The call had come at six in the morning. I am not awake then, of course, even on a particularly good morning. And I was not having a particularly good morning.
I woke up around 9:45, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I dreamt of water, specifically of the time I ran full-tilt into an oncoming wave and got hit harder than I thought possible, spilled end over end into the ice-cold surf to come up spitting salt and gasping for air, shocked to still be alive. And on that appropriate note I finally opened my eyes and looked around.
I had been sleeping on an ancient and flattened feather bed, so my eyes were right at ground level. The first thing I saw was the carpet: cheap, thin, torn and ratted by cat claws. A layer of hair, mine and the cat’s, over everything. Then the whiskey bottle, brown, overturned, a small stain on the carpet next to it where the last few drops had dripped. Ash tray next to that, with a big pile of ash and cigar butts no longer in it but adjacent to it, a result of my having tripped over it on my way to the bathroom. CDs scattered hither and yon, some in their cases, some not.
This is not good, I thought. Not in so many words; my thoughts were scattered, preverbal. It was morning, as I say. But the sense that things had gone off the rails a bit, which had been building for some time, was especially acute on this particular morning. My head didn’t feel so great, and this had to be related to the whiskey bottle, though it wasn’t like I’d been on a bender. It was just regular life.
I needed to piss, too, and this was what finally got me up, endeavoring mostly successfully to avoid the stains and ashes on the way to the bathroom. The bathroom would horrify some but I am accustomed to it.
After that, my primary imperative was, as always, to make coffee. The desire for coffee is the only thing that gives shape and direction to my early waking moments. From the first thought of it I can feel the ghost of caffeine racing through my veins, generating a tiny swell of optimism that keeps me motivated through the actual brewing process. I make a good, strong, tall cup and wait. It takes a few minutes to cool to the desired temperature, painful and delicious minutes which I while away by retrieving the newspaper and scanning the sports section. Very comforting, the sports; it occupies the mind but has no real significance, so you avoid the stress that accompanies actual news. If you miss something, so what? There’ll be more games tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and so on, all different in their details but essentially the same, until this world at last ceases.
And also, for some reason, it delights me to follow the doings of athletes: their triumphs, their struggles, their rivalries, their contract negotiations. Their egos. I especially love it when they refer to themselves in the third person: “Vonteego has a lot of confidence,” Golden State Warriors guard Vonteego Cummings once said, apropos of himself, “and the Warriors are starting to have a lot of confidence in Vonteego.”
What can you say to that? I am envious of the ability to step outside one’s self and be so unconditionally pleased with what one sees.
Which reminds me, a few years back, another hoops player, J.R. Rider — a brash rookie at the time — predicted on draft day that he would win the slam-dunk competition at that year’s All-Star Game. And indeed he did, with a whirlwind concoction he called the East Bay Funk Dunk. “I said I was going to win it, and I won it,” said J.R. “I have to love myself for that.”
I have to love myself for that. This phrase has become one of my mantras. Power of positive thinking and all that. You should give it a try. Anytime you do something you said you were going to do, however small — could be making toast, whatever — say to yourself, “I have to love myself for that.”
Try not to say it too loud if there are other people around. Chances are they don’t want to hear it.