I wake up very slowly. In fact, some days I do not accomplish it at all. Some days I come to around dusk, somewhat startled, realizing that I’ve gone about the day’s affairs on automatic pilot, and wondering what if anything they consisted of.

But this is relatively rare. More often I manage to achieve an acceptable level of sentience about halfway through my first cup of coffee, as the little caffeine demons race around waking up the various parts of my brain like a camp cook rousing men in a bunkhouse.

It often feels as if my personality must be created anew each day, or more accurately pieced together from whatever bits of debris are floating closest to the surface. It seems like a lot of trouble, or downright Sisyphean, if I might use an expensive-sounding word. But what can you do?

And in fact, on the morning in question, by the time I’d finished a big cup and had some cereal, I wasn’t feeling half bad. I stood up and looked around, and that was when I saw the red light blinking on the answering machine. It stirred vague memories of the phone ringing at some ungodly hour, which caused an involuntary shudder; but braced with coffee-and-breakfast strength, I was able to summon the will to walk over to the machine and hit the Play button.

“Message one,” said the mechanically feminine voice, halting between words. “Six-oh-three A.M.”