All Is Lost When You Can’t Even Find 7-Eleven

I am navigationally retarded.

Street signs mean nothing to me. I have never successfully operated a compass. When confronted with a road map, it takes me roughly 45 minutes to figure out where I am, by which point I’m usually somewhere else. While driving home for winter break last month, I missed my freeway exit and ended up in Sacramento — a full 90 miles past my destination. Three weeks later, on my first night in Washington, DC, I went out in search of a 7-Eleven and nearly succumbed to hypothermia after somehow ending up on the east bank of the Potomac River, halfway across town.

I’m not dumb, I swear. I just happen to have been born with a sense of direction slightly worse than that of a senile chimpanzee. It shames me to admit it, but without the aid of my cellphone’s built-in GPS function, I probably would have died on some dark city street a long time ago, my moonlit corpse surrounded by crumpled MapQuest printouts and an absurd number of taquito wrappers.

Naturally, the phrase “Where am I?” occurs with great frequency in my daily vocabulary. Sometimes I ask strangers. Most of the time, I ask myself. When I’m really desperate I call my dad and ask him — a question typically met by an elongated description of my latent idiocy, followed by a brief set of instructions on how to get back to my apartment from the Starbucks around the corner.

“Are you stupid, son?”

“No, Dad, I’m just navigationally retarded.”

After 22 years of this, I know a lot about being lost. I know what it’s like to wonder why they built a big fence around Los Angeles before realizing you’ve driven to the Mexican border. I know the feeling you get after wandering around the international terminal at SFO for half an hour only to learn that a trip to San Diego falls under the category of “domestic flights.” I know how much it sucks to miss the first half of a movie because you spent 40 minutes running back and forth between Sears and Sbarro in a desperate attempt to find the theatre, all the while being loudly ridiculed by a group of Hispanic teenagers hanging out in front of Pacific Sunwear.

I know what it’s like to be disoriented, perplexed, hopelessly off course. If I was a bird, I’d be one of those birds that flies into a window. Had I been born to a 19th century American frontier family, I would have been disowned immediately after puberty because I wouldn’t be able to track bison worth shit.

Though the ability to kill slow-moving animals doesn’t hold the same kind of weight that it used to, all of this still makes me tremendously nervous for the next six months of my life. You see, between now and June I have to figure out how to be a grown-up. I have to figure out how to fend for myself, how to hold a job, how to shop at Home Depot and read bestselling novels and appear intriguing to women. I have to figure out how to drink cocktails and talk about car insurance, how to buy drapes and invest in mutual funds and make food without a panini press.

According to my guidance counselor, my parents and a lot of other middle-aged people with back problems, I have to plot a course, choose a path, head toward some pre-determined goal. My propensity for wandering unknowingly in the wrong direction for extended periods of time surely isn’t going to help out a whole lot. It might even land me somewhere terrible, like prison, or drug rehab or middle management.

Fortunately I get the feeling that this is exactly the type of confusion about 90 percent of my peers are suffering from at this very moment. We’re all about to set out on our own, to navigate haphazardly through this treacherous 21st-century landscape. We’re rocking violently back and forth on the brink of total independence, painfully aware of our impending responsibilities but largely unwilling to accept the horrifying prospect of full-blown adulthood.

What’s worse, most of us aren’t really sure how to get there. After roughly two decades of homework, soccer practice, standardized tests, ready-made dinners and extensive amounts of hand holding, it’s going to be tough to find our bearings. Those of us not already committed to graduate school — the educational equivalent of breast feeding — will likely wander blindly into the void, our resumes pinned to our coats and a steady stream of snot flowing from our noses.

All I know is I’m going to keep my dad on speed dial.

“What do you want, son?”

“Guidance, Dad. Oh and how far is Toronto from Irvine? Cause I think I missed my exit.”

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