Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Waking up on the space-cadet side of the bed...

Ever since I woke up this morning, I’ve been in a sort of fog. Scatterbrained and semi-delirious, I’ve gone through the day in a quasi-dream state. My thoughts won’t stay attached to any one subject for long, and I find myself being distracted far too easily. I tried to get some writing done, but trivial things kept popping up to ruin my concentration. The shadows of city buses, the shapes of clouds, the texture of my pens–all these things came along to fascinate me when I should have been putting together sentences and ideas and metaphors and what-have-you. Unfortunately, I decided that my problem was not enough caffeine, and I set about rectifying my curious state by loading myself up on potent espresso drinks. This did not help. After that, I was both spacey and hyper, which is a pretty unpleasant way to be. Often, when I find myself useless at everything else, I clean my apartment. Today, however, I had no inclination to do that. So, since the weather was nice, I wandered aimlessly around the city. I thought I’d get some exercise and perhaps sweat out the gallon of concentrated coffee in my bloodstream.

An amusing thing happens to me whenever I get really, really wound up. I revert to my days as a hopeless hypochondriac and start to fret obsessively over my health. As I strolled around my neighborhood, doing my errands in a roundabout kind of way, it slowly dawned on me that my vague confusion might be the result of some terrible brain problem. Perhaps I had a tumor. Or maybe I was in the initial stages of a catastrophic cerebral hemorrhage. And, of course, I couldn’t rule out the possibility of spinal meningitis. Now, when it comes to this, I don’t seriously believe I have these things. I’m not that neurotic. I just fixate on the possibility and that eventually becomes one of the few things I remain capable of concentrating on.

This afternoon, it occurred to me that I might be shedding I.Q. points faster than a Republican sheds principles. Yesterday, I was a reasonably intelligent person, but somewhere in the night an insect bit me or a germ slipped into my nose and now I was doomed to slide into stupidity. Like a Flowers For Algernon in reverse, my days as an almost-intellectual were over. By the time bedtime came, I’d be lucky if I could brush my teeth. Smarts were nice while they lasted, I thought. It was an odd way to be, half concerned and half angry with myself for being so goofy. After a few blocks of this, I decided that I was hungry, so I stepped into a pizza place for a couple of slices.

After the big ordeal of picking out and paying for what I wanted, I took my tray to a table and commenced to eating. Above me, on a wall-mounted television, Wheel Of Fortune was playing. The restaurant was mostly empty, and the volume was up loud, so I had to pay attention to it whether I wanted to or not. They were doing one of those “speed rounds” where the three contestants take turns calling out letters and attempting to guess the answer. I set down my slice of pizza and looked at the screen. The puzzle was as follows:

__ R __ E

“Irresistible urge...” I mumbled out, my eyes growing wider and wider as contestant after contestant kept trying to guess the remaining two letters rather than answer the puzzle. And the quality of their guesses left something to be desired also: “F!” a lady shouted out, while the guy next to her screamed “Y!” when it was his turn. The final guy was even worse, he said “X!” and even Pat Sajak lost his composure for a moment when he heard that one.

After the guessing came round to the lady again and she hollered “D!”, a strange thing happened in my psyche. Perhaps I wasn’t in the bad shape I thought I was. I knew the answer was “Irresistible Urge”, after all, and those three yahoos on the television at least had to pass through Wheel Of Fortune’s intensive screening process. Maybe I’d be alright. Maybe I wasn’t descending into intractable dumbness after all. “Irresistible urge...” I said again, a little louder this time.

“A!” the first man ventured and I shook my head in disgust. Even with my I.Q. half gone, I was in better shape than these people. Especially the third guy. He yelled out “B!”, totally oblivious to the fact that there already was a “B” up there.

“Irresistible urge!” I told them, with no little heat “It’s irresistible urge!”

But the fools didn’t listen to me. “C!” the lady cried, “W!” the first man exclaimed, and “V!” the other dude thundered.

Irresistible urge, for Christ’s sake! Irresistible urge!” I growled.

“G?” the woman said then, a little tentatively and I think I heard Pat Sajak gasp with relief. She guessed the answer soon afterwards and the studio audience burst into applause. *

“Sweet Jesus...” I said and then I turned my attention back to my pizza, digging into it with new relish. I felt fine. I felt imbued with confidence. My day had finally gotten on track, I believed. I thought I was becoming dumb, but that couldn’t be the case. After all, I was smarter than those dipshits on Wheel Of Fortune, that’s for sure. For a brief, glorious moment, I was completely reassured that I wasn’t losing my marbles. And then I saw the look the thin Palestinian guy behind the counter was giving me, his messy-haired, crazed-looking customer who had just gotten very angry with his television set.

That’s when I started to worry all over again.

*Thanks to Mel, this paragraph has been updated so that the story makes sense.