It is 6:30 in the morning. The alarm will not cry out for another hour and yet, I am awake. Like every morning, my amiable mutt, Woody has whined with his chin resting on my bed waiting patiently for my eyes to open and for me to say something to him.
“Ugh, Woody. 6:30. Why?” knowing now that I am up, he goes in for the kill and lifts one paw onto the bed. “Ugh. Fine.”
I rise, composing myself and he bounds to the bedroom door, spinning two circles in place before he sits down in front of it. For my part, I have found yesterday’s t-shirt and am pulling it over my head haphazardly. Woody still waits patiently. He knows the dance and the process. He knows that I’ll open the door and walk through it, then I’ll snap my fingers allowing him to follow me to the front door. I used to be a “good” dog owner, accompanying him outside. That practice disintegrated over time. I now just shuttle him out the door and we both take care of the proverbial “business”- him outside and me, well, inside.
Now brushing my teeth, I walk to the glass door that leads to the front yard and knock on the glass three times. He, being a good and obliging creature, knows that this is the sound that beckons him back inside and so he comes bounding up, tail wagging furiously. He sits and I let him in and he makes a beeline for the bedroom again, where he waits in front of his dishes as I scoop the food and fill the water and he commences eating and I go back to bed.
He drinks in gallons once he polishes off the bowl and, licking the excess water from his mouth, he comes over to the bed. Emboldened by having just eaten, he puts his front half on the bed, waiting for me to say the magic words from beneath the covers.
“Come on, man. Get up here.”
If my grandfather were a short order cook, he’d be fired after the first hour. After all, in that span, he’d have only finished one meal- his own. There is a system and a process and a way of doing things that cannot, will not and will never be deviated from. If anything, he only adds new steps to it- whether out of interest in efficiency or greater challenge though, I can’t tell.
There is the sausage patty which he has put in a plastic ziploc bag all its own the evening before. There is the skillet which he removes from what he believes to be a secret hiding place- as it is reserved solely for his breakfast’s use. When the two meet, he places the sausage patty in the direct center of the skillet and rests an angled spatula on top of the patty which is the buoyed by the egg which will soon meet its demise. The stove, for its part, is set on high, so that the grease soon pops and hisses and makes a mess of everything within a three mile radius. My grandfather, looking proudly on, begins to move the precarious stack of sausage patty, spatula and still unbroken egg in slow, dreamy circles around the skillet. It seems he fancies himself an artist, elegantly painting each centimeter with trails of grease. Returning the stack to the center of the skillet, he goes to the pantry to get himself a ceramic plate which he places, ever so delicately, on the stovetop’s “warming” burner and readies the toaster for its lines in the play.
I, for my part, have learned not to say anything, nor to comment on the goings on of the world. My grandfather is focused, is totally committed to process and will not entertain distractions.
He removes the patty from the skillet and cracks the egg in its place immediately. The stovetop soldiers through the messy oblivion gallantly and stoically and I look on in quiet wonder at the mess I will soon be cleaning up.
The toast is up and, because he’s timed things so meticulously, he reflexively flips the egg for a moment before sliding it onto the waiting (and warm) plate and taking it with him to retrieve the toast, which he covers liberally with butter and, grabbing the jar (yes, the entire jar) of blackberry jam, finally makes his way to the dining table with a Sudoku puzzle and collection of pens, pencils and mistake-correcting devices.
If this sounds like an awful lot for a clumsy old man to carry, that’s because it is. All that I will say is that I have, more than once, cleaned toast-shaped butter stains from the hardwood floors.
People and their routines are funny. I would be lying if I said that I was exempt from these peculiarities. After all, I brush my teeth three times in the morning alone: upon waking, after eating and before leaving the house. Following my grandfather’s lead, I have learned what setting to boil the kettle on so that it whistles as I’m finishing my first morning’s brushing.
So, despite being a dentist’s ideal patient, I’m willing to say that I’m weird.
I once took a screenwriting class in college (not because I particularly wanted to, but because it was required) and one of the texts we read for the class was Robert McKee’s “Story”. In it, he posits that humans, as a rule, desire comfort and routine. We yearn for normality and predictability and indeed, hate change or anything that disrupts the normal flow of our day. Even those people whose lives seem to be completely unpredictable- musicians on tour, pilots, athletes, etc.- are predictable when you really think about it and consist of some very simple commands. “Be here at this time.”, “Meet these people at the after party.” McKee says that a movie begins when something occurs to throw the character out of this rhythm and repetition. Change must happen for the story to begin. Donald Miller writes an entire novel around this concept- this idea of story and how people must seek to live a better one, “A Million Miles In A Thousand Years”.
I’ve been thinking about this book a lot lately.
I’d love nothing more than to tell you that I am living a good story- a great story, even- but that isn’t the case. My morning routine would actually be made better if it was a bit weirder (beyond the whole toothbrushing thing) because, as it stands now, my morning routine is painfully banal. I make coffee and sit in front of my computer reading about completely useless things- guitars, bands, gear, etc. The worst part is that before I know it, the morning has passed and it is noon and I’m suddenly scrambling because I have wasted so much time.
It occurs to me that, despite how odd my grandfather’s morning routine is, that these is a sense of purpose coursing throughout- intent. Nothing is done without intent, regardless of how inane. Perhaps that’s really what I’m after- intent, even in the inane moments.
Yes, that’s it. A long-winded nothing in the search for a simply phrased sentence. As ever.