Daily Routine

Christmas, 2003 / No. 11
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

My day starts like any other. I get up in the same bed. I walk to the kitchen and eat the same breakfast I’ve had every day for years: three-day-old toast. No stories to tell there. It is intensely dry, and when chewed for fifteen minutes with five cups of water, is just what I need to get the day started.

I have a shower, using the same soap I always use: Dove. Nothing beats that. I am also, as always, careful not to wash anything that doesn’t actually reek of perspiration. This way, I don’t waste soap unnecessarily. Some people might use soap like it was going out of style, but I think what they gain in cleanliness they lose in thrift. Not this customer—I wash what smells. It is this same principle that has allowed me to use the same bar of soap for eight months.

But again, this is nothing new—from every angle a perfectly ordinary Monday morning. I make sure to buy a large coffee from the Scandinavian woman on the street outside my building, as I’ve done every day like clockwork for five years. She explains to me, as she has explained patiently every day for five years, that, in fact, she is a vagrant, and that I am once again trying to wrestle her tip cup from her. I apologize for the honest error, tip my hat in my regular fashion, and walk into the coffee shop behind her, which I deduce is a far superior place for purchasing real coffee. I buy my usual large mocha java, place a dollar fifty in exact change on the table, and, as always, have an entire cup of scalding coffee thrown in my face.

I caper about, clutching my smoking head in the usual way. The woman behind the counter reiterates for the thousandth time in as many days that I am her ex-husband, and will continue to get my coffee in the most inconvenient way possible if I continue to forget my child-support payments. I fumble with apologies and ask for a cool, damp cloth.

“Honestly, Phil,” says the woman claiming to be my ex-wife (whose name escapes me at the moment). “You’re so persistent. I don’t want to have to dash hot coffee in your face every day. But you just keep coming back. It’s like you’re daring me to.”

“No need to offer explanations, you,” I say. “I only need to know two things.”

“What, Phil? ”

“What’s your name, beautiful, and what are you doing Saturday night? ”

One further steaming cup of coffee to the eyes later, I am thrown bodily onto the sidewalk, right on schedule. Jogging briskly to the subway depot, I pause only briefly to purchase my daily paper, look at the front cover, and scream.

“Good Lord!” I yell. “The year 2003? Where am I? What planet is this? ”

No answer is forthcoming. I’m in a bit of a hurry anyway, and so, whistling as I go, I’m off down the stairs to catch the 8:05, right on time, just like always.

Once off the subway, I note with whimsy that my face is no longer steaming. In the open air again, the skin-bubbling subsides, and I manage to crack a small smile. Ignoring the blistering this causes, I walk down the bustling sidewalk to my place of business. On the way, I can’t help but notice the most adorable puppy in the window of a pet shop: a cute golden retriever with paws pressed up against the glass.

“What the hey, you only live once,” I say aloud. “Am I right, Miss? ” I say, snaking out my arm with predatory lightning speed and clamping down with intense pressure on the shoulder of a woman walking by.

8:28 A.M.—Mace in the eyes. You could set your watch by it, and I do just that. Then I claw my way blindly into the pet shop and purchase that very doggie in the window, marvelling at my own impetuous, carefree mood this morning. After this, it is off to work.

Just like any other morning, it is one brief elevator ride to the twenty-fifth floor. I complain loudly and often about the horrible smell radiating from one of the passengers. For my own amusement, I point accusing fingers at a small, heavy-set woman in a floral-print dress, arching my eyebrow accusingly as I expose her, Sherlock Holmes–like, as the farting party. As always, someone quickly deduces that the smell is coming from my own buttocks, and my smokescreen is discovered before the ninth floor is reached. These folk are savvy, and I tell them as much as I step off the elevator. My compliment is greeted with silence.

“Why don’t you all go fuck yourselves, then? ” I cheerfully suggest. I toy briefly with the idea of launching the puppy at the unsuspecting passengers as the doors close. Ultimately I do not, though it would certainly serve them right if I had.

I push for ten minutes on the entrance to my place of work, getting more frustrated as the minutes pass and my attempts become more frantic. Eventually, and near tears, I solve the mystery, laugh knowingly, and pull on the door instead. Once inside, I am greeted by the lobby receptionist and, as always, I ignore her.

In my office, I drop the puppy on a pile of puppies, some dead, some merely starving, behind my door. Messages? You bet! I check them all, careful to write every one down. Today, as with any other day, I am to be as busy as busy can be. For instance, I am to appear in court seven times for various infractions, one of which involves, according to the answering machine, exposing myself in a Wal-Mart franchise.

But first, a meeting. I rush to the main briefing room, where I am greeted with my first surprise of the day.

Now, my life is built on routine—so you can only imagine my shock in discovering the presence of a face I don’t recognize. Our new vice-president of marketing: a large and menacing Kodiak bear. I know this because he is introduced to me as such, and takes a playful swipe at my face before I put up my briefcase up as a crude shield.

“Who hired this animal? I won’t work with bears!” I say.

My boss, blanching, asks to speak to me in the hallway, and I comply.

“Phil,” he says, offering me his finger to suck on, which I gladly accept. “I know this must come as a bit of a shock, but we have quotas to fill. The Kodiak bear stays, Phil.”

“For Christ’s sake, Bill,” I say, removing his finger from my mouth. “That thing must weigh a ton. Did you see those teeth? ”

“My name’s Clarence, Phil,” he corrects me. “And I can’t have you acting up over this. I’m already looking at a P.R. nightmare. Somebody tried to bait the bear with a trout this morning in the staff room. It put its paw through his torso and pulled out his heart with one claw.”

“Really? ” I say in disbelief. “But its paws looked so adorable.”

“See, that’s what I said.”

“I understand. I’ll do what I can. But I promise nothing!” I put his finger back in my mouth and scowl at him.

“That’s all I ask, Phil,” he says. “Let’s get back to the meeting.”

We open the door to carnage. Blood coats the walls like salty paint, and the Kodiak bear stands on the boardroom table, its snout in the hollowed skull of Jeff Simmons from accounting, contrary to every rule of office etiquette in the book.

“Let’s get down to brass tacks, you filthy goddamn animal,” I say, briefcase safely in front of my face, and Clarence throws bags full of fresh salmon to distract the meat-gorged beast while I get on with my first-quarter presentation, because I’m a professional, my friend—a man of order. I step over the corpses and get down to some brass tacks.