Social Animals

I have a rare free weekend coming up and, as Monday dawns harsh and merciless, I find that I’m irrationally excited about the idea that, come Friday, I’ll be able to come home, take off my pants, go nowhere, do nothing, and not utter a single word for 60 hours.

The big wintertime struggle for me is that I have an alarmingly busy social calendar. You wouldn’t think it, the way I bleat on about hating the world, but I have a large number of friends. People who, I believe, hang around mainly to see what I’ll do next like the miserable zoo animal that I am, staring forlornly from a manicured habitat over a shallow, trash-strewn moat at all of the eager faces. And, like that zoo animal, I usually don’t do anything except act bewildered and slink back and forth through my own filth.

Almost every free moment for three dark, depressive, wintry months is spent entertaining friends. Which I should be careful writing about because some friends don’t see me at all. That’s usually because they live in Virginia, or they have a litter of children that run roughshod over everything, or because I feel like I won’t be able to pose as a pillar of support and friendship in the event they die and their grieving widows turn desperately to me for empty, soul-crushing sex.

To be honest, the real problem isn’t eager friends or a busy calendar, it’s the fact that I have a seasonal weekend job (in addition to my other four jobs) that obliterates any idea of a day off. Or freedom. Or, you know, happiness. From March to November, I’m working seven days a week, ten hours a day, and the bulk of my friends avoid me because, if they actually do manage to pin me down, I typically speak in tongues or make long, Colonel Kurtz-style monologues.

“Hey, Nacho! Are you working Saturday?”

“I once…saw…a snail…crawling…on a razor blade…”

When my weekend job closes up shop in November, I typically celebrate with a series of what some friends call “bad drunks” and others call “Nacho episodes” and then transcend, usually around late January, to some sort of astral Zen-like state of drinking and staring in horror at my reflection. What I really need to do each year is take a month where I don’t work at all and go hang out at a Buddhist temple or something. What I do, instead, is post increasingly desperate personals on Craigslist drunkenly inviting women to meet me at the old mansion where I work my weekend job, then follow me in barely disguised terror as I stalk around in the dark and describe my weekend job in a shaky monotone. I’ll lay my hands on my desk and say, “I sit here…when I’m…w-w-w-working. Sometimes…the house…says things. Bad…things.”

Meanwhile, relieved that I (somehow) survived another year, my friends encircle me and do healthy, normal, kind things like celebrate friendship and happiness and try to make me feel better. All actions that make me suspicious because I spend nine months of every year being paid to interact with people and don’t understand how to do it for free, without a checklist and sign-out sheet. Sometimes, especially if I’m a houseguest, I have to make a private sign-out sheet for myself. Check the stove. Make sure no food is left in the refrigerator. Make sure all computers are turned off. Lock all windows and doors. Set alarm for night mode. Check basement for well-armed homeless people ripped to the gills on Sterno and meth…

My weekends fill up with dinners, and outings, and booze-ups, and movie dates, and you name it. I find myself racing around and trying to desperately reclaim some semblance of normalcy. In fact, I become just like those grieving widows I so aspire to prey upon.

All too quickly, February comes and starts to turn towards March and I see every ounce of my soul slipping away into the impenetrable darkness of the hobo-infested basement at my weekend job that I have to patrol late at night with a broken curtain rod and a Fisher Price flashlight.

In response to such horror, February is when I start to lie to my friends about my availability. I tell them I’m busy all weekend. I bow out of events, guiltily let my phone’s battery die on Friday afternoons, and peer fearfully from behind curtains at anyone who comes to my door. And what do I do with these secreted weekends? I start drinking at 8am and stand, naked, at the window muttering “Oh my god…oh my god…” over and over while pulling at my hair.

A therapist once said that was “bad behavior” and concluded that I “shouldn’t work so much.” Then she handed me a bill for $170. I should charge $170 to tell people obvious facts. “Maybe you shouldn’t tongue electrical sockets. Maybe you shouldn’t grind up lightbulbs and put the glass in your tomato soup. Maybe you shouldn’t get your hands blown off by an IED! Ha, ha, ha. I take all major credit cards.”

Last February was wonderful. That was when the “Snowpocalypse” descended on us and DC turned into Labrador circa 1917. I spent three weeks housebound. No need for lies or hiding from callers. My car was buried under five feet of snow and the parking lot was blocked by three fallen 70 year old oak trees that took a month to remove.

My then girlfriend went quietly insane with cabin fever. Now, several months after I angrily locked her in a shipping container with a week’s worth of food and a paint bucket full of water and sold her to a group of Saudis, I realize that she was actually behaving normally and I was the one going quietly insane. I’d wake up, look outside, see a snowplow on its side, smoldering, as feral suburbanites swarmed over it like those ghosts in the last Lord of the Rings movie and devoured the driver, and I’d cheer. I’d make a vodka tonic and retire to the couch, unwashed for days, and marathon Have Gun Will Travel.

As my girlfriend carved “no more snow” into her thighs with an X-Acto knife, I cavorted around the apartment, naked, singing the Paladin theme song over and over again. When forced to eat, I’d pour rum on dry oatmeal and shout, “Let’s see if this works!”

It was the greatest month of my life, I think. February 2010 was, quite simply, lost. As if I’d gone into a coma. I came back to work three weeks later feeling like a pig in chardonnay and tunelessly hummed the Paladin song over and over as my co-workers – gaunt and traumatized by the snow experience – tried to make sense of their upturned world.

This February is a different beast, though. It’s 50 degrees outside as I write this and I’ve given up all hope of some apocalyptic ice-bound reprieve from reality. And what am I really going to do with this upcoming unexpectedly free weekend, and the following President’s Day weekend that I’ve already started lying about? (Hey, Karl and Molly, if you’re reading this – sorry. I’m not really going to a goat farm to volunteer as a shepherd.)

I’m going to turn all my efforts towards the Greatsociety Book Project, which is clearly a demented and bizarre parody of my life. The free days will be dedicated to working on new content, and editing the old stuff, and trying to put a manuscript together. I will, essentially, be working harder than I would at my weekend job.

The same therapist who told me not to work so much would probably applaud at hours of pointless labor for a manuscript that won’t see the light of day if I can’t secure funding. I’m sure she’d have plenty of reasons for such contradictory advice but, in the end, the only real reason is that she needs to pay her APA dues.

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  1. longtime reader
      February 7, 2011

    This is one of those where I can’t tell if you’re telling the truth or not. But I’ll leave you alone this weekend becaause I also think you’re making explosives in your bathtub!

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