The Old Coot multiplies his answer by two

The Old Coot is on a sabbatical few a few weeks; this “vintage” article was originally published in February 2003.

I can remember how long it took for a week to go by when I was a kid, waiting for Christmas. It took a year. Today, a year goes by in what seems like a week. It’s one of the things that comes with being an old coot, a distorted sense of judgment affecting everything you try to measure or estimate, not just time. I’ve learned to compensate for it by multiplying my answer by two.

We needed a new roof for the house. I figured it would be about $5,000 dollars. My wife reminded me I always lowball my estimates. She was right, so I put a figure of $10,000 in my head and called a roofing contractor. He came in with a figure of $9,300 and got the job. Had I not multiplied my answer by two, I probably would have thought the estimate outrageous and put off getting it done for a year or two.

“How old is the dog?” my son asks. “Just a pup, is my first inclination. Can’t be more than two or three,” I say to myself and then remember to multiply by two. “Six,” I reply. My answers to questions of this sort are delayed, not unlike those of reporters on the other side of the world when the question asked by the evening news anchor is transmitted via satellite. They stand there with a dumb look on their face waiting to hear the question. I stand there with a dumb look on my face, waiting for my brain to multiply my initial answer by two. That’s why old coots always look like their mind is someplace else.

I’ve found the rule keeps me looking pretty sharp with my younger friends; they haven’t figured out that their sense of time and their ability to estimate is out of adjustment.

“Remember that trip we took to Myrtle Beach to play golf three years ago?” my friend Don asks.

“I sure do, but it was six years ago,” I respond with precise accuracy.

“Really?” He comes back. “I would have sworn it was just a couple of years ago.”

“No, (I close the noose). It was the year you turned forty. You’re forty six now aren’t you?”

“You’re right! You’re right!”

His multiplier isn’t 2; it’s about 1.6. It will grow to 2 in a few more years, and then I’ll let him in on the secret. My multiplier will probably be 3 by then.

The formula works with just about everything, not just how much things cost or how long ago something happened. It works when I try to figure out how long it will take to do something: paint the ceiling, run to the store to get a carton of milk, mow the lawn. It will always be twice what I think. Unfortunately, it applies to unpleasant things as well, making them twice as bad as I figured. Going to the dentist hurts twice as much as I expect. Sore muscles hurt worse, and take twice as long to get better than I expect. Sitting in the car waiting for a red light takes three times as long as I think it should. Maybe it is time to increase the multiplier.