I awoke late. The clock said ten. That's what the clock said. A direct quote: "Ten."
I was always late back then. Sometimes the alarm didn't go off, but when it did I paid no attention to it. I opened my eyes of course. That's what I did. I mean, I must have done that at some point. Maybe I counted to ten first. I was always late. Ten minutes might pass. Ten more. That's what minutes do, they pass. I lay staring up at the ceiling and the ceiling stared back. Every morning we had a staring contest and I always lost. I reached for the radio. I had a radio back then. I turned it on. 1010 WINS. I listened to the news which was always bad. That's how my day started. The radio said "Give us ten minutes and we'll give you the world." The radio lied. It never gave me the world. It just gave me shit.
I got depressed. The news depressed me. There were wars going on. A whole bunch of them that you could trace on a map. Hot spots is what I think they called them. There were terrorists doing terror the way painters do a tree. Very methodical. There were fires and floods and famine. And commercials. Lots of commercials, with jingles that stuck in my head and rattled around all day like a subway ride going nowhere. I would tell them to get off but they didn't listen. So I'd let them play around in there while I got out of bed. Padded ten paces to the bathroom and peed.
I looked in the mirror and didn't like what I saw. I saw someone who looked like he needed his sleep. Someone who was late again. Someone who would soon be sweating on the subway. It wasn't me I was looking at. It couldn't have been me. I looked much better than that. And I had smiles to prove it. I had laughter and a light heart. I didn't really have to go to work. They didn't need me and I didn't need them. It was all a charade. A performance. A play.
I knew all my lines by heart. I had a good memory back then. I'd memorized all ten words. I could say them backwards. "Morning this traffic in stuck got I. Late I'm sorry."
That's backwards, but you get the gist.
I always missed the number 10 train and would stand on the platform with my head in a book. Rimbaud's Illuminations, perhaps, or maybe Ten little Indians. (I liked mysteries back then.) And ten minutes later another train would come by and I'd get in with the other people. I never sat down, I just held onto a strap and swayed back and forth as the train raced on. It seemed like it was going a hundred miles an hour. The noise was deafening. 'Maybe I won't be late after all,' I'd think to myself, since there was nobody else to think it to. Just me.
Finally my destination arrived. It always did. That's what destinations are there for. Although I never called it "my destination" back then. It was just my stop. "Oh, this is my stop!" I'd shout as I shoved an old lady aside in my rush to get off. After all, I was late. I was always late.
I ran up the stairs into a gray sky and tall buildings and a crowd of people moving back and forth. That's what they did except on the days when they were designated bystanders. Like when a building suddenly collapsed or a bomb went off. Then they would stand around and gawk. I never did that. I always kept moving, trying to make up for lost time, trying not to be late.
I was always on a deadline.
I hate deadlines.
I'm glad there's no deadline now.
Ten to one I'd miss it.