The Less-than-Deductive Detective

Posted on September 12, 2011


For years, my friend Andrew and I have been exchanging Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe detective novels and dreaming about starting our own detective agency.  The desire to be detectives doesn’t stem from a hatred of crime or a love of solving mysteries, but more from a desire to wear fedoras, stay out late with friends on a work night in the seedy side of town, and meet dangerous women who need our help.

I’m also hoping that a case requiring a visit to the seedy side of town will enable me to gather evidence to dispel rumors started by my wife that the seedy side of town is actually the good side of town.  If that’s true, it means I missed all the evidence that we live in the bad part of town, and I wouldn’t make a very good detective.

I felt I’d make a good detective because I’m good at analyzing clues and have a talent for deduction.  What I failed to deduce until recently is that I have no talent for first actually noticing those clues so they can then be analyzed.

I recently shared the story of not noticing my hairdresser was drunk:

When somebody cuts your hair successfully fifteen months in a row, you stop paying close attention during the haircut.  This last Tuesday I brought my son along to chat with me while I sat in the barber’s chair, and I believe this distraction is what prevented me from noticing until the very end that my hairdresser was very, very drunk.  As I examined my uneven sideburns and a couple patchy spots, I remembered catching the strong smell of alcohol earlier but wondered why this knowledge didn’t translate into an immediate fear of him snipping off my ears.

The story ends with my returning home and my wife telling me she was getting her haircut with the same hairdresser later that day, but it didn’t occur to me to tell her about the hairdresser being drunk, and she blamed me for her disastrous dye job.

I assume my wife would have noticed the hairdresser was drunk right away.  She constantly puts my detective ambitions to shame by noticing far more clues than I do, some of which should be embarrassingly obvious.  We’ll chat in line with a man at a coffee shop and afterwards I’ll ask her, “Where do you think he was from?” and she’ll answer, “Probably New York because he wore a NY Mets cap, spoke with a New York accent, and told a story about how the downtown Xintiandi development reminds him of a similar project in Brooklyn.”  Somehow I missed all of this.

Other weaknesses that may hold me back as a detective:

I can’t remember street names.  I have an excellent sense of direction but if I called my partner in an emergency and told him to meet me in front of the suspect’s house, I’d never remember the names of the street and would have to say, “Meet me in front of the tall building on the street with some restaurants.”

I never notice when anyone gets a haircut.

I’m a terrible whisperer.

I’d be useless in a car chase or in tailing suspects since I suffer from an obsessive compulsion to always drive the speed limit.

I’m too handsome to ever be inconspicuous.

What do I bring to the table?  I’m good at analyzing clues, interrogating people to get information, and avoiding danger.  I’m also good at remembering to bring snacks and drinks to the stakeout.  Andrew can be in charge of gathering the clues because he’s better at noticing the little things like my wife’s new manicure, although he’s not good at remembering to confirm with me whether I’ve noticed and complimented my wife’s manicure before he does.

One thing that worries me about entering a partnership with Andrew is that in classic detective stories, partnerships never last long before one of the partners is killed and the other partner has to avenge his death.  The pattern seems to hold consistent that the single partner lives and the partner with a wife and kids gets stabbed in a dark alley.  This means I’m much more likely to be killed since I have a wife and kids and Andrew is single, although my wife says he’s had a girlfriend for a year and has brought her along the last twenty times I’ve seen him.

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