I was on my way to Lowe’s to complain that I couldn’t push the walls of my house like the people in that “Never Stop Improving” commercial, when I saw a sticker on the back of a car that read “26.2” in bold black print against a white background. I’ve nearly gotten into accidents trying to decipher these cryptic stickers.
One time it was “ADK” that challenged my intellect on the New York State Thruway.
“All Dieting Kangaroos? Ankles Do Kink?” I said aloud. “Albert David Kaufman?” It wasn’t until I arrived home and checked the Internet that I learned that “ADK” was short for “Adirondack,” something I should have figured out from the frame packs and scruffy beards.
A few weeks later I was on the Long Island Expressway, gripping the steering wheel in one hand and rosary beads in the other, when I saw a sticker that read “OBI” in the same black print on white background. After I accelerated a bit to confirm that Alec Guinness wasn’t driving the car, I decided that I needed to know what this “OBI” meant. At the time I was conducting a one-man boycott of the Internet for giving me too much information about the Olsen twins. Determined to solve the mystery, I put on my Scooby Doo hat and followed the car.
Although I did not score well on the “spying” section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, I managed to tail the car pretty well by pretending that it was driving from a wedding ceremony to a reception, and that I’d left the directions in the yarmulke basket. Eventually the car came to rest in the parking lot of a strip mall. The driver went into a burrito joint adjacent to a nail salon and one of those stores that charges no more than a dollar for items worth 99 cents.
I got in line behind him, and pretended to study the different combinations of beans, rice, and guacamole that the establishment offered. But I was really listening for any clues as to what this “OBI” might mean.
“I’d like a chicken burrito, please,” the man said. Maybe this was an attempt to throw me off the trail.
“Black or pinto beans, sir?”
“Um, pinto. Wait, no, black.”
So this guy wants to play games, I said to myself. He moved towards the register and out of earshot. I would have stayed closer but I was in the midst of a crisis in choosing between mild and medium salsa.
I was, however, able to get a seat next to him at a long high table against the storefront window. Unfortunately, all I could make out was chewing, and when he left I couldn’t follow him out, owing to complications that arise when one loses focus while eating something wrapped in tinfoil. When I returned home from the Emergency Room, I called an end to the Internet boycott and discovered that “OBI” stood either for the Oak Beach Inn, an infamous Long Island beach club, or for Ordnugsgemässes Beschaffungs-Institut.
With this history, I tried to ignore the 26.2 sticker staring at me as we inched along in Saturday afternoon traffic. I knew that guessing would make my brain hurt, and I couldn’t take out my iPhone and check because not surfing the Internet while driving was one of the conditions of my re-admission into the International Brotherhood of Men Who Can Do Only One Thing At A Time.
But the number kept gnawing at me, and with the stop and go traffic I felt like I was running a mara—
That’s it! I said aloud. A marathon is exactly 26.2 miles. I was impressed with myself, but the feeling didn’t last. I wondered why this person needed to show off to the rest of the doughnut-inhaling nation that he can run 26.2 miles without the aid of a car or helicopter. Perhaps it was time to do some showing off of my own.
The next day I slapped on my own “26.2” sticker, circled the decimal point, and drew an arrow running from the decimal to the space two digits to the left.