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4:00 a.m. I wake myself to write. I should be sleeping like the rest of the world, but I’m wide awake on my couch, drinking a can of Bud and watching the everlasting tube. If I were a dog, I’d be a mongrel mutt. I feel homeless, shiftless. It’s 4:00 a.m. I want to howl at the moon. Actually, I’m not watching so much as gazing at the bright screen. I’m gazing at it for a lack of anything better to gaze at. Had it been a different era, pre-TV, pre-electricity, I might just as well have hung an oil lamp and watched the flame flicker, the wick slowly disappearing to ash. Instead, I’m sitting on my black vinyl couch, which is actually a pullout bed—and there was a time when I used to pull the couch open into a bed, but anymore, I just grab a handknit afghan from the closet and curl up on the couch, gaze at the tube, and let it lull me to sleep. But tonight when I get the call, I’m half-drunk, having passed the last several hours at the bar where my girlfriend—the one who told me I was the love of her life, the one who speculated that she and I would be married—and I had words that approached an ultimatum. In fact, I just hung up the phone with Claire. She’s angry to the point of incoherence . She screamed into the phone, and I turned it away toward the room to soften the blow of her screaming voice. She was saying things she shouldn’t have said. She called me a loser. She said she couldn’t believe that someone with my gifts—your gifts! she said—is squan- J o s e p h G . P e t e r s o n 43 dering it all drinking beer at that lousy tavern down the street night after night. She said it again: I can’t wait on you forever, Gideon. She intimated that it’s embarrassing to be seen with such a sloth as me. And then she asked, Do you really want to know what my friends think? No, but go ahead. They think you’re useless. They think I should dump you, and in truth I don’t see why I shouldn’t! On and on she ranted. And then there was a moment of silence, and then: Gideon, I can’t believe you’re making me feel this kind of pain! I thought I heard a sob. Who knows, she might have just been taking a breath. The silence was prolonged, and, I sensed, I was being somewhat hurtful—a jackass more like it—because I felt she was awaiting a response from me. A significant response , but I had none. At the very least I should say some word to comfort her. I sensed she wanted a small kind word, but I withheld my consolation. Go ahead, suffer, I thought. You get what you deserve. Of course I didn’t have the courage to say this. I only had courage enough to be silent. Suddenly she said, I need to know tomorrow, Gideon, whether you’re coming with me or not to New York City. With that, she hung up the phone. And now I’m awake. Besides the beer, I’m also suffering from indigestion, which is, I suppose, due to nerves, but it’s also due to all the crap I’ve been eating. And I’ve been eating a lot of crap in search of, I suppose, comfort . Earlier in the evening, for instance, before meeting Claire at the tavern, I walked past a KFC, and not being able to resist, I went in and ordered a bucket of extra crispy chicken and ate the whole thing myself. And then, at the bar, with Claire by my side, I ordered a double 44 G i d e o n ’ s C o n f e s s i o n cheeseburger and a large order of fries. I also drank several pitchers of beer to wash it down while Claire sulked and nursed hers. It worries me, frankly, all this spending on crap food and beer because this unbridled spending is a luxury I feel I can no longer afford. And that’s part of the reason why I’m up at 4:00...

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