Monday morning, Sean – whom I haven’t seen since last August – quacked from his obscenely expensive home at an undisclosed location somewhere near the Jersey Shore that he had strep. I swear I hung up the phone and didn’t just run but sprinted a fever. He cursed me. Within an hour, my hands on the keyboard on my desk were the only part of me still moving. My eyes were closed but I’m a touch typist so illness did not interrupt the constant stream of scathing and mostly unintelligible email Mamie receives from me all day, every day. At work, I only *seem* quiet. Monday, I looked like a wax museum statue with an axe to grind.
Monday night, I lay on the couch, eyes closed, listening to the TV. To my complete and absolute shock I fell asleep before 11 p.m. This should have been my first clue that I’d caught a truly vicious plague, and that prompt medical attention would save me days of saying, “We’ve known one another since I came to work here in the eighties, and yet I don’t remember hearing you had a twin. Wearing the same outfit, even…” No, I was an idiot and went to work Tuesday morning. We’d suddenly received performance appraisal forms Monday, and I’d really tried my best to form sentences. I may’ve written words like “I’ve risen through the ranks to become Interplanetary Cancellation Potentate, striking fear into the hearts of publishers on three sides of the Atlantic.” Tuesday morning, I wrapped myself in a Joe Boxer blanket and became an embarrassment to my department in the staff lounge. Over the course of 85 minutes, no fewer than twenty people saw me sleeping in a baby blue microfibre blanket in a reasonably public place and asked, “Are you okay?”
It is important to recall that people mean well even as they’re asking the dumbest question you’ll hear all day two dozen times.
Anyway, the reason I didn’t leave work was that my car was a doorstop in my parking lot at home, and one of my co-workers offered to drop me at home halfway through the day. Besides the ride, I was hoping my mind would clear long enough for me to read my appraisal and find out *how* unemployed I’d be next week. The proofreading didn’t go so well. The co-worker dropped me off at my driveway and turned around because the next block was barricaded. Police cars were parked as unspeakable angles. It looked like a patriotic Christmas light nightmare. I went upstairs, called Miss Sasha and demanded she and her fiance come over, jumpstart my car and drive my nemesys to the mechanic. Curiously, she didn’t tell me to fuck off. She’d call when they were nearby. I fell asleep. Probably.
Sometime later, the phone rang. I stumbled down to the parking lot with my clown-red hair pointed toward magnetic north. The hood was already up. I opened the trunk and took out the cables. They were easy to find in my miniscule trunk because they were red, black and I couldn’t tell if I was seeing double. He started the car. She drove it to the mechanic’s. I’d taken out the radio so she stood a fair chance of arriving at the mechanic’s without an arrest record because her attention span is shorter than mine. Which is seconds long, really. Safety first! As I turned to stumble back into the building, the super’s path intersected with mine.
“Know what that police pileup is?” he asked. Fuzzy, I said I sure didn’t.
“Hostage situation,” he said. “They’re not letting anyone past the cars.” I didn’t just laugh, I BARKED out loud. Oh, come now. In New Brunswick? The police seemed pretty convinced and convincing. This event turned up on CNN. Later, it turned out to be a bi-polar child molester in Texas and her chat room friends making 911 calls for fun. People do plenty of low-level crap to one another in this town but the city’s accumulated felonies don’t hold a candle to one day in Newark or Jersey City. All afternoon, a helicopter hovered directly above my window at a height that guaranteed the rotor noise was louder than I could turn “General Hospital.” Tuesday night, I called a cab and went to the mechanic’s.
See, late the week before, I’d driven over to Mamie’s and couldn’t figure out why the interior lights wouldn’t go off. My car is not like yours. It’s a 1992 LeBaron Convertible, and it has – thankfully – a real minimum of buttons and gadgets I would be nervous about touching anyhow. Paulie bought me this car so I could go to work without catching fire. I love this car but it’s not so sure about taking our relationship to the next level. Mamie and I combed every inch of the dashboard and couldn’t find a way to turn off the interior lights, which none the less flickered seductively and sometimes went out. It was just a matter of time before my car turned into that doorstop and Monday morning, it did not disappoint me. Tuesday afternoon, just over the rotor noise, the mechanic called and said a plastic piece in the door was displaced and he’d moved it. I love that man. At the mechanic’s I found the teenage boys who love the same bands I do and asked where my car was. They gave me the keys and I drove off. I thought my fever had gone but I was wrong. The cool evening air temporarily made me lucid. Minutes later, I realized I was a danger to myself and others. Fortunately, I was on Route 27, with all the other drivers who were routinely a danger to themselves and others, so I got home okay and swore next time I’d take a stunt owner.
I once again fell asleep at least an hour before I ordinarily would’ve thought about brushing my teeth and complaining about the hours of tossing and turning ahead of me. Honestly, I should’ve just checked into the hospital I can see from my bathroom.
All Wednesday, I lay on my couch with my eyes closed. Often, I said, “Blubb…” but as you might imagine, of course I was unbearably attractive. My drink of choice was NyQuil, and again, I slept through the night. No wonder I was confused Thursday and went to work.
Fortunately, it was performance review day, and my brain was full of soda. In the seventies and very early eighties, I used to pay to feel like my feet were a mile from my brain. The people I work for went on a bit about how fab my year was, work-wise, and I pooh-poohed their efforts to pretend I might earn a living wage because we don’t want to embarrass one another.
Naturally, I didn’t sleep Thursday night and Friday, I wondered if I’d hallucinated the whole week. Pink elephants? Car trouble? Friday night and Saturday, I stripped my bed, scoured the bathroom and bleached my apartment to within an inch of its life.
If I’d had orange juice in my fridge, my insomnia might still bat .1000.