know because I’ve counted them hundreds of times.
In my local subway I know that there are 27 fluorescent light tubes in the tunnel between my home station and the next nearest station. I count them every day. I hold my breath as a kind of fitness test to see if I can hold it for the distance from one station platform to the next, and while I’m doing that I count the passing lights to time myself.
I do more than count lights and hold my breath in the subway tunnels. I also pray a lot, reciting things like the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Nicean Creed, and the Jewish Shema over and over from the moment the train door closes to the moment it opens again at the next stop.
Sometimes at night if I cannot sleep I listen to the second hand of the cheap alarm clock next to my pillow ticking relentlessly in the darkness. So quietly, in my mind I will count along with it and measure time’s passage without actually looking at the clock. It’s difficult to concentrate after a while, but if I can count up to ten minutes it’s usually enough to bore me to sleep.
Often at work, if I am bored, I will sing the Alphabet Song out loud to various melodies: the alphabet to the Birthday song; the alphabet to Jingle Bells; the alphabet to It’s a Small World; the alphabet to Hey, Jude; Gilligan’s Island; Beethoven, etc. It’s a fun game. I don’t want to stop until I am able to finish the melody on the letter “Z.” That usually means that I have to repeat the alphabet several times in order to make the 26th letter fall precisely on the last note of the tune. Little children especially enjoy telling me that I’m singing it wrong!
I count how many people on the trains are staring at iPhones or similar digital devices while commuting, try to figure out percentages and wonder how it compares to other countries.
In the house where I grew up (Mom still lives there), I remember that there are 13 steps in the basement staircase and 14 steps in the first floor staircase. My brothers and I used to count them as we ran up the stairs like mad, feigning fear, imagining a monster from the scary, dark furnace room was pursuing us after we turned the lights out. Even if the lights were on. Often we ran up the stairs by twos, counting all the way.
When I shower I always follow the same sequence: wet myself; brush teeth; shampoo; then scrub with a sponge and body soap starting with the left forearm, then the upper left arm and armpit, then left side, then stomach, then chest and shoulders, neck, and face, and so on. Shaving in the shower is usually the last thing I do before stepping out.
The walk from my local subway station to my elevator is 460 paces, give or take some depending on circumstances and the points of measure. From the bottom of my hill it is exactly 198 steps. Two steps to get on the elevator, two to get off, and four more to land in front of my door. Three steps will get me into the entry way with space to close the door behind.
I know for a fact in my apartment here when I arrive home in the evening there are 14 things I have to do to enter the apartment, procedures like an infantryman performing rifle drill or a pilot or astronaut running through a checklist. The point is that it takes time to do something immediately. Here’s a list:
* Remove key
* Insert key to door lock
* Turn key
* Pull door open
* Remove key
* Step inside
* Remove cap
* Deposit cap and keys and folding fan and subway pass case on the entrance table
* Remove one shoe
* Remove other shoe
* Reach behind and pull door shut
* Lock door from the inside
* Step into the apartment
* Deposit shoulder bag on floor next to door
* I’m home!
But even then I’m not ready to do anything. I still have to change clothes and empty the important contents of my shoulder bag. More steps.
It takes time to do something immediately.