By 6:15 on Sunday morning I’d already made my bed and washed my face. I’d taken my zinc tablets and eaten my vitamin-C gummy. I had some cool bossa nova playing low in the background.
My morning goal: to write something. Anything.
That’s what getting up early and sitting at my computer this weekend had been about. It’s what getting up earlier than usual would be about when the work week started, too. Trying to get back into the writing habit after a long time of being out of it was not an easy thing to do.
By 6:25 Day Two of my grand experiment with routine was taking a bad turn.
My second cup of coffee was giving me the jitters and making me feel nauseated, even though I bought what was supposed to be the “smooth and mellow breakfast blend” of a popular brand of coffee. I had tried brewing coffee with the hope that smelling it when I woke up would trigger a Pavlovian desire to get up so I could have a cup. Then I would just move to my work station and get started.
If it worked on this day, I reasoned, maybe it would work every day after this day.
However, it was doing the opposite of working on this day; it was working against me. Nausea was the last thing I needed to associate with writing early in the morning so I dumped out my coffee and made a cup of tea.
Unfortunately, the smell of coffee lingered. I poured what was left in the pot down the kitchen drain and lit a candle. The stench was still so strong I had to open the windows to let it out.
When I got back to my desk someone started pounding on the door. I wouldn’t be fooled this time: I’d waited all day and night for the secret service to show up and arrest me the day before. I had everything packed, my snacks neatly bagged and ready to be secreted on my person for a trip to the Siberian labor camp I hoped was waiting for me so I could really get some writing done.
Since the secret service never showed up the day before I didn’t imagine they were pounding on my door this morning, either.
“You better open this door if you don’t want me to call the cops!” I heard.
I made my way over to the door, but did not open it. I asked, “When you say ‘cops,’ do you mean secret police? Gestapo-like cops?”
There was no answer, so I continued.
“Okay, so do you mean the kind of cops who only represent the state and kill as many unarmed black men as they want but never get charged with murder and don’t get fired from their jobs?”
There was still no answer. “Hmmm. Maybe you’re talking about the kind of cops that aren’t really cops but dress like cops to turn other guys on at gay bars in the 70s?”
Whoever had been so anxious for me to open the door a minute before must have changed his mind because he didn’t answer any of my questions. As I walked through the kitchen to get my cup of tea off the counter, I saw why: quietly struggling to force himself through one of my kitchen windows was Citizen Jim. He wasn’t having much luck, though. By the time I saw him he was stuck fast like Winnie the Pooh in a honey tree.
“I don’t want to hear it, Sister Kristy,” Citizen Jim hissed at me.
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Whatever you want to say about this. I’m only stuck because the window is too damned small. I know you love it when I’m fat, but I’m not fat right now.”
“Okay. Well. Good morning, Precious Lamb,” I said.
“Shut up with your good mornings and your precious lambs! Help me get unstuck from this window!” he shouted.
“Why are you stuck in the window?” I asked.
“I just told you! Because it’s too damned small!” he shouted.
“What I’m asking is: why did you try to come in through the window? Why didn’t you just wait until I answered the door when you knocked?”
“I wanted to teach you a lesson about leaving your house unsecured in a neighborhood like this,” he said.
This made me laugh. Somehow I lucked out and found a house to rent in one of the quietest, safest neighborhoods in a safe, quiet town. It’s so quiet and safe that half the time I don’t feel a pressing need to lock my door when I go out.
“Yeah, keep laughing, Missy. Just remember: this’ll be the first street to get bombed once the revolution starts,” he said. “Why do you have your windows open?”
“I had to get the awful smell of coffee out of the house,” I said. “It was making me feel ill.”
“What kind of coffee?”
I went over to the counter and lifted the package for him to see.
Citizen Jim groaned. “Aaauuugh! No wonder you feel sick – that’s not coffee! That’s just freeze-dried, ground-up swill they put in a plastic container and stick on the shelves where coffee is supposed to be! Why aren’t you drinking Starbucks coffee?”
“Why would I be drinking Starbucks coffee?” I asked.
Apparently Jim’s rage at such a question gave his body the needed momentum to finish squeezing through the window, and he fell into a heap on the floor under the window. When I offered to help him up he made a horrible face and smacked my hand away.
“Why should you drink Starbucks coffee? Because…” Citizen Jim trailed off, tilting his head and scowling. He was concentrating. I knew better than to interrupt him when he was concentrating. “You should be drinking Starbucks coffee because Starbuck is one of the best characters ever written! Starbuck c’est moi! Moby Dick rocks!”
“You’ve lost me,” I said. “I thought Starbuck was the band that did the song ‘Moonlight Feels Right.'”
“I wasn’t finished! You didn’t give me a chance to say that you should also drink Starbucks coffee because there’s a topless lady on their logo, and topless ladies are best kind of ladies,” said Citizen Jim, raising his eyebrows and making them dance.
I didn’t even smile. “A few months ago I would have agreed with that,” I said. “The thing is, now I’m afraid to agree with it for fear that I’ll be considered a chauvinist pig and a traitor to my gender.”
Citizen Jim nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Whatever,” I said.
“Don’t you ‘whatever’ me! I’m the one who whatevers you!” Citizen Jim said.
“I’m sorry. I forgot,” I said. “The point is, I found out this morning that coffee is not going to be part of my new writing routine, no matter what kind it is.”
“It took you more than a thousand words to come to that conclusion? Man, you need to do yourself and the world a favor and just give up on this writing bullshit, because you’ve been doing it for 40 years and you still suck at it.”
I hung my head. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Citizen Jim used his thumb and index finger to deliver a sharp, surprisingly painful blow to my head that was referred to, during my youth, as a “pringle.”
“Look here, dummy: you’re supposed to defend your honor as a writer when I say stuff like that!” he said.
“I am? Even if I think it’s true?” I asked.
“Especially if you think it’s true,” Citizen Jim said.
“Like Nicholas Sparks?” I asked him.
“Now you’re trying to confuse me,” Citizen Jim said. “Is Nicholas Sparks a writer?”
“So-called,” I said.
“Never heard of the guy,” Citizen Jim, shrugging. “If he’s rich, maybe you better figure out what he’s doing right and get on it. You’re not getting any younger, and pretty soon normal people won’t even have enough money to buy one paperback book a year for entertainment purposes.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
I would. I’d think about it tomorrow. Maybe if I thought long enough and hard enough about it I’d be able to figure out a formula as good as the one Nicholas Sparks has been cynically buffing and polishing for the last 25 years: youth plus love plus untimely death minus graphic sex had equaled a chain of bestsellers unbroken since The Notebook.
I’d figure out a formula, too. Then I’d use it over and over and over again in a much shorter amount of time.
“Hey, what time is it?” Citizen Jim asked.
When I told him, he put me in a head lock, tightening his grip as he said, “Why are you always keeping me from what I need to do! Now I’m late and it’s all your fault!”
With no further explanation, he released me and ran out of the room. As soon as I heard my front door slam shut, I immediately hoped he would return the next day.