Alone in a crowd
After writing consistently here for the last six months, I haven’t even bothered to log on in the past two weeks. For the past 13 days, I have been in Las Vegas covering the World Series of Poker. It’s something that I wanted–nay, fought–to do. It’s something I’ve enjoyed in the past and wanted to do again. While I am still glad I’m here, I’ve been beset with something that is a little foreign to me.
I have always loved crowds. If I can bury myself in a 5000-person-strong microcosm of the world, I am usually quite happy. It’s inspirational. It’s educational. It’s even sometimes fun. This time though, I have found myself more lonely than I have been in recent memory. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I miss my wife and kid more than I ever have. After his first trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, my boy has taken to answering the phone when I call, “Hello, Cheese!” It breaks my heart every time.
If you’ve never been a road person and had to leave people behind, it might be a little difficult to grasp. See, I’m surrounded by people every waking hour. What’s more, those waking hours far outnumber the moments I am asleep. Sleep is no more than a four-hour coma, in which I am unconcious, but settled with such fitful dreams that I feel like the ghost of Stanley Kubrick has gotten hold of my noodle and is producing his posthumous Oscar winner. I mean, in what other mindset would I dream extensively about my wife having an affair with my gay friend? In what other mindset would I have a dream that my dog is lost and I have to find her before I wake up? I’m the type of guy that has a collection of 20 dreams he has over and over. Now, the dreams are all new and none of them are good.
After a while, a sort of bunker mentality sets in. I try to feel real in any way I can. Nothing works. Drinking just makes me feel worse. Sleeping makes me feel guilty. Eating feels like a waste of time. I just don’t feel real. The only time I smile with any legitimacy is when I hear “Hello, Cheese!” on the other end of the line.
An odd by-product of this mentality is an overwhelming sense of affection for people and gestures that I normally would take in stride. Small gestures like a compliment or having a drink bought for me turn me into a babbling “thank you” idiot. Large gestures, one of which I received today, almost move me to tears.
Take none of the above as whining. There are scores of people here working just as hard as I am. There are people who hide their fatigue better than I do. I’d estimate I’ve lost ten pounds in the past two weeks. I have ever-present bags under my bloodshot eyes.
Overall, though, I am lonely. I have had maybe three real conversations in the past 13 days. A few minutes ago, I was standing outside with some fellow journos having a dinner break drink. The hostess brought us our drinks and accidentally brushed my arm as she poured. It was accidental human touch, but it felt good.
I announced to the people nearby that I’d just found “Reason #87 I need to get home to my wife–Clumsy cocktail hostesses are making me feel loopy.” A co-worker said, “Reason #88 will be when that guy over there makes you feel the same way.”
That made me laugh, which felt nice. But right now, I want to do more than laugh. I want go home and have my kid call me “Cheese.” I want to go home and fall asleep with my wife. I want to eat a meal sitting down. I want to stop feeling like I’m going to cry when someone does something nice for me.
I write all of this not as a plea for sympathy. Trust me, I know I’ve got it pretty damned good. I only write this to remind myself later how it feels. When it’s all over, I know it will feel like a dream. Right now, though, it all feels very real…in a very manufactured way.
Hope everyone out there is doing well. I miss everybody. Even you.