Not even the obnoxious couple on speakerphone, two tables over, bothered me. Not even the fact that I got my sweater in maple syrup, and worse that I couldn’t reach the place on my elbow to lick it.
It’s my day on mental credit, and I’ll get there, or I’ll order more.
Days earlier, in Toronto, New Years slipping behind me slowly, the way frost lets go of a back windshield as the sun arrives, I thought of what I would do in Vancouver. I stared out my tall kitchen windows at my parents’ well-kept backyard. The barbecue sat huddled in a frozen black tarp, and the green trees stretched taut against the steel-blue sky. My dog navigated the glass table’s frame until he reached my cold feet. Like he knew I wanted, he rested his scruffy head on them, and slept.
Like him, in Vancouver I’ll probably sleep, but I’ll also eat, cheap food like beans and rice, and drink coffee from Starbucks and Tim’s (I got gift cards). I will watch yesterday’s late night talk shows like they’re sermons.
After one night’s sleep in Vancouver, I woke, ate instant oatmeal, and stood in my cold kitchenette. I realized no amount of Late Shows or video games push away boredom for long, and when boredom leaves, big stresses take its place. All the actors’ on-set anecdotes made me feel lazy, and the lack of response from what – when I sent the queries – felt like a full sea of desperate production managers made me realize I was looking not at a sea but at a desolate Vancouver canyon, the type that harbours anything you project onto it for the worse.
My inactive state came down as a frothy grey fog and smothered any growing plants of ideas I had for scripts or social plans. It left me with nothing to do day to day except stay in bed, or at best on the living room couch, and think about everything and nothing.
Then, I got a response from an editor at a Canadian pop news outlet. He seemed interested, and asked me about myself and about my work, and everything, the fog and the canyon and the belief my bed and couch were my best friends, evaporated.
Today, after a few Family Guy episodes and coffees in the safety of my bedroom – which feels like a dust storage room – my mind is completely at ease. My brain rests on a lawn chair by a pool – probably encased in a transparent jar. I mean it’s a brain.
I live on mental credit, in the mental black. I’m as good as employed.
Hours later, I hole up at a coffee shop. I order what I feel is a justified coffee upgrade, something with a thick texture and a soft mountain of whipped cream, dotted with shredded dark chocolate.
I do not deserve this. Yes I do. I’m a king among men. Who are these people? A GAP sweater? Really? You haven’t heard of Guess, you peasant? And I assume you haven’t heard of HBO, either. I say “red wedding” and you imagine what? Something to do with wine? HA!
I read some of my book. I wonder – while I half-read – if the woman with the personally tailored juice box laptop cover (?) thinks I’m well read. Is reading nonfiction the last safe step before the world of pretension? A creased New Yorker Magazine tucked against my looks-like-burlap shirt? Is that the crossover image? I get a text. It’s a meme – and then I see I have an e-mail.
Ah, not him. It’s CBC. More housing market drama.
But just as quickly, the thought of another e-mail takes my brain and holds it hostage, holds it under water, in a shallow sink, and as I watch the water fill up against the rusty silver bowl I wonder how long it’ll be that I hold my breath until I break the surface again and receive a follow-up e-mail.
I’m in the mental red. My phone is now sutured to my hand, and it is a tool for email only. Not even the dankest of memes pull my focus (microwave kid, Brendan Fraser).
I re-read the editor’s first e-mail. I feel myself begin to lose it. I smile. I realize something as I read his e-mail. I am doting on it. I dote on his skill like someone with a crush, about to go on a date – I’m showered, dressed, but still at my desk, on Facebook, scouring his wall for any details I can use to my advantage. “Oh, you like Phish? That’s so funny. I agree. They are The Grateful Dead of the next generation!” I give in and build a life for us from the scraps of his Internet bios.
I turn rabid when he finally responds. He asks me my rate and all I can think is, Kanye money. Minutes ago, the “chunky choco cookie” felt like a prize, the kind that might go with a Pharaoh into his tomb, the kind that thieves would loot. Now it’s only fuel, my chair and desk only tools to help me get a better angle for writing a response, which is of course, all at once, an offer, counter offer, lie, and probe into his hopefully weak psyche.
“Oh, you need both outlets?” The speakerphone couple from earlier asks me. Little do they know they’ve interrupted something not even Tom Cruise would dare take on. This mission, so impossible.
My mind cuts to a new me, a 2000 Christian Bale American Psycho me, murdering the speakerphone couple in a proto-Dexter room.
“No.” I smile. “Of course not.” I unplug my gleaming white charger and wrap with precision.
The editor’s got to talk it over with his associates (my life is Ballers – I am The Rock “Dwayne Johnson”) and he’ll let me know “in a few”.
Minutes? Hours? Days?
None of these options feel far-fetched in my Apocalypse Now Marlon Brando mind. How will I endure this? When will my next day in the mental black come? Could that be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months from now?
I got the confirmation from the editor the next day, after 18 hours sweating on the couch and in my bed. With the sweat I imagine I created a modern kind of chalk outline that CSI might use to distinguish where they found their latest victim.
A credit day like the one I described is dangerous. It sucked all I wanted to do out of the day and left me with a void only a twenty-word e-mail could fill, and even when I got a response, wrote my first article, and sent it to him, I went through something worse. What if all my mental struggle was for nothing? He could just as easily realize he made a mistake, figure out that I’m a fraud, and never publish my material.
It’s probably best to live somewhere in between, if you can find the balance. I probably won’t find it in the Golden Globe Awards, which air tonight, but I can try.
Also published on Medium’s Literally Literary.