a cough, a sniff and a jump into the sick room
Sunday 12 January 1997
After a fitful night of self-pity my lungs felt as though someone had engraved the outline of a sailing ship on my chest with a red-hot poker. Mental faculties declined. Temperature rose. Tea-biscuits became the only acceptable fodder. There is a widespread fallacy among people who work that at least one channel is running non-stop Barbara Stanwyck movies or Douglas Sirk triple-bills. It ain't so. Brain-wave! This was surely the perfect time to relax with Short Cuts on video, the seminal work from a modern master.
But Oh. My. God. I thought it was going to be half a dozen cunningly intertwined tales of kooky LA folks. It turned out to be a hideous three- hour nightmare involving a fatal car accident, a suicide, assorted misogynists, a sex-crime, a cretinous murder in the last few minutes and a troupe of mismatched LA luvvies all behaving as though they were in separate movies. And I haven't seen so much female pubic hair since I was last in the showers at the Y. I was expecting a wise meditation on the human condition, not this thin, sour, mean-spirited stuff. This has got to be me, not Altman, I mutter, rewinding the tape.
Feel more and more lethargic as the day draws to a close. Haven't washed today. Haven't eaten. Ache as though I've been beaten thousands of times by rubber hammers (hang on, that sounds quite good). At night have three hours' worth of terrible nightmares about sex-crimes and dead boys and Chris Penn then toss and turn, hot as a pig on a spit. But wake up cold, in pyjamas soaking wet from collar to ankle. It reminds me of a catchphrase of Divine's during her cabaret act. Perspiring heavily, she'd purr: "I feel like someone's ****ed all over me - I should be so lucky!" Fill in the gap yourself. I've already had one stern letter about "gutter language" from the Rev HA Burton, and I don't want another.
Curiously, the liquid infusing the pyjamas appears, from the smell, to be espresso coffee. Haven't washed for ages, but expelling pints of sweat into the bedclothes seems to be having the same effect. This reminds me, a friend of mine met a group of hippies in New Zealand who never washed. Their hair was silky, their skin milky: boy, were they were nice to be near. This state of sanitational Nirvana is only to be reached, apparently, after two months of itchy horror in which the body expels huge crusts of gunk and sump oil drips from the pores. Hair is already approaching melt-down but I can't help it - the thought of water touching any part of me is excruciating.
The next night Chris Penn menaces me with a rock again for a couple of hours, then I wake and peer into the black maw of insomnia. I play the alphabet game for about four hours. Battles: Austerlitz, Bannockburn, Culloden ... French films: Au Revoir les Enfants, B ...er, C ... er, Diva. Perhaps the insomnia is due to not yet finding the correct nutritional balance between whisky, Day Nurse, and Dr Stuart's Botanical Tea, Vespers ("WARNING: Avoid alcohol"). God, this is worse than food combining.
You get funny ideas, don't you, tossing and turning in the middle of the night? And what I thought was this: that writing a column is a lot like being a drug addict. In the beginning you go, yeah, it's no big deal. Once a week, yeah, but I can handle it. I'm not dependent or anything, I don't need it. It's just fun, that's all, gives me a buzz. Then the anxiety creeps in, displacing euphoria. You have to put more and more in to achieve the same effect. Suddenly, it's not as much fun anymore. The highs are fleeting and not so intense. The lows are dreadful. Yet still it's something you crave. That's when you find yourself ripping off your friends - even your family - for a cheap hit. At this point, only cold turkey will do.
From now on, one week at a time, I'm a Recovering Columnist.
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