Jimmy Breslin is said to have said “My habits are depressing”. So are mine. Predictable. Even monotonous. Take mornings, for example; my routine varies little.
With the first glimmer of consciousness, I glance at the digital clock on the nightstand. It is a black lump of plastic with an eerie face that glows red and, if I allow things progress so far, a sound that surely must have been sampled from the banshees of hell. It is a vile thing. I await the day when I no longer need to be summoned at a specific hour, so I can unplug its tail and dispatch it from the house for all time. Jeni has already secured its replacement; a civilized bedside clock, a Junghans Tri-Vox, a proper spring-wound clock, which emits a soothing tick-tock and an alarm bell that begins with a gentle “ting-ting”, only erupting into a full-on firebell if the slumbering human is not aroused by the first, more gentle method. In the next part of the journey, I expect to never require the services of its firebell mode.
Even in darkness, and the haze of the first minutes of awakening, I navigate the house as if programmed. I know where the turns are, from the bedroom, through the hallway, to the kitchen, for there resides the machinery and supplies to prepare that essential, hot, dark elixir, which must precede all other events.
I know where to place my steps, and where not to. I know where scattered cat toys are liable to be, and when to adjust course, to avoid being tripped up by one or another of them. After a stop in the lounge to push the power button on my trusty laptop, I press on to my objective.
On the left counter, between the stove and refrigerator, stands the Barista. I touch the control that will prepare it for service. I am its servant, as much as it is mine; dutifully, I await instructions it may issue back to me; empty grounds; fill the water tank; add coffee beans to the grinder. While it warms, preparing for its task, I open the first cupboard door to the left of the sink and reach for the center of the second shelf. The mug that occupies that place is a relic, in more ways than one. Visually, it is of a hippy-dippy period in our culture when thick stoneware in muted earth tones was in vogue. Far out. This one is glazed in grey, avocado green and a toasty brown. Wider at the base than the rim, it is simple, unadorned. The glaze on the inside has crazed with time, but I don’t care. This is also a relic of my life with Jeni, and the sole survivor of a former pair. She came to Seattle with nothing, expecting to stay with her sister for a few weeks, and, instead, remained. She acquired this mug when setting up her first Seattle apartment. With more resourcefulness than money, she rescued the two clunky mugs from a dumpster. When I first started showing up at her apartment, we shared coffee together in these mugs, the first of moments together that have now added up to a lifetime. This mug is a touchstone to the very first mornings together. Starting my day with this mug is a very old and very warmly regarded habit.
With the mug filled to its brim with four shots of espresso and just a dash of dairy, I return to the lounge, settling into the Bauhaus sectional. With all of the real estate available on this sofa, which occupies an entire corner of the room, I plant myself on the same cushion. Every morning. Every evening. Always the same. Before me, on the glass-top coffee table, my trusty candy-apple red laptop is now ready. Several years ago, Jeni freed us from the tyranny of The Wire, by installing a wireless network in the house. I can take my laptop anywhere, but still I sit at the same place on this couch.
With one of Jeni’s biscotti and my coffee, I navigate through the usual websites; check email; move on to the internet, Bloomberg, Marketwatch and CNBC to get the morning futures and the results of the overnight Asian and European markets. Then, the weather forecast. Then, the Times, Seattle and New York. I may also turn on the television to engage the morning financial chatter. Or not. With such time that remains, before I empty the mug, I may indulge in one or more trivial interests, such as checking the wristwatch forums to see if anything worth reading has been posted. Or check on any of several useless items I may be watching on eBay, which I observe but seldom buy.
When the bottom of the mug is once again visible, I wash it and return it to the cupboard, second shelf, center, so tomorrow, when I blearily open the door and reach blindly into its recesses, the handle will be there, aimed at my outstretched hand, ready for my fingers to curl around it.
It’s time to get cleaned up.
At the bathroom sink, razor in hand, I regard the face looking back at me. My whole life, people have taken me for younger than my years. I remember being told “You’re going to appreciate that baby face of yours when you get older”. Ok, now I’m older. I still get occasional expressions of disbelief from kind people, when they learn my age, but the mirror is more revealing, more truthful. The mirror does not wish to flatter or be kind. Once the changes finally began to show, it was as though they felt obliged to make up for lost time. The sagging skin, the dark spots on my skin, seem to increase overnight. Pete Hamill has written that, with a full beard, he has avoided these daily confrontations with mirrors and hence with his advancing mortality. With my fair Scandinavian complexion, I’ve never been able to raise a decent beard so, regrettably, the confrontations continue.
As I put things away in the cabinet above the sink and hang wet towels to dry, the last sight is of the back of the bathroom door. If ever there was an image that symbolizes the meaning of my life, that which I prize most highly, is emblematic of who I am and the place I occupy, this is it:
Somewhat indifferently, I dress, check that I have the required stuff in my pockets (car key, comb, cell phone), select one of my watches for the left wrist and my steel ID bracelet for the right, pick a jacket (leather for cold, Helly Hanson for rain, none for summer), grab my backpack, making certain that my lunch and at least one book has been stowed inside, open the door that leads into the attached garage, turn the key on the ignition, back the sled into the alley, push the button to close the garage door, wait to be sure the door closes completely, turn the wheel, and drive down the alley to the street, where begins the route that I will follow with the precision of a wire-guided vehicle, to the parking garage several miles distant, whereupon I enter, drive up the ramp, and back the car into the same space as yesterday.