I accomplished a lot this weekend, if you count hair growth and peristalsis as accomplishments. If you don’t, then I didn’t make much happen in my part of the world. I’m sure my inert existence even prevented things from happening, as if I were a flabby, slack-jawed black hole reducing the net balance of energy in the universe. In my house we have something called The Whirling Vortex of Lethargy, and for 48 hours I lay at its core, as occasional infrared signals from the TV remote conveyed the only signs that I still lived.
On Friday I read a fantastic book about writing. It’s one of those books that’s so powerful and insightful that it plunges you into a profound depression about the inadequacy of everything you’ve ever written. This is like finding out that despite all your love and nurturing, your children have grown up to be carnival geeks. My weekend writing and editing goals evaporated. Cold air washed unchecked into the front yard beneath my un-weather stripped door. Weeds flourished, dirty laundry lay fallow, and my mom remained uncalled.
Saturday morning I crumple onto my green couch, which is twice as old as any of my friends’ children, and I click on my TV, which is shaped like footlocker and weighs as much as my refrigerator. I flip to a crime drama with 248 episodes available for instant viewing. If Netflix had a graven image, I would happily sacrifice goats to it. By Saturday afternoon I catch my wife, seated on the other end of the couch, giving me sidelong looks of concern usually reserved for the terminally ill. I either pretend I don’t notice, or I smile at her in what might be a reassuring manner, although I wouldn’t bet on it.
By Saturday night I resolve to climb out of this cesspool of pity, right after I find out who’s behind the murder of the genetically altered prostitutes, and whether he gets 25 to life. My cats continue to migrate across me one by one, as if I were an tiny island and they were seals pausing to sleep on their way to the Aleutian feeding grounds. My end of the couch is the perfect place to take a plaster cast of my butt, if someone were so perverse as to want such a thing. My wife goes to bed at an hour appropriate for sane people. I stare at the TV as if Dick Wolf were an electronic Svengali, until I slither into unconsciousness, my face mashed into a couch cushion.
On Sunday my wife has things to do with real people, and while I’m sure I’d be welcome, no one expects me to come along. I bring the TV to life once more. If Netflix had been out of service, I might have wept. Throughout the morning I witness a panorama of felonies—murders, fraud, sexual assault, drug possession, and more. Somebody has a disturbingly fertile imagination. “Bravo,” I think. I’d never appreciated how entertaining a series with no continuing storyline can be. It’s perfect for someone who’s depressed and inattentive.
My cats no longer come near me by Sunday afternoon. They seem to find my degree of lethargy excessive and unnatural. I realize that I have accomplished something. I’ve demonstrated that I can live for two days on Tostitos, Junior Mints, and Diet Coke. By mid-afternoon the TV presents me with the seventeenth child pornography case of the weekend, and my hand seizes the remote control in a spasm of button-pushing. The TV settles on another series without much continuity between episodes, but this one is about the military. I figure the potential for child pornography investigations is low during assassination missions in Afghanistan, so my hand flops back down, the remote rolling out of it.
My den sinks into dimness on Sunday night, and the loosely organized mass of body parts on the couch is barely recognizable as me. Inside, I’m trying to corral my willpower as I prepare for work on Monday. I’m failing. Then on TV I see a brief exchange between characters:
Girl: Do you think people can change?
Big Guy: No.
Small Guy: You really don’t think people can change?
Big Guy: No. But I have seen it happen.
I laugh at this for a while. For some reason this dialogue strikes me as hilarious and great. But not impossibly great. I could see myself writing something like this if I worked hard and took my vitamins. I rewind and look for the screenwriter, and I see it’s a David Mamet script. Well, go Dave. It’s not like I’d compare myself to DM, but maybe I’ve written something in the past that is not repugnant. Later Sunday night I slide a cat out of the way and flip back the bed covers at an appropriate hour for sane people, and I find the lullaby “My stuff’s not repugnant” to be oddly comforting.