By D. Stone.
7:45. If you want to be happy, wake up at the same time every day. That’s what some study I read said, so I try to. Even on weekends. I used to snooze a lot, then I found a magical solution: volume. I set my alarm impossibly loud, so that instead of politely tugging at me, it scares the shit out of me. One second I’m dreaming about a beach in Honolulu, the next some NPR guy is screaming about cocoa farmers in Brazil. Try falling back asleep after that, I challenge you.
8:20. I go over and feed Chad, my fish. Everyone who visits says he looks “happy.” That’s because he thinks you’re about to feed him. I bought Chad half a year ago for my cubicle, but my boss made a weird face and said, “He’s going to smell.” I wanted to say “He’s the size of a thimble,” but instead I said indignantly that I’d move him somewhere he was wanted. I carried him home on the train, me holding his bowl while the water slopped. It was like a Wes Anderson movie. Now Chad holds down my apartment day and night. In exchange, every morning I sprinkle a few blood worms, which the pet store woman said he’d like better than regular fish food. I figure it’s like eating steak, except for him, eating only steak. It’s possible he has extremely high cholesterol. I could turn him into a vegan, but he already lives in half a gallon of water. What kind of life would that be?
8:57. Andy’s asleep on the couch. He’s a friend who lives in New York who came to DC for the weekend because, just once in our lives, we thought we’d go speed dating. There was a Groupon or something, which said in LARGE CAPS they were short on men. We went last night. Twenty-five women, four minutes each, you do the math how many times you explain where you’re from and what you do. Five women, all speech pathologists, were there together. Some girl said she recently got a restraining order on her ex-boyfriend (great lede!). Sitting next to her was a girl who had zero tolerance for Jello. Later, a girl who said she did fashion consulting told me that my money shirt, the one I trot out precisely for high judgment events, was “a good start.” Then the bell rang and we’d all take our diluted cocktails to the next table. Two hours of such high energy talking, we left the bar and walked in silence. Now, when Andy sees I’m awake, the first thing he says is “I need some tea.”
10:00. My Skype rings at exactly the top of the hour. It’s my friend Jens, who lives in Germany, and then my other friend Stephan, also in Germany. We planned to talk at 10:00, which in German Standard Time doesn’t mean 10:02. The three of us are planning a trip to Cuba in early April. We’ll start in Havana, then, the topic of the call is whether we should drive west or east. I make a dumb joke about how we should check out Guantanamo (we won’t). Suddenly, it dawns on Stephan that Cuba will be the first place he’s visited where Germany has never been the principal aggressor. “It’ll be nice not to be blamed for something!” he says.
Andy, meanwhile, is at my dining table working on a spreadsheet. When I hang up with the Germans, he says he’s hungry, so I make a few omelets. Andy is a weird dude. He calls me “dude man guy.” He loves Dwight Eisenhower. When the omelets are done, we sit at the coffee table. He says he’s impressed with how I get the omelet to fold perfectly.
10:38. I get an email from my friend Bill. He’s older, about 70. He’s my reading mentor, my literary yoda. We usually meet every other weekend, but he can’t today. He’s going to Vegas. Lately, he’s got me on a kick of French authors, including Patrick Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize although I don’t think he’s that great. Maybe lost in translation. Now Bill is exuberantly telling me about James Salter, who, he says, is “one of the best writers I’ve ever read!” Bill will give me two or three of Salter’s books next time I see him. The time after that, he’ll expect them back.
11:37. I go downstairs to run. On the treadmill, my TV choices are between cartoons or Walker, Texas Ranger. Obviously I choose Chuck Norris. I never understood all of the Chuck-Norris-is-a-badass memes. After seeing him do a roundhouse kick in slow motion, I get it.
12:26. Andy and I start playing Scrabble, which we haven’t done in about two years. Andy is extremely good, like savant good. After three rounds, he’s beating me 109 to 34. Before the fourth round, Jessie, my friend from work, calls and asks if we want to play Scrabble with her and her friend visiting from New York. I say sure. I suggest we meet at the Smithsonian castle. It’s a hidden gem of old-Washington with a grand foyer where old men used to smoke and ladies would dance. She’s never been there, neither has her friend, nor Andy. We agree on 1:30, which is extra remarkable when, in the car, I find a parking spot a block away at exactly 1:26. I don’t know who made it up, but that’s called the commodore spot—the parking spot exactly where you want it at the perfect time. Meanwhile, Jessie’s 15 minutes behind. Andy comes back from the café with a granola bar and says “Guess how much this cost?” I guess $2.50. He smiles and says, “Four fifty mother fucker.” A few minutes later when Jessie arrives, we start a new game. Jessie goes first, then Andy’s first move is FESTIVAL, using all his letters. 76 points. Jessie tells us how much she loves this game. If she were typing, she’d have used six exclamation points.
2:12. Jessie’s friend arrives, and suddenly it’s four of us. All of us are hungry; all of us are annoyed by a cold draft that has the nerve to sweep though a building 160 years old. Jessie makes the play of the game, WOOF with the W on a triple-word. I’m less impressed than normal because I just realized I can play PLASMA. Not a lot of points, but it sure does look nice.
3:14. When the game wraps, we agree to head to a mutual friend’s house. He’s hosting a chili cook-off. Or rather, his friend is hosting the chili cook-off. That’s a uniquely 20s and 30s thing, friends of friends of friends all in the same house without even needing to acknowledge you’re complete strangers. Would my parents ever do that? What’s the cut-off age?
3:47. Five minutes after we get there, the host, whom none of us have ever met, greets us. This is DC, not Brooklyn, so it’s extremely noticeable that he’s wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a bolo tie he made out of a can lid. Standing a foot away, he shouts at us that there are “13 chilis!” and that we can only try each one after it’s been judged. Then he gets serious, as if he suspects we’ll find a way to cheat, and says, “Please respect the integrity of the event.” Respect the integrity we do. But I can’t help wondering about chili cook-offs. How did chili become such a competitive food? There’s such slight variation, such little difference between an amazing chili and a mediocre one. How do you judge what makes chili mind-blowing? Why not compete over something with a wider range like, say, Thai curry or eggs Benedict? Back in college, I used to go to this market that made the world’s most perfect turkey sandwich. Peak ingredients, finesse, craftsmanship. Any schmo can make a crockpot full of chili. A perfect sandwich takes an artist.
6:05. I decide to take the long way home, because anyone who’s ever lived in DC knows that Rock Creek Parkway is pure gold anytime but rush hour. It’s like the West Side Highway, but with nature. Near Adam’s Morgan, we pass a bar and Andy asks me to stop so he can take a photo. He’s been texting with some girl and the bar reminds him of her, so he takes a photo, sends it, then asks me if I think she’ll write back (I do, and she did). A minute later, he turns his entire body toward me and says, “Can we make cookies?”
7:17. Again, you’re long past college when you have in your cupboards every ingredient to make chocolate chip cookies. The last time I used my brown sugar, Benedict was still pope, so it was pure rock. I consider substituting more white sugar, but brown is the good stuff. Four minutes before they’re done, Andy realizes we have no milk. I say I don’t care. He says he’ll go to the corner and get some.
9:15. I take some time to write. Then call my mom, who’s a bookkeeper, who’s having a “quiet” weekend, which is code for “doing other people’s taxes.” She reminds me to send her my W2s, which makes me realize, for the umpteenth year in a row, that I’m getting a valuable service for absolutely free. I remind her, as I often do, that she’s good to me. She reminds me, as she often does, that I’m a catch. Sometimes nice moments have a way of compounding, of building on each other. Right after I hang up, Andy comes out of the bathroom and drums my back. “Dude man guy,” he says, “I think this 44-hour visit will be the best 44 hours of 2015. I was just thinking of that as I sat on the toilet.”
D. Stone is a writer in Washington D.C.