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A Monadic Soreness

I sat at the Science and Technology Library, typing on a borrowed laptop, the desire for a cigarette pervading all my humors.

I must anchor myself to something, find some passing chronological barge and jump on, unticketed, to find the next place. At least this seems to be my battle, sitting here in the Science and Technology Library weeping for cigarettes. Cigarettes gave time back to me; smoking taught me that my body had a clock and that time was real, that things were urgent. I am grateful for that lesson even as it tires me to climb stairs, even as women pull back from my burnt and ashy mouth when I go in for the gin kiss. But quitting, which is only three days old, has forced me to find a new clock - I have even bought a watch. It's the craving in my fingers that moves them to type, now.

I would put my mouth around a flare. I would bite wooden matches. Anything. The humiliation of the desire is overwhelming. The bargaining and wheedling and pleading. And still I might go out and buy some drum and papers, I could do it, I could forgive myself for it. But I won't, if I can.

They say to promise yourself an hour, but I can promise a minute. I can promise 60 seconds of nonsmoking. Watch: 14:01:35, and all is well, but then it comes, the tidal desire, in the next ten seconds. I can't think about it. It's like a girlfriend who's sleeping with your best friend. The image of them both, so familiar, cannot be stripped from your mind. 14:02:10, and that's how it is with the cigarette, just to put my lips, parched and dried, around one, to feel the paper press back, to make a vacuum of my mouth and - the minute is up - and suck in the blue, the salty pepper of smoke coursing over the back of my throat, over my tongue.

Work, work among laserprinters and ringing networked phone systems, is something that blocks one's awareness of time; jail, too. I wonder if that isn't the appeal of work. Better than the obligations of raw, open, unapproved freedom.

Losing control of time means risking drift, particularly the drunken drift, sails out from bar to job, nights lost in the false chronologies of TV and the grip of the Budweiser can. The King of Beers, the monarchy vested by the eminent domain of advertising.

If you don't grip the clock hands as they spin you end up hooked in patterns, repeating yourself, no longer riding but watching the cars pass, growing older sans progress. It happens to us all, succumbing to ritual. I will be a crabby old man, but not yet. Yet I see the signs in my friends. Paul, until his recent jolts, was starting to go out of focus, grow complacent in the fat glow of compliments and praise.

I once worked temp for a company answering phones and on the second day I picked up the phone and said, very quickly: “Cocksucker Gofuckyourself, can I help you?” I did it until it was boring. No one noticed.

What I need to do, want to do, is get my shit together. That will be the story that will follow this preface. The list of items is eternal: meet a woman, (continue to) quit smoking, eat right, find work, drink little, connect myself to some larger world. Plug myself in. Grow a new umbilical from my stomach and slot it into some world pipeline. Never again use a big block of wood to beat up a fucker.

Tallish man formerly engaged in fistfights seeks sonsie blondie. Used to run drugs in upstate New York, now a productive member of the phone-answering class. In search of personal progress and fulfillment. Occasionally will come home and crouch over toilet weeping but who doesn't? Unemployed. Don't bother calling just now.

There I am.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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