I wake up at two in the morning, and I am on the couch. My wife is sleeping in the bedroom under a pile of warm covers in our big comfortable bed. She is sound asleep. I mean, you couldn’t wake this woman up if you banged pots and pans a foot away from her ear. You couldn’t wake her with an atomic bomb, and she probably isn’t even dreaming. She always tells me how wonderful she feels after a good night’s deep and dreamless sleep. The way she can sleep so peacefully and soundly is amazing. I used to sleep like that when I was younger, but no longer. I find sleep to be exhausting.
Me? My own disturbing dream woke me up. Either it was that or the fact that I slept awkwardly on my arm and it is now crampy-numb. It feels like it’s not even an integral part of my body, like some mad surgeon and his bloody scalpel removed it and then stitched it back to my shoulder, blindfolded, without properly attaching the nerves. So, I shake it and slap at it until it comes back to life. At first it tingles like it’s loaded with needles, and then slowly the feeling returns. I reach over to the coffee table to pick up my cellphone to check the time. Like I said, it’s two in the morning.
What time did I go to sleep? I think I was up with my wife watching TV until about eleven. That’s usually when she goes to bed. She kisses me goodnight and then goes to the bedroom while I stay up late on the couch, drinking a beer or two and watching old movies. I prefer the black-and-white ones. I’m not picky about the plots or the actors. All I care about is seeing people talking and doing things. I don’t even care how the movies end. And it’s a good thing I don’t. I usually fall asleep well before the movies are over. I haven’t seen a movie the whole way through for years.
I sit up and put my cellphone back on the coffee table. I’ll tell you about that dream I was having. My dreams are always so vivid, even more vivid than real life. I was dreaming that I was in a car with my high school buddies, and we were trying to find a place to buy beer. I think it was my car, and I was doing the driving. We were in a downtown maze of buildings that looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on where we were. There were lots of clothing stores and restaurants, but there was no store that sold beer. It was one of those frustration dreams.
“You’ve passed about three perfectly good liquor stores,” one of my friends said. And I said, “I have?” Then we came to a toll booth. The man in the booth told me I needed to pay the toll to go on, and I suddenly realized that I took a wrong turn. I asked the man in the toll booth if I could turn around. He shook his head and said no, and the next thing I knew we’re driving toward a bridge, a great big steel strut structure that I recognized from a previous dream. Yes, I’d been here before, and this was now a problem. Once I drove over that bridge, there would be no route back to town. One of my friends laughed and said, “You’re a fucking idiot.”
This is where I woke up. Now I need a cup of coffee. I stand up from the couch and walk to the kitchen. Ah, the kitchen. It is my wife’s territory, and I am just a lame visitor. Every time I enter the room, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I don’t know where half the crap is stashed in this place – the dishes, pots, pans, blender, utensils, measuring cups, and bowls. You get the general idea. But I know just enough to survive. For example, I know where the coffee maker is, and I know where the coffee grounds are hidden. And I know I can find water from the faucet at the kitchen sink.
While my coffee is gurgling and brewing, I open the refrigerator door and peek inside. You’ve never seen so much food and so many condiments in all your life. Just my wife and I live in the house now, but it looks like our refrigerator has been stocked for a family of ten. It is a little overwhelming. I thought when the kids moved out, our lives would become a lot simpler, but I’ll bet we have more food in the refrigerator now than we ever had with the kids. My question? Who in the hell eats all this stuff?
There are two brands of mayonnaise. There are three different brands of mint jelly. We haven’t had lamb for a year, and I can’t remember the last time I put mayonnaise on anything. In the meat drawer I find a package of roast beef lunch meat. I tear off several slices and stuff them into my mouth. I guess you could say this is my breakfast, lunch meat and a cup of coffee. I recall several years ago I told my wife, dreamily, “I’m going to start having a regular breakfast each morning like a normal person. I’m going to get up at seven and make some scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast with a glass of milk.” It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I go out on the patio with my coffee, and I sit down. Beside my chair is a small table, and on the table are my cigarettes, a lighter, and an ashtray. I light a cigarette and blow the smoke. Ah, seriously, there’s nothing quite like the first cigarette of the day. I sip my coffee, and then take another drag. I have a theory about smoking cigarettes. You know, I don’t know a single person who smokes, not any of my family, nor any of my friends. I have smoked since I was twelve years old, and I’m now sixty-three. I did try to quit a few times, but life without any cigarettes was just not for me.
Here’s what I think. Do you remember a guy named Jim Fixx? He wrote a best-selling book about fitness and running. He was a big deal for a while, and he is credited for helping to start the physical fitness craze in this country. Do you happen to remember how the poor guy died? I’ll never forget it. He passed away from a heart attack while jogging, at the age of fifty-two. So, here’s what I think. When it’s your time to depart this earth, it’s just your time. Truth is, death doesn’t give a flying fuck whether you smoked two packs of cigarettes a day or jogged five miles to stay in shape.
So, it’s now two-thirty and I’ve finished my cigarette and my first cup of coffee. I pour myself another cup and head to my home office. I used to work at my job every day, but a couple years ago I retired. Now I fancy myself as an author. I write lots of novels and short stories, and even some poems. Maybe one of these days I’ll get published. In the meantime, I have enough rejection slips to wallpaper a good-sized wall. Can you guess what I used to be before I retired? I was an attorney, not one of those high-powered shysters. I was a one man show with a handful of frugal clients. Strictly small potatoes.
This morning I’m continuing my work on a novel I started last month about a man in his forties who had three wives. The man’s parents died in an automobile accident when he was younger and left him a sizeable inheritance. So, he became a collector. He didn’t collect coins, or postage stamps, or antique cars, or World War II memorabilia, or even artwork. He collected wives, and he now had three of them. They each lived in a different city, and none of them knew about the others. The man told them he was a salesman, so he often travelled. Of course, this was a ruse. He used his so-called salesman business trips to spend time with his other wives.
I told my wife about this book I was writing, and she gave me the oddest look, like she’d just swallowed a mouthful of spoiled milk. She said, “Why don’t you write a book that people will want to read? You know, like a mystery, or a thriller, or a crime drama? Who the heck wants to read about a stupid bigamist?” Who indeed? But I have enjoyed writing this book, and I think there are people who would get a kick out of reading it. I just don’t know exactly who they are. Then my wife asks, “If you don’t know who you’re writing for, then why are you bothering to write?”
This morning I’m starting chapter four. I turn on my computer and take a sip of coffee. I open the computer file for my book, and I read what I’ve written. Then I realize something. I realize that men need women, but that women don’t really need men. I mean, think about it. Let me tell you something about my own wife. If I had to do it all over again, I would marry her in a heartbeat. I love the gal to death, and I can’t imagine my life without her. But if she were given a second shot, I think she’d ask a lot more questions first.
Honestly, and to be fair, I have to put myself in her shoes. After everything has been said and done, what did she wind up with? A guy who consumes a lunch meat, a cup of coffee, and a cigarette for breakfast? A guy who sleeps on the sofa and wakes up at two in the morning? A dubious writer who spends all his time writing stories that will very likely never be published by anyone? Believe me, I could go on and on. You don’t know the half of it.
I guess I do some things right. I empty the kitchen trash regularly, keep the weeds pulled, and I wash the cars every other week. I pay all the bills, and I empty the cat litter box on a semi-regular basis. I try to do my share. Now I’m staring at my computer monitor, and I’m trying to decide what my character is going to do next. In my book, my hero has three women who love him dearly. They don’t nag him. They enjoy having sex with him. They think he’s handsome. They want him to be happy. Fiction is great, isn’t it?
My coffee cup is empty, and I feel like smoking another cigarette. I have written next to nothing. But what the heck. I go to the kitchen for more coffee, and then to the patio to smoke. I check my watch, and it’s already three o’clock. Where does the time go? Seriously, where does it go? As I sit on the patio, I recall the email my daughter sent to me yesterday. She wanted advice from her father. I hadn’t answered her email yet, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I should say. Now I was thinking about it.
Here is the situation. My daughter married a construction worker named Dan. He barely makes enough money to pay their bills, and my daughter doesn’t work. She practicing staying at home, thinking soon she’ll become a mother. But here’s the problem with this. Dan doesn’t want to have kids. He doesn’t think he makes enough money, and he says kids are expensive. And he is right about that. Kids cost a fortune. Dan wants my daughter to get a job, rather than hang around the house. “Daddy,” she wrote, “What should I do?”
When I’m done with my cigarette, I go back to my office with a third cup of coffee. I open up my daughter’s email, and I reply to it. I do my duty at her father and write to her. I say, “If I was you, I’d wait until Dan goes to work, and then I’d pack all my things in a suitcase. I’d then buy a plane ticket to Acapulco. I’d leave Dan a note on the kitchen table, telling him not to look for me. Then I’d get in my car and drive to the airport. I’d board that plane to Mexico. When I had arrived at Acapulco, I’d check into the best hotel I could find, and I’d register under a phony name, just to play it safe.”
Then what? What did I tell her to do next? I wrote, “I’d put on my best and sexiest swimsuit, and I’d go to the pool and order a margarita. I’d lay back on a cozy lounge chair and wait. And you know what? Life is going to come right up to you. Men will want to sit with you and keep you company, and they’ll ask if they can take you to dinner. They’ll ask you to come to parties, or maybe to the beach. The mariachi band roaming the hotel will zero in on your pretty face and they’ll perform for you, singing and smiling with their golden teeth. And then, como dios es tu testigofor, you will be truly alive!”
I take a sip of coffee and laugh out loud. Then I move the cursor to delete what I have written, and Christ! I have hit the send button! I have sent this email to my daughter! Suddenly, stealing my attention, my cat jumps up on my desk. She’s there to remind me that I have an obligation to feed her. I love this cat, but I hate having to feed her. Well, it’s not that I don’t like giving her food, but all this cat does is eat. She’s as fat as damn opera singer. I’ve seen a lot of cats, but I’ve never seen a cat this fat. At any moment I expect her to stand on her hind legs and start singing.
In fact, here she goes. I recognize the melody from Aida. She’s got one furry paw on her chest, and the other raised. Chills run up and down my spine as I hear her sing, “Ohimè! di guerra fremere l’atroce grido io sento!” I interrupt her, saying, “Okay, I’ll feed you. Just keep it down. You’re going to wake the wife!” I mean, seriously, what do you think my wife would have to say if she came in and saw this stupid cat singing Verdi on my desktop at three o’clock in the morning? She’d be keeping a closer eye on me for sure. And she’d probably make me sleep in the bed.
And about that bed. You’re probably wondering why I don’t sleep in it with my wife every night. There are three reasons for this, and I’ll tell you exactly what they are. First, I snore like an old grizzly bear. It’s very disturbing to my wife. And it bothers me. It’s awful hard to sleep when your wife is and punching you in the arm every five minutes and telling you to stop snoring. I’ll wake up, fall back asleep, and immediately start snoring again. I don’t like that I do this, but I can’t help it. It just happens.
Second, I talk and yell in my sleep. I’ve done this ever since I was a dumb teenager. The talking isn’t a big deal, and it can actually be kind of funny. But the yelling is a real problem. It completely freaks out my wife, and after she wakes me up, she has a hard time falling back asleep. I think the yelling actually gets her adrenaline pumping. Sometimes I’ll do this on the couch, and my wife will come out of the bedroom to shut me up. Then she’ll say something like, “God, I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
The third reason I don’t sleep in our bed has nothing to do with the first two reasons. The third reason is that I find that beds actually keep me awake. It’s all psychological, I know, but it’s a fact. It’s like, “Okay, now it’s time to go to sleep, so get into your bed and do it, damn it. Close your eyes and do it.” It’s like being given a word and then told not to think about it. My mind just doesn’t work that way. As soon as I know I have to sleep, all I can do is stay awake. Wide awake and in a damn bed. That would describe me.
I fed the cat. She stopped singing, and now she is eating. She is very happy when she eats, and despite the fact that she’s sadly overweight, I do derive some satisfaction knowing that I can please her. In fact, she is now purring while she eats, kind of like the way Glen Gould hums along while he plays the piano. Do you know who Glen is? Probably not. Keith Jarrett does the same thing, and it’s weird. Can you imagine if I hummed out loud while I was in court working for one of my clients?
I check my watch, and it’s now four o’clock. Like I said before, where does the time go? If you’re around my age, you will probably have already noticed. As you get older, time passes much more quickly. Remember how when you were a kid, a year seemed so long? Then as you got older, a year became manageable? Well, when you reach your sixties, a year is like a month. One day you’re at the post office mailing your tax returns, and the next thing you know you’re at your accountant’s office preparing them for the next year.
This time phenomenon is extremely annoying to anyone who is enjoying life. It isn’t fair that the last years of a life should whizz by. It should be the other way around, right? But not to fret. I have worked out a solution to this problem. Do you remember when you were in high school in your last class of the day? If you were like me, your eyes would be fixated on the school room wall clock. You’d be waiting, waiting, for the minute hand to hit the magic number. You’d be waiting for the bell to ring.
It would take forever, right? It would take a month just for the stupid minute hand to move a minute. It would seem like you’d never get out of school! Well, that has been my trick. Here’s exactly what I do. I sit in my office, and I stare at the clock on my wall and wait. Tick, tock, tick, tock, the clock hand edges slowly forward, slower and slower, until it seems like it is holding still. I sit and stare at the clock like this for a full hour, and I can feel time creeping. It’s like adding six hours to my day.
There are many things one can do to improve one’s life, and I’ve done many of them. Because it isn’t just the time you add to your life, but what you do with that time. No way will I die with a truckload of regrets. Never will I look back on my life and wish I’d tried harder. I make good use of my time. And I’m daring. I don’t mean daring as in bungie jumping or skydiving or spelunking or racing cars. I’m more creative than that.
Take the time I was being pulled over by a police car for running a stop sign about twenty miles from our house. My wife and I were on our way home on from Costco that afternoon. The cop wanted me to pull over, but I had no intention of satisfying him. Darn right I didn’t. It was a bullshit infraction, and I wasn’t going to waste letting this cop give me a hard time me for rolling through a stop sign that every driver in the area had been rolling through since the day the stupid sign was installed.
I don’t know what exactly this guy’s problem was. Maybe he had a fight with his wife that morning, or maybe he was just a jerk. He called for back-up, but I kept driving. It was hilarious. By the time I reached our driveway, there were four black-and-white police cars following us. I pulled into the driveway, and Dudley Do-Right jumped out of his vehicle, his gun drawn and aimed at me. We went through the whole routine of me getting out of my car, putting my hands behind my back, and dropping to my knees. Handcuffs were slapped on my wrists, and I was taken to the police station.
They didn’t arrest my wife, but I probably don’t need to tell you how angry she was. It was not the angriest I’d ever seen her get, but she definitely was angry. She was even angrier the time the time I got caught shoplifting a bag of Halloween candy from CVS, or the time I scooped up the neighbor’s dog crap from our front lawn and dumped it on said neighbor’s doormat, or the time she caught me in her walk-in closet, wearing one of her dresses and her high heels. Jeez, that was awful embarrassing, I must admit.
Here’s the thing. I am not a chronic cross-dresser or a transvestite, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just wanted to see what it would be like to be a woman. It was just curiosity, and nothing else. My wife was supposed to be out of the house for several hours, and I didn’t have a clue that she’d be home so early. Yes, I put on some lipstick, and I put on her panties and a bra. I then climbed into one of her dresses. It was a very weird experience, made even weirder when I was caught. “Do you do this whenever I’m out of the house?” my wife asked.
I told her no, that this was the first time I’d ever done it. And it was. And although I was red-in-the-face embarrassed, I’m glad that I had done what I did. I suddenly had an empathetic understanding for how strange it feels to dress like a woman. I think it puts one at a real disadvantage when it comes to being taken seriously. It was kind of like dressing up like a circus clown. Honk, honk, look at me! Lipstick, hair spray, high heels, two boobs in a bra, and panties. Honestly, I don’t see how women do it.
It’s now four o’clock, and I haven’t written a single sentence for my novel. I go to the kitchen and make a fresh pot of coffee. I will eventually have to take a nap, since I only slept a couple hours. As I grind the coffee beans, I think back to yesterday and the phone call I received got late in the afternoon. It was one of my old girlfriends from high school. We’ve kept in touch over the years. Nothing romantic, mind you. We just happen to share some history, and we’ve continued to be good pals.
Here’s what she had to say in a nutshell. Her sister married a guy who beats her, but she won’t leave him, and she won’t call the police. Her brother is an alcoholic, and he was arrested last week on his third drunk driving charge. He refuses to admit he has a problem, and won’t go to rehab. Her other brother lives in a cabin in Alaska, and no one has heard from him for two years. Her mom and dad are worried sick. He’s never been quite right in the head, and he owns a lot of guns. “What do you think I should do?” she asked.
I asked her why she was asking me, and she said, “You’re the only normal person I know.” Normal? I had to laugh. My guess? She probably doesn’t know that many people. I look to my right, and my cat is singing again. This time she has both paws over her heart, and her soprano cat-voice fills the room. She sings, “Qual speme ormai più restami?” But there is always hope, isn’t there? Even for a normal guy like me.