Friday, December 16, 2011

A Sequence, in the morning

I open my eyes. Everything is blurry and that's a good thing. It means I remembered to take my lenses out. Sunlight is everywhere, pouring through the open door and window slats because I was way too drunk to close them. How drunk? The taste and total desiccation in my mouth says, "quite." A huge gap in my memory says, "very quite."

In the bathroom, my stream is radioactive yellow and practically viscous. That's how dehydrated I am. Somehow, I don't feel like shit. My stomach is calm if very empty. Back in my room, Bella's stolen my comforter and wrapped herself up in it at the foot of the bed. She's being so cute that I let her hang onto it.

Going downstairs for the first time, I see the handle of King's Bay. It's been left out, capless and very warm, standing next to a half-full glass of chaser and a single shotglass. There is, at most, twenty-eight percent of the bottle remaining. I cringe. Surely Nick and I didn't do all that ourselves. Maybe Alex drank with us. He probably didn't. Let the hazy forensic tour of the apartment begin.

There's a large paper map folded out on the table. It's an official map of Skyrim. We don't own that game. Yet here's the map, and on the table is a PS3 Skyrim case. I guess we own that game. Suddenly an epiphany: Nick's brother Zach came over last night and delivered it as a late birthday present. He came over around 9:30, after work. Now we're getting somewhere. He didn't drink with us, but I definitely talked to him about the latest EA/Visceral projects. I don't remember exactly what was said, but I definitely oozed over Dead Space and hit him up repeatedly for a writing job at Visceral. I wince, because clearly I was extremely drunk during this time. Chance I made a total ass of myself and Zach left laughing at me: 80%. It is, however, possible that I was functional during this time. I don't slur and have on occasion carried out perfectly normal conversations with people who had no idea what state I was in. Worst-case scenario: somebody I barely know things I am a drunken loser. That doesn't bode well for a job at Visceral, but did I have any actual tangible prospects there? No. Just gonna laugh this off.

I put the rum away and start to assemble the basic components of a meal I like to call "Corn Chex." My breakfasting efforts are cut short by broken glass all over the kitchen floor. Another epiphany: I broke a shotglass last night by fumbling it and knocking it to the floor. "SHIT," oy sez to moiself, "I can't believe I left broken glass all over. Thank God nobody was hurt." Then I recall something: I cleaned that glass. Inspecting the shards, I see that this is a DIFFERENT broken shotglass--it's smoked glass, not the clear painted glass from my little boo-boo. This makes me feel better in one way, and much worse in another.

After some sweeping, I take my cereal upstairs and fire up the Interwebs. The sun is shining and the house hasn't been this warm in weeks. I'm the only one awake, just eating my cereal and celebrating my good fortune at escaping from a brutal night more or less hangover-free. And then this great day crashes right into a lousy wall, because the first thing I see online is the news that Christopher Hitchens is dead.

It seems appropriate, somehow, to emerge from a drunken stupor to this news. Hitchens may, after all, have been the world's greatest functioning alcoholic. The sheer amount of punishment the man put his body through, over thirty-plus years of massive drinking and smoking, should have made his career impossible. Some people, it turns out, are just that goddamned brilliant. Hitchens himself said that the lifestyle was what gave him the energy to do his work. Maybe that's true, and he wouldn't have been the same without it. Trent Reznor's career is doing just fine since he put down the bottle, but as far as I'm concerned the genius is gone. Sure, the mechanical genius of assembling notes and crafting songs stuck around. A sober Hitchens would likely have kept his terrifying powers of language. But his erudition and wit weren't what made him great. It was the soul of the man, this cantankerous disheveled drunken genius (if you've ever seen him on TV, he was probably tipsy) who wouldn't let anyone get away with anything, who believed completely in himself and dared the world to prove him wrong. They couldn't--he was just too fucking brilliant.

I never met the guy. I could have--we share a mutual friend--but never asked for an introduction or made any effort to meet him. That's not my style. I figured it would eventually happen; just given the loose connection, I would eventually find myself in a room with him. When he was stricken by cancer, I knew that had been a mistake. Which, having written it, strikes me as kind of a shitty selfish attitude--oh, well. The man was about nothing more than honesty. And maybe it's because I'm an over-educated atheist contrarian asshole who loves nothing more than to tell other people how WRONG THEY ARE, but I felt a real kinship with this man. I never met him and if I had, I wouldn't have had much to say. He probably would have found me boring, like the other six billion people whose company on the Earth he drank to endure. But I've had the good fortune to meet a few truly brilliant people in my life, and selfishly it's enough to be around them for a little bit.

One sentimental note in eulogy: Chris Hitchens was a character, he had style, and he had such an overpowering presence with that deep scotch-and-fags baritone that we lose the real person there. This was a man who lived and loved and drank and smoke and fucked and married and changed diapers and cleaned vomit and wept over dead pets and demanded that Andrew Sullivan kiss him "with tongue." This was a real man with a family who knew him as a real man. Keep it in mind; this was a titan, not a god.

I deeply admired Chris Hitchens. Sometimes you just see yourself in a person, even if that person is better and smarter and more accomplished than you'll ever be. He was a tremendous inspiration for my own writing, though I've never imitated him--and how could I, hailing from a totally different culture, continent, and generation? The man's greatest inspiration was P.G. Wodehouse and his greatest foe was Henry Kissinger. I can't relate to that and it would be dishonest and phony (lord, did he hate those qualities) to try. But I've been thinking a lot about the future in the past few months, and to see a man like this leave the world crystallized a little something in my head ("With all the pot you smoke, I bet a lot of you is crystallized!" yuk yuk yuk)

American society is decaying. I feel this strongly enough that I'm confident asserting it. It's not just us, and it's not cause of THAT BLACK NIGGER BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA (if anything, that very imperfect man is one of the few real hopes we have). I think if you're under 30 or over 50, and you're not too busy taking trips to Vegas or buying Tahoe ski condos or engaging in the richie-rich fun time summer camp that is business school, you can feel it too. It's getting worse, though I'm not sure why. When somebody talks on TV, I can feel it getting worse. When Hitchens talked, for my part it was a giant ray of light cutting through darkness. In the Internet age, everyone's a liar. Everyone pretends, because the pouring of all our many identities into a single online persona forces us into dishonesty. It keeps us safe and sane, but it's collectively destroying our society. Ditto the automation, the numbers, the relentless engineering optimization that seems to drive every enterprise. An ad spot on the radio, at the very least, has the intimacy of the DJ's voice. He is trying to connect to you, investing his credibility in a product that he seems to earnestly hope improves your life. But a spot on Youtube is loaded with keywords, annotation, a hundred different optimizations to increase the odds that a machine will place the product in front of you for consideration. ADVERTISING, that most soulless of enterprises, has lost its soul. I'm sorry if that seems like a digression, but I'm just trying to explain in words what I feel, with rheumatic certainty, in my bones.

There you go, Hitch. I said "rheumatic certainty." I'm sorry the rest of us weren't easy to deal with. And with this written (I cried only a little this morning at the news, and not at all during this composition), I'm going to have a drink. The rum should be cold again, by now.

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