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.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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12 Responses

  1. Anonymous Su says:

    You are missed too, Brad. Hang in there. That little boy of yours will be calling you cheese before you know it.

  2. Anonymous Uncle Ted says:

    If I do have an affair with your wife…does that make me *not* gay?

    Just askin’.

    We miss you too buddy.

  3. I miss you too, Otis.

  4. I hear a trip with Pauly and Grubby can solve that need for accidental human touch.

    Stay strong Otis, the write-ups have been great

  5. Come see us when you’re at home. Cheese, that’s very sweet.

  6. I AM NOT GAY DAMMIT!

    Take that back!

  7. If I were still there, rest assured there would be lots of hugs and kisses with your name on them. It was great seeing you, if only briefly – hang in there.

  8. Dammit!

    April wrote exactly what I was going to write. Not fair, April, not fair.

  9. Therapy arriving August 2nd.

  10. Anonymous Big Tom D says:

    Wow – I was just out to Vegas about two months ago and I felt this way on DAY three.. It’s a good thing.

    It’s also a good thing for you to have a good time BETWEEN the feelings..

    Did you try laying in a pool – getting some sun and just plain leaving the POKER scene for a few hours a day.. It will be there when you return and your fellow bloggers can fill u in on any missed events… or maybe ring you up if something big happens..

  11. Suck it up, bitch.

    No, wait, I meant to say, “we still love you.”

    Yeah, that’s better. Let’s go with the second one. Call if you need something.

  12. Hang in there. You are doing an excellent job and we all thank you for it.

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